Religious leaders told their input is valued
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Standing in the lobby of a Downtown hotel, a key adviser to the U.S. delegation to the G-20 Summit promised an array of religious leaders that he would carry their concern for the poor into the economic conclave.
"We value your input and we know you hold us accountable," said Michael Froman, dubbed the "sherpa," after Himalayan mountain guides, because he leads the way to the summit. He is a deputy national security adviser specializing in global economics. "I appreciate your prayers. We will need them. This summit is about fixing financial systems ... but also about addressing the needs of the most vulnerable."
He cautioned the 30 religious leaders against expecting major new initiatives. He expects to focus on fixing "gaps in the infrastructure of how nations deal with crises," he said. "I hope you will see that this is a meeting that advances the agenda we jointly care about. But it is one step in an ongoing crisis."
The clergy and lay leaders, including Eastern Orthodox to Pentecostal Christians, Jews, Muslims, Sikhs and Zoroastrians, had processed quietly through Downtown streets to the brief meeting from an earlier news conference organized by the Christian anti-hunger lobby Bread for the World.
The Rev. John Thomas, president of the United Church of Christ, spoke to Mr. Froman on their behalf, saying, "We believe the real measure of the success of the G-20 Summit will be its impact on poor people and improvement of their capacity to feed their children." He praised the Obama administration for its call to improve job opportunities and family farming.
The religious leaders believe their power lies in their ability to mobilize millions of believers to press elected officials on behalf of the world's poorest people. Tarunjit Singh Butalia, chairman of the interfaith committee of the World Sikh Council - America Region, lifted his index finger into the breeze above his bright red turban to show how politicians make decisions. "This is about changing the direction of the wind in our country," he said.
At their news conference, the leaders pressed what they called the intertwined issues of climate change and global poverty, speaking of rice farmers who are starving because fields have flooded. Asked whether they believe the G-20 leaders share their moral concern, some expressed confidence.
"In my experience with public officials, they really want to do the right thing. They really do have a moral compass and they look to it," despite pressure to do otherwise, said Stephen Colecchi, director of the Office of International Justice and Peace for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
From 1990 to 2006, extreme global poverty had receded, due to efforts of groups like the G-8, the U.S. government and especially some African governments, said David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World. But the gains dramatically reversed in 2007, due to rising food prices, he said.
Galen Carey, director of government affairs for the National Association of Evangelicals, called on the G-20 leaders to fulfill those and similar promises. "Too often rhetoric has not been accompanied by action. Too often world leaders merely repackage existing activities and present them as new commitments. God is watching."
Correction/Clarification: (Published Sept. 29, 2009) Tarunjit Singh Butalia is chairman of the interfaith committee of the World Sikh Council - America Region. An incorrect name for the organization was given in this story as originally published Sept. 24, 2009 about national religious leaders trying to make an impact on the G-20 summit.
First Published September 24, 2009 12:00 am