New Evangelical Group Calls for Haiti Debt Cancellation

A newly formed group of evangelicals led by some well-known figures called for the cancellation of Haiti's foreign debt on Friday.

Headed by the Rev. Richard Cizik, former vice president for governmental affairs at the National Association of Evangelicals, the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good says Christians are called to have a "spirit of compassion for the grieving, the injured and the displaced, and to take action to alleviate their suffering."

"We believe that Jesus calls us to work together to set free those who are held captive by debt. This call is especially acute in times of crisis," the group has expressed in statement.

"In light of the catastrophic earthquake and the destruction of Haiti's already fragile infrastructure, we, the undersigned, call upon all nations and institutions that have made loans to the Haitian government to quickly and completely forgive these debts," it added.

The statement was signed by more than 60 Christian leaders including Dr. Joel C. Hunter, senior pastor of Northland – A Church Distributed in Florida and a member of President Obama's Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnership; David Gushee, distinguished university professor of Christian Ethics at Mercer University in Georgia and founder of Evangelicals for Human Rights; the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference; Jim Wallis, president and CEO of Sojourners; and Richard J. Mouw, president of Fuller Theological Seminary.

It marks the first initiative by the newly formed group as well as Cizik's full re-entrance into public life since he resigned from the NAE in late 2008 due to his suggested support for gay civil unions.

"We have founded this organization to bear witness to the love of God in Jesus Christ," said Dr. David Gushee, chair of the New Evangelical Partnership. "We have yearned to offer a better model for how Christians address public issues; to be known for always standing up for those whom God loves but the world or the church often mistreat or neglect."

Gushee noted that the group did not plan to launch this early but the leaders felt the Haiti quake was "precisely the right time to get started" and the right issue to begin with.

The New Evangelical Partnership's statement was released a day after the World Bank announced it would waive payment on Haiti's $38 million debt for the next five years. The International Monetary Fund on the same day said a proposed $100 million loan for Haiti would be interest free until late 2011 to help the country rebuild.

Last year, the IMF and the World Bank canceled $1.2 billion of Haiti's debt. IMF spokeswoman Caroline Atkinson said given Haiti's situation after the devastating quake, donors may be willing to consider canceling the country's debt again.

To date, Haiti's government has reported the deaths of more than 111,000 people from last week's 7.0-magnitude quake, which struck the capital Port-au-Prince. The quake has the second-highest death toll in more than 30 years, second to the Asia tsunami in 2004, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

More than 600,000 people living in or near Port-au-Prince, meanwhile, have been left homeless by the quake, according to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

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