Have you ever heard the statement, “A budget is a missional document”? It gets used in church circles to establish that, regardless of our mission statements, regardless of our vision statements—how we budget our finances tells an important story about our priorities. It is getting to be that time of year when congregations struggle with their budgets for the next year. There may be competing priorities—compensating the pastor fairly, giving to the wider church, participating in special campaigns, keeping the lights on. And many congregations are facing shrinking numbers and decreased income from parishioners. It is a challenge.
It is a challenge that we deal with in the Montana Synod. And it is a challenge that the State of Montana is facing right now. When the Montana state budget was adopted, it included a provision that if tax revenue went below a certain amount, draconian budget cuts would follow. And that is now happening.
We’ve read in the news about cuts to the State Library, cuts to the University System, cuts to Fish, Wildlife and Parks, and to other departments that make up the state government. But the brunt of the cuts affect human services—the poor, the disabled, people who depend on government assistance to live their lives. This de facto attack on the disadvantaged was not the intent of the Legislature when they approved the budget. Nobody wants people to suffer. But the suffering is the result of the budget that was passed, and the stipulations that accompanied it. And now the most vulnerable in our society are once again pawns in a political battle that they have no part in.
Jesus stood with the poor and the disadvantaged, with the outcasts and the disabled. He healed the sick, he taught the crowds, and he admonished his followers to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the imprisoned.
As followers of Jesus we have a responsibility towards our neighbors. We have food pantries and homeless shelters in our churches, we give to World Hunger and Lutheran World Relief. We work hard at finding ways to serve our neighbors in need. But remember “A budget is a missional document?” As Christian citizens we have the right and the opportunity to make our priorities known to the Legislators, to the Governor, to the people who are in a position to make decisions on where and how to balance the needs of the most vulnerable people in our society with the decisions of a legislature determined to cut spending.
We pray for the poor. And we pray for those who govern. It is not an easy task, with increased demands and decreased revenue. But we can also make our priorities known, and stand with the poor and the broken, as Jesus did.
Jessica Crist, Bishop
Bishop Jessica Crist
Bishop of the Montana Synod of the ELCA