WASHINGTON – On the eve of this year's Group of Eight Summit,10 Christian organization leaders met with White House officials Monday to request a commitment for $2 billion in aid to Africa.
Richard Cizik,vice president for governmental affairs for the National Association of Evangelicals,said the groups' united effort for international poverty relief “is an historic departure of the past,from apathy.”
Leaders from the Roman Catholic Church,Protestant denominations and Christian service organizations held a joint press conference before heading to the White House.
The events were part of the first London Forum of Religious Leaders on the G-8 Summit,to be held this week,where 35 religious leaders will represent more than 62 million people. The event is designed to lobby for increased aid commitments from the July 6-7 summit in Gleneagles,Scotland.
“We're asking for nothing less than radical change to happen in the world,” said Robert W. Davis,director of the Mennonite Central Committee. “We know the direction we need to go.”
The delegation is to fly to Britain Monday night to hold discussions with other international church leaders and British politicians about forgiving international debt and alleviating poverty,said Jim Wallis,executive director of Sojourners,a Christian organization that publishes a magazine covering faith,politics and culture.
“This is not a partisan lobby,but a prophetic force,” Wallis said.
At the White House,the delegation met with Dayna Cade,director for G-8,and John Simon,senior director for development,humanitarian assistance and stabilization for the National Security Council.
“We focused specifically on the issue of development assistance,” Beckmann said after the meeting. “We urged that the president recommit to push Congress to deliver.”
White House officials focused on the trade aspect,Beckmann said. There were no promises of doubling U.S. aid to Africa.
“They're not as bold as the Europeans in terms of what they're willing to commit to,” Beckmann said.
The White House did not return calls asking for comment about the meeting.
Although Wallis commended President Bush's recent announcement of debt forgiveness for 18 of the world's poorest nations,he said that many countries are doubling aid to developing nations.
“It is a small price to pay for what is at stake – our security,our humanity our faith,” Wallis said.
Less than 0.2 percent of the U.S. gross national product is spent on foreign assistance,said Richard E. Stearns,president of World Vision United States,an international humanitarian organization. U.S. citizens donate $240 billion annually to private charities,but less than 2 percent of that goes to international aid,he said.
Common ailments ranging from a cold to bad water regularly kill malnourished children in developing nations,and no one seems to care,Stearns said.
“On the same day that Natalee Holloway disappeared,29,000 other children disappeared,” he said. “What we have lacked is a sense of moral outrage.”
Holloway,18,disappeared while on vacation in Aruba last month,and the search for her has drawn an enormous amount of publicity.
The religious leaders want President Bush to commit more resources to fighting poverty,but they also want the money invested in existing programs rather than creating pilot projects,said the Rev. David Beckmann,president of Bread for the World. Religious leaders requested $3 billion a year,which Beckmann said amounts to half a week's budget for the war in Iraq.