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Expand fight against poverty, evangelicals urge president

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–President Bush’s second administration should expand its emphasis on “overcoming hunger and poverty” both in American and worldwide, Southern Baptist ethicist Richard Land and more than 75 other Christian leaders urged in a January letter addressed to the White House.

“A dramatic reduction in poverty, both here and abroad, would honor our Lord who called us to feed the hungry and clothe the naked,” the letter, dated Jan. 17, stated. “It would also be a wonderful legacy for you to leave with the American people and indeed the world.

“Such an outcome is clearly within the reach of the richest nation in history. The moral values you share with us demand no less.”

Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, was part of a diverse coalition of leaders to sign the letter. Among others signing it were Ronald Sider, president of Evangelicals for Social Action; Todd Bassett, national commander of The Salvation Army; Thomas Trask, general superintendent of the Assemblies of God; David Neff, editor of Christianity Today; Jim Wallis of Sojourners magazine; and Josh McDowell, an author and speaker.

Among college presidents signing the letter were Doug Hodo of Houston Baptist University; William Brown, Cedarville University; Paul Armes, Wayland Baptist University; Pay Taylor, Southwest Baptist University; and James Edwards, Anderson University.

In the letter the leaders applaud Bush’s faith-based initiative and his battle against AIDS and human trafficking but encourage the president to do more in fighting poverty.

The letter was sent to Bush on the national holiday honoring the life of Martin Luther King Jr.

“We agree with you that there is a poverty of the soul and a poverty of the wallet and that government should not try to solve the first,” the letter to Bush states. “We pledge to you to strengthen the armies of compassion in order to do more through our faith-based organizations to overcome the poverty of the soul.

“But our faith-based social service agencies cannot by themselves solve the problem of poverty of the wallet. As you have often said, government can and should help solve this problem. Tragically, millions of Americans today work full time and still fall below the poverty level.

“The moral values that shape our lives tell us this is wrong. We believe our rich nation should agree that everyone who works full time responsibly will be able to earn enough to rise above the poverty level and enjoy health insurance.”

The number of people living in poverty, the letter states, “remains unacceptably high.”

“In 2000, virtually every nation on the planet approved the Millennium Development Goals that included a commitment to halve global poverty by 2015,” the letter states. “But adequate funds to meet these goals are not being given, and the U.S. ranks absolutely last (as a percentage of GNP) among all developed nations in its governmental assistance to overcome global poverty. Our nation has fallen far short of the increases in health and development assistance that you proposed. The richest nation in history can and must grasp the opportunity to lead.”

Congress and the Bush administration, the letter asserts, must avoid cutting programs that help the poor.

“We know there will be powerful pressures, from some places, as you and the Congress work to reduce deficit spending, to cut even effective programs for poor people,” the letter states. “We pray that you will not allow this to happen. We pray that God will give you the strength to act like the righteous king in Ps. 72:12-13 and ‘deliver the needy who cry out, the afflicted who have no one to help, take pity on the weak and the needy, and save the needy from death.'”
The letter and the complete list of signatures can be viewed online at http://www.esa-online.org/pdfs/bushletter.pdf

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