The hunger fast for a moral US budget has gone spiritually viral. Ten days ago, we announced at the National Press Club that the budget debate had become a moral crisis. Prayer, fasting, and radical action are now required. Sojourners, the Alliance to End Hunger, and Bread for the World spearheaded this effort, but many more organisations, churches, and individuals have joined each day. We now have more than 30,000 participants and are still growing.
From large Christian groups such as World Vision and Opportunity International, to secular groups such as Women Thrive Worldwide and the ONE campaign; from labour unions such as the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which represents the poorest workers in the country, to MoveOn.org, involvement in this fast is amazingly broad.
Twenty-five members of Congress will join the fast, and this work is now referenced constantly on the House floor. More members continue to join, and they plan to have at least one member fasting every day until Easter by "passing the baton" on to their colleagues.
We are keeping the pressure on Congress through emails and phone calls as well as media coverage. CNN, Fox News, PBS, NPR, and many print and online outlets have highlighted the hunger fast. Every story is another opportunity to raise awareness about what is happening in Washington DC, and how it will affect the poor across our country and the world. Others are spreading the word by connecting with us on Facebook and Twitter (#HungerFast).
My favourite thing about these first 10 days of the fast has been the stories. For example, a doctor friend, calling with concerns about my health, said, "Well, I walked into church today and our youth group announced a 30-hour fast for the poor and a moral budget, and said they were inspired by your fast." Also, a Jewish activist joining our water fast told me he was re-reading the biblical story of Esther, who called the people to a public fast to change the king's mind. He spoke about the emotions he felt when he imagined his two-year-old daughter having the hunger pangs he was now experiencing. Low-income workers from my hometown of Detroit, Michigan came to one of our congressional events to thank us for fasting, and to say they were joining us.
Finally, we were given a very generous gift from Christ House, a 24-hour residential medical facility for homeless men and women in Washington DC, founded by the Church of the Savior. Gordon Cosby, the 94-year-old founder of the church who now lives at Christ House, told me that the homeless men and women had raised the money themselves. And when Gordon said, "I am praying for you every hour," I felt ready to take on the giants of Washington for another day.
The message of the fast gets clearer each day - fasting tends to focus you, and the message is that a budget is about the choices we make. This fast is not just about cutting spending, but about the values that will determine our priorities and decisions. Should we cut $8.5 billion for low-income housing, or $8.5 billion in mortgage tax deductions for second vacation homes? Should we cut $11.2 billion in early childhood programs for poor kids, or $11.5 billion in tax cuts for millionaires' estates? Should we cut $2.5 billion in home heating assistance in winter months, or $2.5 billion in tax breaks for oil companies and off-shore drilling? This debate isn't about scarcity as much as it is about choices.
This battle over a moral budget will be with us for a while, but it is bringing more and more Christians together -- from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops to the Salvation Army, from the National Association of Evangelicals to the National Council of Churches, from Sojourners and Bread for the World to a growing number of other denominations and groups - a vision and strategy is coalescing to form a "circle of protection" around the most critical and life-saving programmes for the poorest and most vulnerable people in our communities.
The fast has energised the faith community, poverty and hunger organisations, and secular social change groups, and has helped to spark a broad and united movement for a moral budget. With 17 days left until Easter, we are continuing to create a spiritually empowered community ready to engage in the moral battle for a better budget, a better country, and a better world in the huge political fights that lie ahead. Join the hunger fast for a moral budget, and let's make this fast spiritually viral.
© Jim Wallis is the author of Rediscovering Values: A Guide for Economic and Moral Recovery, and CEO of Sojourners (www.sojo.net). He blogs at www.godspolitics.com. You can also follow Jim on Twitter @JimWallis. This article is reproduced as part of an ongoing agreement, with kind acknowledgements to our friends at Sojourners.