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Sunday’s Compassion Forum Focus: Domestic and International Poverty

Only one day until the Compassion Forum. Already the pundits are opining about what this means for Americans of faith and the presidential candidates. It was not long ago that the media mostly treated the GOP as more Christian than Democrats, and forgot to talk about the interfaith diversity of the American public.

“We want to determine the Republicans’ interest in addressing the needs of the vulnerable,” said Joel Hunter, an influential Florida mega-pastor who supported Mike Huckabee when the Baptist preacher and former Arkansas governor made his populist but failed bid for the Republican nomination.

“We also want to gauge the Democrats’ interest in community and faith-based solutions and not just handing it all off to the government,” said Hunter, who will also be at the event.

One of the hottest of the issues that bridge left and right, public and private sector, is domestic and international poverty. As many people have been pointing out of late, U.S. budgets are moral documents, showing our priorities. About 36.5 million Americans live in poverty and this lack of basic resources results in an even larger drain on all American well-being. By failing to address the private and public causes trapping every tenth American, the problem only infects the surrounding culture, from health care, schooling, work force to crime. This presentation was sponsored by the Catholic Campaigh for Human Development

But this extends beyond American. Islamic Relief reports that in developing countries a high percentage of the population lives in rural areas, making a living from agriculture. When floods and drought lead to crop shortages, thousands of people and animals die in the famine that follows. The death of livestock and harvest failure deprives these people of their only source of income. They aim to make a lasting difference in the lives of the poor by building the capacity of local communities to sustain themselves. IR provides training and Islamically acceptable loans enabling people to earn a better living, either by running small businesses or by seeking well-paid employment.

But beyond micro-credit and relief, Brian Swarts, of the Jubilee USA campaign writes:

The world’s most impoverished countries pay more than $100 million each day in debt payments to wealthy governments and financial institutions such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. In countries where the majority of the population lives on less than $1 per day, this money should be spent on clean water, basic health care, and education rather than repaying some of the world’s wealthiest financial institutions.

Brian adds, “The faith community has a history of moral leadership on the debt issue. In 2000 and again in 2005, world leaders came together to cancel billions of dollars of debt in dozens of impoverished countries around the world. The money freed by debt cancellation has been directed to fight global AIDS, enroll children in school, provide clean water, and improve rural infrastructure among other poverty-focused initiatives. But there is still much more that needs to be done — 44 impoverished countries around the world are still waiting for debt justice!”

Compassion Forum question: What do you think the primary causes of persistent poverty in America are? Is it possible to entirely eradicate it? What respective roles should government, the faith community and the private sector play in ending poverty?

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