Ecumenical Forum: Poverty is the 'New Slavery' and 'Silent Tsunami'

NEW YORK -- As heads of states and governments gathered in New York to begin the United Nations World Summit on Wednesday, top Evangelical leaders called for a “new war against global hunger” at an interfaith prayer service held near the U.N. building.

“We need to start a new war against global hunger,” said Richard Cizik, Vice President of Governmental Affairs for the National Association of Evangelicals, as he highlighted the need for evangelicals to work together with other Christians on the issue of poverty.

“We are here to join you in this fight on world hunger,” said Cizik. “We can do it together.”

Cizik was one of dozens of speakers at the service, which opened a three-day prayer and advocacy campaign to overcome global poverty. The campaign, which ends Friday with a closing celebration, features prayer vigils, summit briefings, sermons, worship services and Labyrinth Walks.

Organizers hope the fasting and prayer vigils will impact governments to increase their commitments to the poor. They are specifically calling on U.S. leaders to increase aid to fight global poverty by 1 percent of the U.S. federal budget – or $25 billion over five years – and fulfill the Millennium Development Goals' promise to halve poverty by 2015.

Meeting the $25 billion goal is “relatively easy and relatively cheap,” said Jim Wallis, Editor of Sojourners, who helped organize the event. “What we lack is the moral and political will, and this is the job of the faith community.

“If we are people of faith, this must be a matter of faith, and this will be a test of faith for a whole new generation,” Wallis added.

Richard Stearns, the President of World Vision United States, agreed that the goals were within reach.

“Let us pray this week that 2005 will be the year when the world opened its eyes to the poor," Stearns said.

The campaign also marked the second time faith leaders held an ecumenical forum to coincide with international-scale gatherings of world leaders.

"You will see religious leaders being there from across the spectrum," Wallis said as he promised the crowd to make such gatherings a pattern. "You can expect us to be there."

Wallis was also at the first such gathering, which was held in June at the Lambeth Palace ahead of the G8 summit in Gleneagles, Scotland. At that meeting Wallis took note of the "silent tsunami" killing tens of thousands each year.

Standing before a banner of 30,000 pictures of children that formed the image of a world map, Wallis challenged the hundreds in New York with the same controversial thought.

"This is the face we have denied," he said. "This is the everyday tsunami, the silent tsunami that takes the lives of 30,000 children everyday.

"That's every three seconds," Wallis said, as he rhythmically snapped his fingers in the air. "Every three seconds, a child dies needlessly."

Cizik, who was also at the Lambeth gathering, echoed that chilling thought.

"We know from this banner that 30,000 children die everyday from global hunger," said Cizik. "Can an evangelical close his eyes to that tragedy?

"The answer is no," he said. "Evangelical Christians will not close their hearts and minds to this incredibly tragic truth."

The rallies will continue today with morning worship, a labyrinth walk, a noon hour of prayer and fasting, youth speak out event, a World Summit Briefing, and an Evening Vigil. All events are being held at the Dag Hammarskjold Plaza at 47th Street and 2nd Avenue.

Other sponsors of the campaign include the Micah Challenge, the United Methodist General Board of Church and Society, Bread For the World and the Lutheran Office for World Community.