•   Justice, Poverty

USA Today: Activists who redefine "evangelical" call for Haiti debt relief

Screen shot 2010-02-01 at 11.23.25 AM The crisis of biblical proportions in Haiti has brought out the full spectrum of the faithful to offer emergency aid. Now, a start-up group of progressive Protestants is launching itself with a campaign to erase Haiti's debts so the crippled nation can focus on rebuilding.

The New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good -- led by marquee activists, academics, seminar profs and pastors such as Rev. Richard Cizik -- was originally going to launch later this month but stepped up to the publicity megaphone to call attention to Haiti's need beyond emergency relief. Their release says, "We believe that Jesus calls us to work together to set free those who are held captive by debt."

You remember Cizik from headlines in 2008, when the long-time head of governmental affairs for the National Association of Evangelicals resigned under fire for hinting support for gay unions in a radio interview.

Evidently, Jesus doesn't call people who disagree about the Bible to work together on issues. Cizik's outspoken concern for global climate change issues had already made him a target with big name conservatives such as Focus on the Family founder James Dobson. But, in recent years, the e-word (evangelical) banner, once owned by Christians with conservative views on politics, economics and biblical morality, has become a flag flown by any Protestant with a social justice focus and a contemporary focus on the Gospel.

Partnership executive director Rev. Steven Martin, formerly with Partnership co-founder David Gushee's group, Evangelicals for Human Rights, says they didn't want to wait to campaign for debt forgiveness. Although two thirds of Haiti's debt, held by other governments and major institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, has been forgiven already, the remaining billions could cost Haiti as much as $50 million a year to service. That's money Haiti needs for rebuilding, says Martin.

Their release quotes Gushee calling the Partnership, "a new way to bear witness to the love of God in Jesus Christ. We have yearned to offer a better model for how Christians address public issues; to be known for always standing up for those whom God loves but the world or the church often mistreat or neglect."

Don't look for Dobson or any other megawatt megachurch conservatives (with the exception of Rev. Joel Hunter, of Northland Church in Orlando, who also serves on President Obama's Council for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships) on the list of signators.

The Partnership's website's includes its stands -- often written with highly nuanced phrasing -- on hot issues such reproductive rights, gay marriage and environmentalism. For example:

We stand against the collapse of marriage and for stronger family life. We are involved in efforts to strengthen the fading institution of marriage and thereby protecting and enhancing the well-being of children. We do not believe that denigrating the dignity and denying the human rights of gays and lesbians is a legitimate part of a "pro-family" Christian agenda, and will work to reform Christian attitudes and treatment of lesbian and gay people.

This time, no one's going to shove Cizik out the door for saying so.

Find this article at: http://www.usatoday.com/topics/post/Events+and+Awards/In-depth+Coverage/Haiti+Earthquake/16364.blog/1

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