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Mary Sanchez: What would Jesus cut from federal budget?

God might want to consider retaining a lobbyist. Or at least think about sending down an angel or two to referee the way his name gets invoked in the current debate about the federal budget.

As debate over the federal budget heated up earlier this spring, a coalition of progressive Christian organizations, led by Sojourners' Jim Wallis, took out a full-page ad in Politico to launch their "What Would Jesus Cut?" campaign. The pitch was pithy.

Like any good ad campaign, the message was easily digestible and memorable, a play on the "WWJD" message popular among evangelical Christians. The group even devised one of those brightly colored plastic bracelets every do-gooder cause has to have.

Invoking Christ directly in a debate over federal spending is a pretty audacious stratagem. As any Sunday-school student knows, Jesus was all about helping the poor, and he had some things to say about the rich that should make many a country-club Republican squirm. So surely he wouldn't support the cuts the Republicans seek to force through Congress, the Christian progressives implied.

Interjecting religion into politics traditionally has been Republican territory, and conservatives were quick to heap scorn on these poachers. That beacon of radio piety Rush Limbaugh lashed out to claim Democrats cozy up to the Lord only when they find it convenient. "When they can convince or try to convince everybody Jesus Christ was the patron saint of liberalism, then they will herald Jesus Christ," he fulminated on his radio show.

Yet Wallis' coalition has been growing, adding more than two dozen evangelical, Catholic, mainline Protestant and other Christian organizations. Calling themselves the "Circle of Protection," they are vowing to protest any efforts to cut programs that protect the poor in the U.S. and abroad.

"Budgets are moral documents, and how we reduce future deficits are historic and defining moral choices," the group's website states (www.circleofprotection.us). "As Christian leaders, we urge Congress and the administration to give moral priority to programs that protect the life and dignity of poor and vulnerable people."

Casting the nation's $14.3 trillion debt and federal spending as a moral issue is an intriguing contention, one I don't wholeheartedly disagree with. As a Christian, I find it hard to neglect Jesus' call to protect "the least of these." And, yet, when we use Scripture to buttress arguments about public policy, there is great potential for oversimplification.

Obviously, this is the left's attempt at an answer to the right's consistent and far more effective religious branding of its political program. We're used to godly ideology infusing the debate over any number of social issues: abortion, gay marriage, stem-cell research and so forth. This is the religious left's chance to turn the tables.

But it's a dangerous game to insinuate that God likes my political party better than yours.

One would like to believe that the secular merits of the left's case would be enough to win over voters. The ranks of the poor have exploded over the past few years; the poverty rate for American children now tops 20 percent. And the Republicans' proposals to eliminate Medicare as we know it, if they ever come to pass, could plunge millions of middle-class senior citizens into poverty down the road.

So is God a Democrat, a Republican, a tea-party stalwart or a libertarian?

Save that question for Judgment Day.

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