Despite the hawkish rhetoric that has dominated Washington the past few days, Pope Benedict and the American bishops have drawn a clear line in the sand against any preemptive war in the Middle East.
In a strongly-worded letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Bishop Richard Pate of Des Moines–the Chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on International Justice and Peace–articulated the Church’s displeasure regarding possible military action:
“Iran’s bellicose statements, its failure to be transparent about its nuclear program and its possible acquisition of nuclear weapons are serious matters, but in themselves they do not justify military action. Discussing or promoting military options at this time is unwise and may be counterproductive. Actual or threatened military strikes are likely to strengthen the regime in power in Iran and would further marginalize those in Iran who want to abide by international norms. And, as the experience in Iraq teaches, the use of force can have many unintended consequences.”
This language matches the record of Pope Benedict XVI who throughout his pontificate has implored world leaders to avoid unnecessary conflict in Iran, most notably in separate meetings with former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in 2006.
It is notable that Benedict’s predecessor, Blessed John Paul II also spoke out often against unnecessary military strikes, including the war in Iraq, a prophetic message that was sadly unheeded by American politicians.,
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As Casey explained last month, politicians like to endorse cuts to “foreign aid” as a catch-all term to score cheap political points. But on a substantive level the charge amounts to attacks on smart, compassionate investments that save lives and alleviate suffering in the poorest regions on earth.
Oxfam America, an international aid group that works alongside many of these U.S. initiatives, is fighting back with a new ad campaign to put a real face on the effective, important results they achieve. The ads highlight individual women who are making real changes in their home countries with the partnership of U.S. aid.
Check out the billboards, which are currently running in Washington’s Reagan National airport:
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Casey wasn’t the only one who took offense at the GOP candidates dismissal of international assistance in the debate this week. Responding to these anti-aid sentiments, several national evangelical leaders released a statement yesterday chiding the candidates for their comments and defending the importance of these programs:
As pro-life evangelical Christian leaders committed to caring for our poorest neighbors around the world, we are called to protect them from cuts to programs that make a difference between life and death. The call for cutting “foreign aid” by several presidential candidates at last night’s debate undermines our nation’s moral commitment to humanitarian investment and is not in keeping with our values.
International development programs, which represent less than 1 percent of our federal budget, are practical and compassionate investments in global health. Minimal resources go a long way by providing malaria nets that save children’s lives in Africa, AIDS medication to tens of thousands who would otherwise die, and clean water to people in the poorest regions on Earth. Treating this critical aid as unaffordable is factually inaccurate. Viewing it as expendable is morally wrong. We call on all candidates for political office, especially the presidency, to protect life by preserving these crucial programs. The most vulnerable must be protected from irresponsible cuts, not imperiled in the name of political expediency.
The letter is signed by Ron Sider, President of Evangelicals for Social Action; Rev. Joel Hunter, Senior Pastor of Northland, a Church Distributed; Rev. Gabriel Salguero, President of the National Latino Evangelical Coalition; Dr. Barbara Williams-Skinner, Co-Chair of the National African American Clergy Network; David Gushee, Board Chair and Co-Founder of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good; and Richard Cizik, President of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good.
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Yesterday afternoon in Seattle, the Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID)–Rajiv Shah–spoke to a gathering of nearly 800 people on the role of faith and faith-based organizations in addressing hunger, poverty, and preventable diseases in the developing world.
The event, organized by the agency’s Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships and hosted by World Vision–a Christian humanitarian organization–was part of a broader effort by USAID to engage faith-based communities as allies against humanitarian crises, such as the Horn of Africa Crisis. Administrator Shah spoke to the importance of these partnerships in addressing the critical need in developing countries:
We want to enable Kay Warren’s 14,000 foot soldiers to go into communities like the Nairobi slums and provide healthcare services. We want to support your activities to build local capacity in local institutions with counterpart organizations from Uganda, to India to Latin America. And we want to make sure that if there’s a church group, a faith-based organization somewhere in this country that wants to learn about development, that wants to engage on this tremendous mission, that we offer a platform that is inviting their engagement and supporting their efforts to learn.
This matches what Shah said last January at the Center for Global Development:
I’m proud to know that USAID is one of [Catholic Relief Services'] largest supporters, but I’m also proud to know that we support a wide range of faith-based organizations from Samaritans First to the American Jewish World Service. Faith-based organizations not only express the moral values of millions of Americans. They also provide some of the most dependable support systems for millions of people in the developing world. In Kenya, for example, 30 percent of all health-care services are provided by Christian hospitals.
Our success depends on listening to these groups actively, connecting with them deeply, leveraging the trust and the partnership they’ve nurtured in communities where they’ve practiced for a very long time and supporting the vital work of organizations of faith around the world.
These important coalitions are in critical danger right now, however, as elected officials–gripped by austerity mania–search for “easy” budget cuts. Members of Congress on the House Foreign Affairs Committee have already sent a letter to the supercommittee trying to stave off further cuts. And asked about their opinions on foreign aid last night, none of the GOP presidential candidates spoke up in defense of the importance of these humanitarian assistance programs.
Last April, Administrator Shah testified in Congress that the cuts in the proposed GOP budget would lead to the death of 70,000 children. That budget didn’t pass, but if those proposals return it would be terrible news for the government’s faith-based development partners and the people they serve.
UPDATE: Added quote from yesterday’s event and corrected date of original quote.
Photo: Administrator Shah in Sudan Credit: USAID, Flickr
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The New York Times reports on impending cuts to foreign aid, which could decline as much as 20% as Congress attempts to reduce federal spending by nearly $1 trillion. The truth, of course, is that international assistance is such a small part of the federal budget (less than 1%) that even these relatively large cuts will have almost no impact on the deficit.
They will, however, have an enormous impact on the lives of vulnerable people around the globe. In response to a budget with similar reductions proposed in April, USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah testified to Congress that the cuts “would lead to 70,000 kids dying” because they depend on the malaria control programs, immunizations, and skilled birth attendants the aid helps provide.
The story quotes Jeremy Konyndyk, the director of policy and advocacy for the international aid group Mercy Corps, who puts it succintly:
The amount of money the U.S. has or doesn’t have doesn’t really rise or fall on the foreign aid budget…The budget impact is negligible. The impact around the world is enormous.
But the most troubling part of the article for me was a quote from Rep. Kay Granger (R-TX), chairwoman of the House appropriations subcommittee overseeing foreign affairs, explaining why she supports the cuts:
She recalled a State Department envoy’s informing her of $250 million in relief to Pakistan after last year’s devastating floods. “I said I think that’s bad policy and bad politics,” she said in an interview at her office on Capitol Hill. “What are you going to say to people in the United States who are having flooding?”
How about “we can help you too”? Telling international flooding victims there’s nothing we can do because it would expose the cruelty we show to our own citizens in need represents a real low in “austerity” justifications.
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