Be sure to check out NCRLC’s faith-based study guide on Food Security & Economic Justice.
by Christopher Dodson, Executive Director
Most of us know the story of the Good Samaritan, but we often overlook that Jesus told the story as an answer to a specific question.
Luke tells it this way:
There was a scholar of the law who stood up to test him and said, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “What is written in the law? How do you read it?” He said in reply, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”
He replied to him, “You have answered correctly; do this and you will live.” But because he wished to justify himself, he said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan and then asks the scholar: “Which of these three, in your opinion, was neighbor to the robbers’ victim?” The scholar answered, “The one who treated him with mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”
Note that Jesus never directly answers the scholar’s question. He reverses the roles, putting the scholar in the place of the victim. If you were the victim on the side of the road, who would you consider a neighbor? In a sense, Jesus is telling us not to ask who is our neighbor or, if we must ask, we are to put ourselves in the place of the person in need. A person truly in need does not care about the status, race, nationality, past acts, or even the visibility of the person giving help. When giving help, we should try to do likewise.
Christ’s message is also relevant to the debate over the federal budget, especially with regards to foreign poverty programs. Tackling the federal budget and deficit problems will require tough choices. Unfortunately, some proposals in Congress disproportionately impact the least of our neighbors in poverty-stricken countries.
Americans vastly over-estimate how much we spend on foreign aid. Most think that foreign aid accounts for 15% to 20% of the federal budget. When asked how much of the U.S. should spend on foreign aid, Americans usually say about 10% of the budget. Here’s the truth: Less that one percent of the federal budget goes to foreign aid. Indeed, in Fiscal Year 2010 only about 0.6% of federal spending was for foreign assistance.
Here’s another truth: This is real aid that makes a difference in the lives of the poor, not questionable assistance to governments or imperialistic population control. It is aid that, when leveraged with charitable organizations like Catholic Relief Services, literally saves lives.
In the zeal to reign in federal spending, these programs already took an eight percent cut in 2011. Now House leaders are proposing additional cuts that would reduce these programs 20% from 2010 levels. Some programs would face over a 40% reduction.
Very few question the need to curb federal spending, but are these disproportionate cuts to foreign poverty and humanitarian programs an example of seeing “neighbor” in our eyes rather than through the eyes of those in need? When making cuts, is it just too easy to start with those who we will probably never see?
Food and aid organizations from different faith traditions are asking Congress, especially the Senate, to treat everyone as our neighbor. If cuts must be made, they should be made proportionally across the entire federal budget and not fall disproportionately on the world’s poor.
As a Christmas gift to your neighbor, contact Senators Kent Conrad and John Hoeven and ask them maintain the levels of life-saving poverty-focused international assistance and to oppose any amendments that would cut poverty-focused international assistance.
In Congressional Testimony, Bishop Ramirez Urges Greater Measures To Ensure International Religious Freedom
Congress and the Administration must take more steps to protect religious freedom around the world, said a member of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace. In November 17 testimony to the House Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health and Human Rights, Bishop Ricardo Ramirez of La Cruces, New Mexico, named countries where religious freedom is threatened and called for the U.S. government to act.
“Religious freedom is not solely freedom from coercion in matters of personal faith; it is also freedom to practice the faith individually and communally, in private and public,” said Bishop Ramirez. “Freedom of religion extends beyond freedom of worship. It includes the freedom of the Church and religious organizations to provide education, health and other social services, as well as to allow religiously-motivated individuals and communities to participate in public policy debates and thus contribute to the common good.”
Bishop Ramirez cited policies in China, the New Year’s Day bombing of a Coptic church in Egypt, the Christmas Eve bombings of churches in Nigeria and the October 2010 attack on a Syrian Catholic church in Baghdad as just a few examples of religious freedom under attack. He noted that there is persecution of Christians in Eritrea, Baha’is in Iran, Ahmaddis in Indonesia, and Christians and Muslims in Uzbekistan.
He outlined the U.S. bishops’ experience on the issue, including meetings between the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and Pakistani minister for minority affairs, Shahbaz Bhatti, who was assassinated in March, and the October pastoral visit of two U.S. bishops to Catholic communities in Baghdad.
Bishop Ramirez recommended that Congress and the Administration place a higher priority on religious freedom. He called on the Senate to reauthorize the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom and on the State Department to consider designating additional “Countries of Particular Concern,” including Pakistan. He also asked the President and Secretary of State to review actions that can be taken to pressure states where particularly severe violations of religious freedom occur.
The full testimony is available at: www.usccb.org/about/international-justice-and-peace/upload/2011-11_USCCB_Religious_Freedom_Testimony.pdf
The U.S. Catholic bishops’ Migration and Refugee Services will no longer receive a federal grant from the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement for helping victims of human trafficking obtain food, clothing and access to medical care.
Sister Mary Ann Walsh, director of media relations for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, says she hopes the Church’s “position against abortion, sterilization and artificial contraception has not entered into this decision, especially since this administration has said it stands fully behind freedom of conscience.”
Restrictions on religious beliefs and practices rose between mid-2006 and mid-2009 in 23 of the world’s 198 countries (12%), decreased in 12 countries (6%) and remained essentially unchanged in 163 countries (82%), according to a new study by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life.
Bishops, CRS Say Proposed Foreign Aid Cuts Are ‘Morally Unacceptable,’ Call For Balanced Adjustments Across Entire Budge
The National Catholic Rural Life Conference is offering a new educational resource titled “Food Security and Economic Justice: A Faith-Based Study Guide on Poverty and Hunger.” The faith-based study guide and companion leader’s guide applies Catholic social teaching to the problems of hunger and poverty in a world of abundance, and how we can act to resolve this contradiction. The Food Security guide is now available online at NCRLC’s website.
Bishops Ask Administration to Weigh Use of Force in Libya in Light of Duty to Protect Human Life and Dignity Read more: Bishops Ask Administration to Weigh Use of Force in Libya in Light of Duty to Protect Human Life and Dignity
As the U.S. and other nations take military action to protect the people of Libya from their own government, the U.S. bishops asked the Obama administration to stay focused on this limited goal and mission, as well as the wellbeing of the civilian population.
“Important questions include: How is the use of force protecting the civilian population of Libya? Is the force employed proportionate to the goal of protecting civilians?” wrote Bishop Howard J. Hubbard of Albany, New York, chairman of the Committee on International Justice and Peace of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) in a March 24 letter to National Security Advisor Thomas E. Donilon. The bishop also urged that the use of force be continually evaluated in light of these questions: “Is it producing evils graver than the evil it hopes to address?” and “What are the implications of the use of force for the future welfare of the Libyan people and the stability of the region?”
“We know these are difficult questions to which there are few easy answers, but it is our moral responsibility as a nation to rigorously examine the use of military force in light of the need to protect human life and dignity,” said Bishop Hubbard.
Bishop Hubbard said the purpose articulated in UN Security Council Resolution 1973 to demand “a ceasefire and a complete end to violence and all attacks against, and abuses of, civilians” appears to meet the traditional criterion of “just cause,” but said the U.S. bishops joined Pope Benedict XVI in following the military action in Libya with “great apprehension.”
The letter is available online here.
The state senate passed a SCR 4014 by a vote of 28 to 19. The resolution follows 33 resolutions in other states calling on Turkey to grant the Ecumenical Patriarch is legal and religious rights. The ability of the patriarch to exercise his religious liberties has consequences for our Orthodox brethren here in North Dakota.
Opponents to the resolution argued that it was not North Dakota’s business to tell Turkey how to handle its internal affairs.