Monday, June 27, 2005

Thirteen Christian leaders urged President Bush yesterday to pledge $2 billion to $3 billion more for Africa during the July “Group of Eight” summit in Scotland.

Representing evangelical, Catholic and mainline Protestant denominations, the leaders said the Bush administration needs to exercise the “moral will” needed to end world hunger.

“We want to make it possible for President Bush to be a great president on this issue,” said David Beckman, president of Bread for the World, at a press conference. “We are asking President Bush and the other G-8 summit leaders to embrace a comprehensive plan of debt relief, development assistance and fair trade, especially for Africa.”

The United States now donates about 0.4 percent of the federal budget for overseas poverty programs worldwide, and the leaders were asking for at least one percentage point more, an amount equal to about $25 billion.

“As a religious community, we believe God is bringing us together,” said the Rev. Jim Wallis, editor of Sojourners magazine. “The United States has a chance to lead here in a way that is really significant, and the religious community is behind President Bush if he decides to do so.”

Richard Cizik, vice president for government policy for the National Association of Evangelicals, said evangelicals have gone “from apathy and disengagement to engagement” on the issue.

Currently, they “are willing to devote the same energy toward ending world hunger that they’ve devoted to issues such as religious persecution and sexual trafficking,” he said.

“We are lending our voice to this cause in a way never before done,” he added. “We believe we can make this happen as we’ve made it happen on other issues.”

The religious leaders lauded as “a great step” the G-8 leaders’ recent decision to forgive all of the $40 billion in debt that the world’s 18 poorest countries owe to the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and African Development Bank. But they urged the United States to dramatically increase its Africa aid next year.

“We need [Mr. Bush] to fight in Congress to get the money he has already promised, $2.4 billion in poverty-focused assistance,” Mr. Beckman said. “We want him to get his majority in both houses to commit to the promises he has already made.”

Several of the leaders met yesterday afternoon with two National Security Council officials, Dayna Cade and John Simon, for what they called “a good conversation,” then left last night for a religious summit in London on hunger tomorrow, led by Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams. The group will also meet with Gordon Brown, Britain’s chancellor of the exchequer.

On June 20, about two dozen British evangelical Christian leaders issued an open letter to Mr. Bush, appealing to him as “a brother in Christ … to use your unique position as president of the United States and a member of the G-8 to alleviate world poverty.”

The summit, they added, “is a God-given chance to change the course of history for the millions of people who live on less than one dollar a day.”

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