Church Leaders Visit Washington in Effort to Relieve Poverty, Hunger AIDS

WASHINGTON – Nine top leaders representing over 80 million Christians across the United States went to the White House, the State Department and Capitol Hill on March 25, to support the nation’s political leaders who dedicate themselves to the ongoing fight against poverty, hunger and disease.

“The Bush administration has set new standards for fighting hunger, poverty, and disease around the world with the MCA and its global HIV/AIDS programs,” said Rev. David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World, the faith based anti-hunger group who organized the event. “We are now seeking the commitment of our nation’s leaders to provide the promised funding to carry out these initiatives to help the world’s poorest people.”

Leaders who joined Beckman included the Rev. Susan Andrews, Moderator of the General Assembly, Presbyterian Church USA; Rt. Rev. Frederick Borsch, Episcopal Church USA is the retired Bishop of Los Angeles, California; Dr. Robert Edgar, General Secretary, National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA; Bishop Mark Hanson, Presiding Bishop, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and President of the Lutheran World Federation; Dr. Major L. Jemison, President, Progressive National Baptist Convention; Dr. Glenn Palmberg, President, Evangelical Covenant Church; Bishop Lawrence L. Reddick, Presiding Bishop of the 5th Episcopal District (Alabama and Florida), Christian Methodist Episcopal Church; Most Rev. John H. Ricard, SSJ Chair of the International Policy Committee of the U. S. Conference of Catholic Bishops; and Bishop Peter D. Weaver, President-Elect of the United Methodist Council of Bishops.

PCUSA’s Andrews that it was "a privilege to be part of such a broad-based group" and was impressed that the representatives of such a broad spectrum of denominations "managed to agree on what we could agree on, and to not worry about what we don't agree on - a pretty good model for the Presbyterian church."

According to the Bread for the World website, the group met with the White House National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, Undersecretary of State Alan, Ambassador John Lange, deputy U.S. global AIDS coordinator, and Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL).

“We made it clear to Dr. Rice and other officials that ending the cycle of poverty that creates widespread hunger and diseases like AIDS is a moral issue for us as people of faith,” said Bishop Mark Hanson of the ELCA. “This is our witness. We expect our nation’s leaders to respond and fulfill the promises they have made.”

The specific promises made by the Bush administration included a pledge to increase foreign assistance funding by 50 percent over the three-year span from 2003-2006. Following the plan, the funding would have totaled $10 billion by 2006. However, to date, there has only been a $1 billion appropriation for 2004 and a $2.5 billion administration budget for 2005.

Additionally, President Bush signed into law the U.S. Leadership Against HIV/AIDS Act in 2003, which pledged $15 billion over 5 years, including $3 billion in 2004. However, the funding remained at $2.4 billion in 2004 and proposed for $2.8 billion for 2005.

"Now the crunch is on to find the money, and the president has not been pushing hard enough to keep his own promises," said the Rev. David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World.

"We have three messages," said Bishop John Ricard of Pensacola- Tallahasee, Fla., head of the international policy committee for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. "Keep your promises, keep your promises, and keep your promises."

According to Andrews, Rice, who is a Presbyterian deacon, reassured the delegation "that the administration is fully committed to keeping the funding goals it set for this year and for the program as a whole."

Currently there are more than 800 million people living in poverty and 40 million living with HIV/AIDS.

The following is the full text of a letter the delegation delivered to Congressional leaders:

We are writing to ask you to ensure that the Millennium Challenge Account and the global AIDS initiative receive full funding in fiscal year 2005 without any cuts to ongoing humanitarian and development assistance. Without your help this covenant between our country and our neighbors in the poorest parts of the world is in jeopardy.

As leaders of nine Christian denominations, we were brought together on March 25, 2004, by Bread for the World in order to meet with Senators Mike DeWine and Dick Durbin, and with Bush administration officials including Dr. Condoleezza Rice, Ambassador Randall Tobias and Under Secretary of State Alan Larson.

Together we represent over 80 million members of major Protestant and Roman Catholic religious bodies, and we are committed to using the public voice of the Church to increase our nation’s engagement with poor countries and people living with HIV/AIDS. We are in agreement that the persistence of abject hunger, poverty and disease in God’s world must be considered a moral outrage and a threat to our national security.

We were called to our nation’s capital because together we recognize a graced moment —the opportunity before us to reduce hunger, poverty and disease in poor countries. We believe that the core concepts embodied in the Millennium Challenge Account represent an opening to deliver effective aid. We believe as well that the global AIDS pandemic coupled with rising rates of other infectious diseases demands a significant expansion of effort by the nations of the world, including our own.

We ask you to exercise leadership now and work with other conferees to include the Senate level for International Affairs in the final budget resolution. We also ask you to make sure the allocation for the Foreign Operations appropriations committee is no less than the president’s request of $21.3 billion.

In the days ahead we will pray for you, and hope that you will take our shared concerns to heart as you make decisions about the priorities of our nation.