Five synod bishops of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America discussed ways to ensure protections for people living in poverty during a recent trip to Washington where they met with White House staff and policy staff for the speaker of the House.
The trip, which took place from December 17-18, comes as concerns continue regarding the current debt and deficit negotiations in the U.S. Congress, the so-called "fiscal cliff."
"The timing of our trip could not have been more apropos," said the Rev. Robert L. Driesen, bishop of the ELCA Upper Susquehanna Synod, based in Lewisburg, Pa., according ELCA News Service.
"We met with representatives of both the White House and Speaker Boehner's office and urged them to find a way forward that would avoid everyone being hurt by the government's going over the fiscal cliff. While we did not and would not support a specific solution or proposed legislation, we asked for common-sense compromise," he said.
He said their focus during conversations with representatives and senators was "providing a 'circle of protection' around those most vulnerable as Congress considers debt and deficit reduction."
The bishops urged special attention to the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program so that it maintains benefits for those most in need, he said.
The Rev. Andrew Genszler, who directs the ELCA's advocacy network said reducing deficits and addressing entitlement spending "should not be done in a way that harms low-income families."
He said the complementary idea "we advanced was the preservation of the Earned Income and Child Tax Credits focused on low-income households."
Providing a 'Circle of Protection' for the poor is an effort being pursued by various religious or religiously-affiliated groups, including the U.S. Conferece of Catholic Bishops, the National Association of Evangelicals, Bread for the World and others.
The Rev. David B. Zellmer, bishop of the ELCA South Dakota Synod, based in Sioux Falls, commented on the reception by the White House staff.
"We were well-heard, and there was good give and take," he said.