Friday, February 15, 2008

Advocacy in action

I did something new for me earlier this week: I lobbied a couple of members of congress.

I was privileged to participate in Advocacy in Action, sponsored by the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) and Bread for the World (BFW). The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of North Carolina (CBFNC) invited me to this event and took care of my travel to and from Washington, DC where the meeting was held. Numerous pastors and curriculum writers of the CBF attended Advocacy in Action. There is a lot I could say about this trip but, for now at least, I will limit myself to my lobbying efforts.

In 2000 the United States was one of 189 nations to adopt the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) of the United Nations (UN) which are eight objectives designed to improve the quality of life of millions of poor people around the world by the year 2015. In a speech delivered in September of 2005 at UN headquarters, President George W. Bush stated, "To spread a vision of hope, the United States is determined to help nations that are struggling with poverty. We are committed to the Millennium Development Goals." So, under two different administrations, one Democratic and one Republican, this nation has affirmed its commitment to the MDGs.

The Coordinating Council of the CBF endorsed the MDGs in October of 2007. In the church I serve we included the efforts of Baptist World Aid to achieve the MDGs in our World Hunger Offering of 2007.

Certainly the MDG's are worthy objectives for Christians. Jesus said that we should see his face in the faces of the poor and the sick and to help them accordingly (Mat. 25:31-46). However, as stated in an article in the Texas Baptist Standard last month, helping the poor effectively "requires response from both congregations and government." Jimmy Dorrell, executive director of Mission Waco, pointed to research suggesting that "each church, synagogue and mosque in America would have to contribute $300,000 each year to fund the basic poverty-relief programs provided by the government." No wonder Dorrell said that "people who say only the church, and not the government, should care for the needs of poor people aren’t thinking clearly."

So, as a Christian, I must help the poor generouly. As a pastor I must lead a congregation to help the poor generously. And, as a citizen, I must encourage the government to help the poor generously. It is the last of these duties that received some attention earlier this week.

On Tuesday morning Advocacy in Action participants assembled at the headquarters of BFW. It was there that I learned that the U.S. is not on track to do its part in achieving the MDGs. We currently devote less that one-half of one percent of the federal budget to poverty-focused development assistance. A recent study reveals that this nation needs to add $25 billion to poverty relief efforts in order meet our commitments. I was asked to speak to a couple of members of congress about adding only a portion of this amount, $5 billion, to the budget for fiscal year 2009.

Armed with talking points we struck out for Capitol Hill. First I, along with five other pastors, met with a staffer of Senator Elizabeth Dole. In addition to the budget request already mentioned, we were asked to chat with senators about the Global Poverty Act which is currently before that body.

The Global Poverty Act (GPA) would make the first MDG a part of officail U.S. policy and require the development of a coordinated strategy to achieve this through aid, debt relief, and trade policies. The first MDG is to cut in half the number of people who are hungry and living on less than $1 a day. The GPA passed the House in September of 2007. We were to ask Sen. Dole to become a co-sponsor to this legislation and, of course, to otherwise support it.

I was designated the leader of the delegation visiting Sen. Dole's office, but all of us got to speak with the aide. She was very attentive to our concerns. At one point she mentioned how gratifying it was to listen to evangelicals that have a passion for helping those in poverty. We were told that our message would be delivered to Sen. Dole. I asked the aide if she would relay to me Sen. Dole's response and she said that she would.

Then I was off to the office of Congressman Mike McIntyre where I met with one of his staffers. I was accompanied by a lady from BFW as was the case with the delegation that visited Sen. Dole. Once again I experienced a warm and attentive reception. I was told that my request would be given to Rep. McIntyre. Again I asked that the response be relayed to me and I was told that it would be.

I believe very strongly in the separation of church and state. However, this safeguard to our liberty does not mean that Christians have no voice in the public square. The government should in no way endorse any religion and I should not ask it to. Yet, as a citizen of this country and a follower of Jesus, I have a responsibility to speak up where Christain duty and governmental duty intersect.

The MDGs line up well with the teachings of Jesus. They have been affirmed by a mission body that I support and by the government of the nation in which I live. The church I serve should do more to reach these goals and so should the government of the nation in which I live. As a church we will consider ways that we can do more to achieve these Christ-like objectives. I am thankful to the CBF and BFW for helping me to ask the government to do more as well. I learned a lot and I had fun too.

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