Faith leaders meet with the king(s) of the Hill

Pastor Lawrence Kirby, left, speaks with House Speaker Paul Ryan during a visit to Capitol Hill. Joseph Molieri/Bread for the World.

By Taylor Amos

In the Bible, the number 40 occurs many times. It’s a powerful number that symbolizes endurance and steadfastness. So it may not have been a coincidence that 40 faith leaders came to Washington, D.C., last week to throw their groups’ enduring and steadfast support behind legislation to help people who are hungry.

The faith leaders are part of the Interfaith Working Group on Foreign Assistance. They visited Capitol Hill to advocate for robust funding for humanitarian and poverty-focused development assistance (PDFA).

They met with over 100 legislators, many of whom are tasked with making decisions on how much funding the U.S. will provide for foreign assistance. They even got a high-level meeting with House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.-1).

“Every year, millions of people around the world have access to clean water, food resources, health care, and other vital necessities thanks to U.S. humanitarian and poverty-focused international aid,” said Rev. John L. McCullough, president and CEO of Church World Service. Bread for the World and Church World Service co-chair the interfaith group.

McCullough added: “As we face the largest humanitarian refugee crisis since the end of World War II, it is important the U.S. Congress should increase its funding for international relief and development.” 

The interfaith group is made up of some 50 faith-based organizations and includes individuals from Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and other traditions.

Through its moral voice, the faith community offers a distinct perspective on foreign assistance, reminding lawmakers that aid not only promotes U.S. strategic interests, it also promotes the dignity of all people.

During his meeting with Bread, Ryan said foreign assistance is an important part of our national security, but acknowledged that the 150 account (international affairs budget) is one of the first places legislators target when they want to make cuts.

“It is important to get in front of appropriators so they know how important foreign aid is to the faith community,” Ryan said.

At less than one half of one percent of the total federal budget, foreign assistance is still one of the most effective global investments the U.S. makes.

During their meetings with legislators, faith leaders shared personal stories of mission trips, ongoing projects that their national organizations are implementing, and how their congregations are engaged on humanitarian and development issues.

“Faith leaders play an important role in advocacy because they legitimize our voice on Capitol Hill,” said Eric Mitchell, director of government relations at Bread. “We as a community understand the huge role that the United States government plays in providing foreign assistance, and we want to work in partnership with them to help all of God’s children.”

Bread regional organizer David Gist, along with faith leader Daniel Garcia from Tucson, Ariz., visited the office of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). They spoke with Molly Carpenter, an aide in McCain’s office.

McCain is not a member of the Senate Appropriations or Foreign Relations committees. However, he is the chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee and is one of the most respected and influential members of the Senate and his party.

“I mean, he’s John McCain. With this in mind, we were eager to meet with his staff,” Gist said. Gist said that Carpenter knew of Bread and expressed great enthusiasm for the fight to end hunger and extreme poverty overseas.

Carpenter said that McCain supports robust funding for PFDA. “We left the meeting encouraged that grassroots voices resonated with a powerful senator and determined to continue speaking out to all our leaders. Our voices count,” Gist said.

Taylor Amos is the Art Simon fellow in the government relations department at Bread for the World.

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