‘Pilgrims’ visit GOP House offices

Cannon Rotunda

More than 70 faith leaders and locked-out federal workers gathered in the rotunda of the Cannon House Office Building to sing and pray before setting out to visit offices of Republican members of Congress. Jim Winkler, chief executive of the United Methodist General Board of Church & Society, is second from the right facing the camera. (Photos by Justice & Witness Ministries of the United Church of Christ)

WASHINGTON, D.C. – More than 70 prominent religious leaders joined with locked-out federal workers in a "Pilgrimage for Courage & Commong Good" to march on key House Republican offices Oct. 15. They urged an immediate end to the government shutdown, which ended one-day later.

Pilgrimage in the Cannon Building

The Rev. J. Herbert Nelson of the Presbyterian Church (USA) leads other faith leaders and locked-out workers to the office of Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Pa., during the “Faithful Pilgrimage.”

At each office, the group prayed for the member to do what is right and vote to immediately end the shutdown with a clean, unconditional continuing resolution and to raise the debt ceiling without preconditions.

During the pilgrimage, faith leaders invited moderate Republicans to join them in challenging their colleagues who are putting political agendas ahead of the common good.

The pilgrimage commenced because the faith leaders believe an extreme faction of Congress has been recklessly playing politics with the lives of countless Americans: seniors seeing “Meals on Wheels” cut, pregnant women and infants losing vital nutrition support, workers locked out of their jobs as bills pile up, veterans facing benefit cuts, and communities put in peril by the suspension of crucial environmental protection efforts.

Stop reckless behavior

“It’s time for irresponsible factions in Congress to stop this reckless behavior and end this shutdown immediately,” said Sr. Simone Campbell, executive director of Network, A Catholic Social Justice Lobby. “There is no moral justification for holding struggling families, pregnant women and seniors hostage.”

Jim Winkler, chief executive of the United Methodist General Board of Church & Society, and John Hill, who directs the agency’s Economic & Environmental Justice work, participated in the pilgrimage. Winkler took the lead when the pilgrimage stopped at the office of Oklahoma Rep. Tom Cole, a United Methodist.

Marchers also included low-wage workers locked out of their jobs by the shutdown.

“Before the shutdown, I was struggling to support my unemployed father and little sister,” said Alex Vesquez, a contract food worker at the Smithsonian. “Now I’ve gone from low wages to no wages. Tea Party Republicans need to stop these political games and let me get back to work.”

At each office the group prayed for the member of Congress and left a letter endorsed by religious organizations, saying, "As people of faith and conscience, we urge you to place shared democratic values above short term political expediency, exercise the courage to fund our nation’s government, raise the debt limit without preconditions and get back to work on a faithful budget that serves the common good.”

Clear moral message

Faith leaders had a clear moral message for the Congresspersons responsible.

“Locking low-income workers out of their jobs and holding them for ransom is simply un-Christian. This inflicts needless pain on families already struggling to make ends meet,” said the Rev. Michael Livingston, policy director at Interfaith Worker Justice. “We’re urging the members of Congress responsible for this hardship to vote now to put these workers back in their jobs.”

Simultaneously, people of faith delivered over 32,000 petitions to congressional offices around the country calling on House members to end the government shutdown. The petition signers are members of Faithful America, an online community dedicated to reclaiming Christianity from the religious right and putting faith into action for social justice.

150 signatures

A statement, “Calling the Government Back to Work,” was also signed by more than 150 clergy and theologians. It sharply rebuked irresponsible elected officials for pursuing an “extreme ideological agenda at the expense of the working poor and vulnerable families” by shutting down the federal government.

The General Board of Church & Society and United Methodist Women signed the statement.

Other participants in the "pilgrimage" included The Salvation Army, National Council of Churches, Presbyterian Church (USA) Office of Public Witness, The Shalom Center, Faith in Public Life, Church World Service, American Friends Service Committee, Interfaith Moral Action on Climate, Disciples Center for Public Witness (Disciples of Christ), Disciples Justice Action Network (Disciples of Christ), Disciples Home Missions, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Ecumenical Advocacy Days, Franciscan Action Network, United Church of Christ and The Coalition on Human Needs.

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