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Progressive Pastor Jim Wallis Admits: Reducing Deficits Is a 'Moral Issue' (But -- There's a Caveat)

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Jim Wallis (Photo Credit: HuffPo Live)

Progressive pastor Jim Wallis appeared this week on HuffPo Live, where he discussed poverty in America and its social and political implications. Aside from addressing its impact on children, the controversial faith leader and Obama administration adviser, delved into some of the reasons he believes millions of Americans are in such great need.

"More children than ever are poor," he told host Ahmed Shihab-Eldin. "From a religious point of view, that should be a top election issue. The highest poverty rate in half a century should be a fundamental moral issue."

Wallis said that the poor, "through no fault of their own," are finding themselves falling below the nation's poverty level. Rather than random strangers, he said that these people in need are sometimes staples in our communities -- that they're church members, co-workers and other formerly middle class members who simply cannot make their bills. There's a new, suburban-based poverty that Wallis claims is changing the dynamic.

"People who used to take their clothes to the Salvation Army to drop them off as donations, now are going to the thrift shops to get their own clothes," Wallis also said. "People who used to give donations to the hungry are now going to the food banks...people who have never been poor are all of a sudden poor."

While he didn't go into detail, Wallis seemed to pin the blame on the wealthy and those with immense wealth -- an argument that has been highly contested before, during and after one of the nation's most pronounced recessions.

"People who have done nothing wrong are suffering because other people who did things wrong to make this recession happen are doing very, very well," he continued.

He also addressed the cultural and structural issues that he believes may be leading to increased poverty. Wallis said that these dynamics pose serious spiritual questions that need to be answered. However, more right-leaning Americans would likely take issue with the faith leader's claim that many of these problems are systematic and not based, at least in part, upon personal responsibility.

"Well, we have a structure...people whose houses are under water because of bank foreclosure policies, people who are in credit debt because of the abuses of the credit card industry," he said.

In addition to discussing these issues and the need to publicize the nation's high poverty level so that Americans who are not struggling become more aware of the needs of those around them, Wallis also tackled deficits.

"We want to reduce deficits too -- that's a moral issue," he said. "I've got two kids. I don't want them shackled with debt. But how you reduce deficits is also a moral issue."

Wallis' embrace for the need to cut deficits may serve as a surprise to some, but it is the method through which this is accomplished that becomes more contentious.

"If we're going to reduce deficits by punishing people who are already poor and suffering, that, from a Christian point of view, is fundamentally immoral and we can't do that," the faith leader continued.

Of course, determining what, exactly, he's referring to here is difficult. In the past, Wallis has embraced "spreading the wealth" and, considering the contentiousness surrounding some welfare programs, the notion that virtually no cuts should be made wouldn't be palatable to many conservatives.

"Jesus says I've got to love other peoples' children as much as I love my own. That's a terribly challenging teaching from Jesus," Wallis said.

But, despite a monumental poverty rate, Wallis says that he sees a young American generation that is invigorated to help the poor and those in need. He told HuffPo Live that he's excited to see politicians grow out of this likely more progressive herd.

Watch Wallis' in-depth interview with HuffPo Live, below:

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