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FARMINGTON — Automatic budget cuts, known as "sequestration," are predicted to hit the poorest Americans the hardest.

Those cuts $85 billion worth went into effect last week after lawmakers in Congress were unable to reached a deficit-reduction agreement. Before sequestration, a group of nearly 100 Christian leaders authored a letter under the heading, "A Circle of Protection: A Statement on Why We Need to Protect Programs for the Poor." Those leaders included Catholic and evangelical as well as liberal and conservative.

The letter stressed the importance of balancing the budget in a way that won't hurt the naton's poorest residents. It asked goverment leaders to seriously consider its priorities in relation to issues that included tax cuts for the poor versus tax breaks for the wealthy.

The Daily Times asked some local religious leaders for their reaction to the letter.

Larry Davis, the pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church in Farmington, said the bible talks about taking care of the poor over the wealthy and that the poor should be our priority.

"If we are a Christian people, we should take care of the poor," Davis said.

He said he believes the government should continue with programs such as social security.

Davis said Jesus said his arms are open to everyone.

"Does that not include the poor?" Davis said.

Benny Cogburn, a pastor at Kingdom Connections Cowboy Church, said he has a biblical stance against government measures such as tax cuts for the poor. He said tax cuts encourage people to have children and use welfare to care for them, but society "kicks the elderly to the curb."

Cogburn said he has seen this first-hand. His parents worked all their lives, but once they reached retirement, the social security and retirement benefits weren't enough to make ends meet. Cogburn said he has started to partially support his parents.

"Families should take care of families," Cogburn said.

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As the owner of a horse training business, Cogburn said tax breaks are necessary to allow small business owners to afford to hire people.

Cogburn said he preaches from the pulpit that people who are able to work should work and not depend on the government. He said he believes caring for the poor people should be in the church's hands, not the government's, because the church can hold people accountable better than the government can.

For example, Cogburn said the cowboy church has donated more than 500 boxes of toys, food and other necessities to poor families as well as helping one woman who was about to lose her home. Cogburn said the church can mentor poor people and help educate them so they have an opportunity to get a job.

Craig Montroy, the associate pastor at Bloomfield First Baptist church said churches need to be more involved in working together to help poor people in the community. He added programs like Head Start can be used to help people living below the poverty level.

Davis agreed that the churches need to be involved in taking care of the poor. He said that the church is called by scripture to care for people in need, but churches don't have the resources -- like the tax dollars -- the government has.

Cogburn disagreed. He said, if the government gives out welfare without being able to hold people accountable, it creates dependent people. Cogburn said he recognizes that there are some people who receive welfare who aren't just using the system, but he said he believes the system is widely abused.

"If we could cut the abuse out of our welfare system, we could start helping people," Cogburn said.

Buzz Esmial, a teacher at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints Institute, expressed similar feelings to Cogburn, although he stressed that his opinions are not necessarily the view of the LDS church.

Esmial said he and his wife were living in Caracas, Venezuela when they were approached by some beggars asking for money. He said his wife agreed to pay them if they cleaned up some of the trash. Only one beggar did and the rest left. Like Cogburn, Esmial said he thinks people who can work should work and not depend on the government.

Esmial said the LDS church does a lot of work to help the poor people. For instance, once a month the members fast and the money they would have used for food they donate to the poor.

Hannah Grover may be reached at hgrover@daily-times.com; 564-4652. Follow her on Twitter @hmgrover