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Church Leaders Urge Bush Administration, Congress
to Address Hunger, Poverty and the Spread of HIV/AIDS

Washington, D.C., March 26, 2004 -- In meetings with Bush Administration officials, including National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, and with members of Congress yesterday, representatives of Protestant and Catholic groups called on government officials to keep their promise to the American people and international community by designating funding for the Millennium Challenge Account and to fight the spread of HIV/AIDS. Calling the reduction of hunger, poverty and disease the “moral issue of our time,” the leaders of the religious organizations urged U.S. government officials to fully fund these programs.

A delegation of more than 10 leaders of Christian organizations, including the Rev. Dr. Robert W. Edgar, General Secretary of the National Council of Churches USA, praised the Bush Administration’s commitment to allocate $5 billion annually to the Millennium Challenge Account, which would give much-needed aid to developing countries starting in 2006, and $15 billion to fight the global spread of HIV/AIDS between 2004 and 2008. However, funding for the programs has not been secured to date and the House of Representatives Budget Committee has proposed to cut nearly $5 billion from the President’s international affairs request.

“While we are encouraged by the support these programs have received from the Bush Administration and National Security Advisor Rice, we are concerned that the House Budget Committee does not recognize the necessity of fully supporting these programs that will reduce poverty and fight the spread of HIV/AIDS,” said Dr. Edgar.

“Lives are at stake and we have a moral obligation as a world leader to do our part in reducing hunger, poverty and disease in the world’s poorest countries,” he said.

The Rev. David Beckmann, President of Bread for the World, said in a statement, “In these grim times, church leaders working together can address the real opportunity we have to dramatically increase and improve development and health assistance to poor people around the world.”

In addition to meeting with Dr. Rice, the church leaders also met with Sen. Richard Durbin (IL); Undersecretary Alan Larson, who is the Interim Administrator of the Millennium Challenge Corp. at the State Department, and Ambassador Randall Tobias, the U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator. The delegation also met with Sen. Mike DeWine’s (OH) staff in his stead due to a last-minute scheduling conflict.

The group included from NCC member communions: the Rev. Susan Andrews, Moderator of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.); the Rev. Mark Hanson, Presiding Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; the Rev. Major Jemison, President of the Progressive National Baptist Convention; Bishop Lawrence Reddick, Presiding Bishop of Alabama and Florida for the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church; retired Episcopal Bishop Frederick Borsch of Los Angeles; and, United Methodist Bishop Peter Weaver of Philadelphia. Other participants in the daylong gathering were the Rev. Glenn Palmberg, President of the Evangelical Covenant Church, and the Most Rev. John H. Ricard, SSJ, Chair of the International Policy Committee of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Church leaders plan to continue to advocate for the reduction of poverty, hunger and disease. To this end, Church World Service, the independent humanitarian arm for the 36 member communions of the National Council of Churches, approved a multi-year action plan for Africa earlier this week. The program will focus on AIDS, children, refugees and women’s issues, starting in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea, Angola, Sudan and Tanzania.

Moreover, in January the National Council of Churches renewed its Mobilization to Overcome Poverty in the United States with events in Columbia, S.C., that focused on empowering those living in poverty through voter registration and education efforts. A Poverty Mobilization Coordination Committee representing religious and grassroots organizations was also established.

“Our commitment to end poverty will not end, until poverty ends,” said Rev. Edgar.

-end-

Pictured: Dr. Edgar with Dr. Jemison.

NCC Media Contact: Leslie Tune, 202-544-2350 x 11; ltune@ncccusa.org


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