Evangelical Leaders Aim for Major Social Change

WASHINGTON – Evangelical leaders were encouraged by the presence of the United Nations head at their summit this week and expressed hope for major changes to unfold following the event's conclusion on Friday.

"I think the event has been better than I expected because it is another clear demonstration of the growing involvement of evangelicals working for justice for poor people around the world," said David Beckmann, president of the anti-poverty ministry Bread for the World, to The Christian Post. Bread for the World is a sponsor of the Global Leaders Forum in Arlington, Va., that recently brought together evangelical leaders from the United States and the Global South .

Evangelical involvement on anti-hunger public policy has been growing by "leaps and bounds" over the last few years, noted Beckmann.

"This big meeting is another demonstration of that," he added.

The National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) and Micah Challenge USA hosted the two-day gathering focused on spurring discussions among evangelical leaders from the Global North and South on social issues. Discussions centered on issues including poverty, hunger, HIV/AIDS, trafficking, bioethics, human rights, creation care, torture, and peacemaking.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon kicked off the summit Thursday with an informative speech on the U.N.'s Millennium Development Goals. The MDGs are eight social goals – such as eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, combating HIV/AIDS, and reducing child mortality – that governments worldwide have committed to fulfill by 2015.

Beckmann said he felt the NAE hosting the U.N. secretary-general was unexpected, although it made sense.

"When God sends us on a mission, God takes us places we didn't expect to go," said the former World Bank staff.

The United Nations, which is made up of 192 member states, has the power to convene countries and have them proclaim that dramatic progress against poverty, hunger and disease is feasible over the next ten years.

"So it's that work that makes sense for the NAE to invite the United Nations to come and tell about the Millennium Development Goals," Beckmann said. "It is surprising and encouraging because it is a demonstration that evangelicals are carrying out a mission and God is taking us to places we didn't expect to go."

Attendees of the Global Leaders Forum spent the last day mainly in closed discussions on the key issues, including many of the MDGs.

Listening to leaders in the Global South was emphasized at the forum. Evangelical leaders from the North were encouraged to hear the needs and effective strategies from leaders in the South on the front lines and see how their ministry could support the efforts of the local leaders.

In the past, many American ministries had done the reverse – develop their own plans and then recruit locals for support.

"I think the discussions were excellent because it started with people who were on the front-line dealing with hungry children and then back up to what U.S. Christians can do to strengthen those kinds of effort," said Beckmann, who attended the hunger workshop.

Geoff Tunnicliffe, international director of the World Evangelical Alliance, also said he was encouraged by the summit. He was a bit more cautious, commenting that discussion is good but action and results are more important.

"The encouraging thing is the key evangelical leaders in the U.S. are beginning to tackle in a deeper way the issues that are of concern for the global evangelical community," said Tunnicliffe.

"So I think for me the key will be what happens out of here – the direct response, the difference it makes."

The WEA head gave the closing speech at the forum and called for a "strong movement" among U.S. evangelicals who will speak out on social justice.

"So for me I will be watching carefully to the response of the U.S. evangelicals," Tunnicliffe concluded.

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