A couple of weeks ago I found myself in the midst of a strange little parade through downtown Pittsburgh. Directly in front of me was a bishop from Tanzania dressed in purple robes. Behind me was a new Sikh friend with the traditional Sikh turban, only this one was bright red (his tribute to the Ohio State Buckeyes). The three of us, along with about twenty-five other Sikh, Muslim, Jewish, Christian and Zoroastrian religious leaders, were gathered for a G-20 faith leaders’ Summit just prior to the actual G-20 gathering of the world’s most powerful economic nations. We were there to lobby on behalf of those who were suffering the most from the global economic recession, the poor who generally live on a dollar a day or less. Our purpose was to remind global leaders that the policies that emerged from the Summit would most directly impact the poorest people of the world and that the only sure measurement of the success of the recovery would come when the world’s poorest people were able to lift themselves out of debilitating poverty and hunger.
I consider myself fairly well-versed in issues of poverty and justice but I learned a number of things over our two-day meeting. I learned that the number of people suffering from hunger has grown by some 200 million through the course of this recession. I learned that the people who suffer most from global warming are the very people who had the least to do with creating such warming. I learned that we’re losing ground in our efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals of the UN.
It pays to be reminded.
We held a press conference and a member of the press corps asked an interesting question.
“Do you really think that what you are doing will make much difference in the minds of these leaders?” she asked.
One among us offered a significant response. He said, “Generally, political leaders want to do the right thing—but we have to give them some space in which to do that thing. We have to advocate on behalf of the poor so that our leaders can then say that they are doing what they do because their constituencies are demanding it.”
I thought it was a good answer—and it reminded me again of the power of advocacy. Our political leaders are often pulled in a dozen different directions by people who have their own agendas. As followers of Christ, we are called to stand with the poor and to advocate on their behalf. We have an obligation to the Christ who calls us to such advocacy.
The poorest of the poor are in dire straits. This terrible global recession came just on the heels of huge increases in the price of such staples as rice and wheat. We’re all worried about the impact of this recession upon our own standard of living. In the process, let’s not forget that we at least bear some responsibility for having created it with our materialistic tendencies. There are a couple of billion people out there who had nothing to do with it—and yet who suffer the most from it. It is only when their circumstances change that we will all know that we have done what we needed to do to resolve it.