Prominent American evangelical leaders called on their government, the United Nations and the Church on Monday to adopt a bolder, more aggressive plan to combat global poverty.
For too long, they acknowledged, U.S. churches have failed to advocate on behalf of their counterparts in the global South for stronger government commitment to poverty reduction in the world.
The Rev. Joel Hunter, senior pastor of Northland Church in Orlando, Fla., and a board member of the World Evangelical Alliance, explained that many evangelical churches have been "late to the table" on issues such as global poverty because they've been focused on personal morality.
"We've forgotten to address the larger issue of public morality," Hunter pointed out, "which is every bit as compelling and imperative biblically."
But now, a growing number of evangelical churches are beginning to understand that addressing poverty is part of the biblical mandate of loving one's neighbor, the leaders asserted.
"As these issues are being brought up more and more in conferences and events where a lot of pastors are gathered, there is a, I think, major change in the thinking of pastors," said Lynne Hybels, co-founder of Willow Creek Association – a network of more than 12,000 evangelical churches in 45 countries, and the author of Nice Girls Don't Change the World.
"They are opening their hearts and minds and realizing that as leaders they need to accept the role of educating their congregation about these issues and that is happening," she said. "I'm pleased to be able to say that is happening."
Likewise, Dr. Ron Sider, founder of the Evangelicals for Social Action and author of The Scandal of Evangelical Politics and Rich Christians in An Age of Hunger, agreed that evangelicals has made massive progress in terms of their concern for the issue of poverty.
He pointed to World Vision, a Christian humanitarian organization that 50 years ago was supporting a few orphanages in Korea. Now, the agency has grown to one of the largest relief organizations in the world with over $2 billion in annual donations.
Also, there are now dozens of multi-million dollar Christian charities working to address poverty, Sider added.
The teleconference featuring U.S. evangelical leaders was in response to an unprecedented letter sent by senior evangelical leaders from the global South in August.
Global South leaders had reminded their American counterparts of their responsibility to make advocacy part of global mission.
"[W]e have this against you, brothers and sisters, that along with this powerful announcing of the Gospel, the Church from the United States has not also raised its voice in protest against the injustices that powerful governments and institutions are inflicting on the global South," stated the letter sent to U.S. church leaders.
"[I]njustices that afflict the lives and ecosystems of millions of people who, centuries after the proclamation of the Gospel, still have not seen the sweat of their brow turned into bread."
Leaders from the global South lamented that despite the promises from the United States and 191 other nations to cut extreme global poverty in half by the year 2015 through the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), there have been little overall progress towards fulfilling the commitments.
"And so we ask you as sisters and brothers, citizens of the wealthiest most powerful nation on earth, to publicly challenge your candidates and political leaders – now and after the elections are over – to lead the world in the struggle to cut global poverty in half by 2015," they pleaded.
"If you who know the Truth will not speak for us who will?"
The global South letter was released just ahead of the U.N. General Assembly's meeting on Thursday to review progress on the MDGs.
During the teleconference, evangelical leaders from the United States and the global South emphasized that church advocacy is even more critical now as the U.S. and the world struggle to overcome the financial crisis. Amid this difficult time, they noted, it is easy for governments to forget about the world's poor.
"The Church in the United States has the opportunity today to be faithful to the Hope that it preaches," the global South letter stated. "We urge you to remember that the Hope to which you were called as a messenger demands that you seek first the Kingdom of God and God's justice."
Others that participated in the teleconference included the Rev. Richard Cizik, vice president for governmental affairs of the National Association of Evangelicals; the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference; Dr. Jo Anne Lyons, founder of World Hope International and the first female General Superintendent of The Wesleyan Church; and Lawrence Temfwe, national facilitator of Micah Challenge Zambia.
The teleconference was organized by Micah Challenge, which was created by the World Evangelical Alliance.
Micah Challenge is a campaign that seeks to make advocacy for the poor part of church mission.
Currently, organizers are gathering signatures from the public and from evangelical leaders for a letter that will be sent to both major presidential candidates, urging them to commit to a bolder strategy to fight global poverty. The slated date for the delivery of the letter to the candidates is Oct. 22.
On the Web: http://www.micahchallenge.us