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
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
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
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
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
"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. …