Faithful Budgets

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Last year faith-based social service agencies in San Francisco provided over three million meals to the hungry. They offered safe, clean shelter to more than 3,000 homeless people. They built and operated affordable housing for poor people, many with mental health and substance abuse problems. They counseled and placed hundreds in jobs, provided childcare for others, helped thousands of frail elderly continue to live independently.

Faith-based organizations share a belief that social policies should be judged by their impact on society's most vulnerable -- the widow, the orphan, the stranger, the ill and the powerless. This belief is upheld in the Jewish value of Tikkun Olam, repair the world. It is proclaimed in Catholic social teaching's "preferential option for the poor." It is championed in Protestant traditions, affirming the dignity of every human being, and in the Muslim principle of "sadakah" -- voluntary giving for the social good. All traditions understand that poverty huts the whole community.

Today state and city legislators are considering budget decisions reducing or eliminating those programs which help these very vulnerable populations. These cuts, if carried out, will result in increased hunger, loss of housing, entrenched homelessness and a less healthy community for us all.

Is this the kind of community we want to live in? City and state budgets are not merely financial documents. They are statements of our values. The sacred texts of all faith traditions remind us that the greatness of any society will be judged on how that society cares for the most vulnerable. How will history judge us?

With a Perspective, I'm Rita Semel.