WASHINGTON (ABP) — A new organization of progressive evangelicals has formed, calling for complete cancellation of Haiti’s foreign debt in order to aid an already-fragile economy devastated by a Jan. 12 earthquake.
The Jan. 22 announcement of the New Evangelical Partnership for Common Good marks the full return into public life of Rich Cizik, former vice president for governmental affairs of the National Association of Evangelicals.
Cizik, who resigned the post in 2008 following an outcry after he said on National Public Radio that he no longer opposed civil unions for gays, is one of three founding leaders of the new religious non-profit.
Cizik will work with David Gushee, a professor at Mercer University and regular columnist for Associated Baptist Press, and Steven Martin, a minister, filmmaker and activist who previously worked with Gushee as executive vice president of Evangelicals for Human Rights.
“We have founded this organization to bear witness to the love of God in Jesus Christ,” Gushee said in a statement. “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.”
Gushee said the trio did not plan to launch the organization so soon, but after the earthquake they decided “that now is precisely the right time to get started, and this is the right issue.”
The founders said Haiti has been saddled with crippling debt since its beginning as a nation founded by former slaves who overthrew their French masters during Napoleonic times. Corrupt former heads of state — like “Papa Doc” and “Baby Doc” Duvalier — racked up huge national debts, lining their own pockets while leaving little to help Haiti’s people.
In 2009 the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank forgave $1.2 billion of Haiti’s $1.9 billion in aggregate debt. With the earthquake piled on top of everything else, the New Evangelical Partnership says it is time to finish the job.
In the newest effort, 66 Christian leaders signed a petition urging “all nations and institutions that have made loans to the Haitian government to quickly and completely forgive these debts.”
The petition calls for disaster-assistance and reconstruction payments to come to Haiti in the form of aid and not loans, “so the cycle of borrowing and repayment that has so crippled the nation of Haiti since its independence will not begin anew.”
Official signers include Joel Hunter, senior pastor of Northland Church in Longwood, Fla.; author, speaker and activist Brian McLaren; and Jim Wallis, president and CEO of Sojourners.
Several Baptist clergy and academicians added their names to the list. They include Charles Foster Johnson, interim pastor at First Baptist Church in Brownwood, Texas; Bill Leonard, dean and professor of church history at Wake Forest Divinity School; Larry McSwain, an associate dean and professor at McAfee School of Theology; Jonathan Merritt, a Southern Baptist author and activist from Georgia; Elizabeth Newman, a professor at Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond; Roger Paynter, pastor of First Baptist Church in Austin, Texas; Julie Pennington-Russell, pastor of First Baptist Church in Decatur, Ga.; Guy Sayles, pastor of First Baptist Church in Asheville, N.C.; Glenn Stassen, a professor at Fuller Theological Seminary who taught previously at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary; Joe Trull, editor of Christian Ethics Today; and Brett Younger, a professor at McAfee School of Theology.