Clergy Press UN on Agenda

Article excerpt

Whether it's in Sudan, Haiti, Indonesia, or New Orleans, religious communities are regularly on the front lines responding to dire human need.

In one among a multitude of instances last week, Lutheran World Relief redirected health kits usually meant for refugees overseas to people caught in hurricane Katrina's path, to help them maintain personal hygiene until they could be relocated.

Yet churches' commitments across the globe also put them in the forefront of those seeking long-term solutions to the plight of the poor.

As political leaders prepare to meet at a UN summit Sept. 14, religious leaders are working to keep global antipoverty efforts high on that agenda, which will also address UN reform.

They hope to galvanize a partnership with governments to pursue the millennium development goals first set forth by world leaders in 2000.

The eight goals involve 18 targets for the coming decade, including: halving the number of people living on less than $1 a day, halving the number of people without safe drinking water, halting and reversing the spread of malaria and AIDS, and enabling all children to attend primary school.

More than 30 international church leaders have gathered this week for a three-day consultation at Washington's National Cathedral to affirm support for the goals and to propose appropriate action. They'll carry their message to New York on Tuesday for talks during the summit.

These clergy represent one-third of the world's population, says the Rev. John Peterson, head of the cathedral's center on global reconciliation. "The infrastructures we have throughout the world ... are second to none," he says. "We want to partner with the UN, governments, and NGOs to use our infrastructures. Enormous things could be done."

For instance, "There is no reason today why anyone in the world should have malaria," he adds. Millions of children could be protected by making low-cost insecticide-treated bed nets available.

The gathering highlights the rising leadership of clergy from the developing world, where Christian denominations are growing most vigorously.

Anglican Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane of Cape Town, South Africa, a convenor of the conference, is a strong voice on development, poverty, and globalization. Debt issues, meanwhile, are a focus for the Rev. Angel Furtan, a Lutheran pastor in Argentina, who will soon lead a Latin American conference on that topic.

"When we read the Bible, we find that gospel salvation and social justice go hand in hand," says Archbishop Ndungane in a statement for the conference. "Poverty mars the image of God in the poor as it deprives them of opportunities for abundant life; and it mars the image of God within those of us who have more than enough, but who, through greed, complacency, or even ignorance, fail to do the justice, to embrace the lovingkindness, that our God asks of us."

Participants include Christian clergy of Orthodox, Methodist, Evangelical, Roman Catholic, Seventh Day Adventist, and Reformed denominations.

"The leadership from the [developing] world is a new element," says Peter Vander Meulen, head of the US chapter of Micah Challenge, a global Evangelical network that promotes the millennium goals. …