From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Lutherans Participate in Jubilee 2000/USA Rally

From News News <NEWS@ELCA.ORG>
Date 27 Apr 2000 13:10:13


April 27, 2000


     WASHINGTON, D.C. (ELCA) -- An estimated 6,000 people -- including
many members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) --
gathered on The Mall here April 9 to rally for Jubilee 2000/USA.  The
rally was part of an international effort involving religious, labor,
environmental, human rights and hunger organizations which advocate
canceling the international debts of the world's most impoverished
     The rally included prayers, performances by international
musicians and speeches from activists and political leaders, all aimed
at increasing awareness of Jubilee 2000/USA and to demonstrate to the
U.S. Congress the importance of debt relief.  The rally theme was
"Proclaim Jubilee! Cancel the Debt Now."
     The ELCA has supported Jubilee 2000/USA since 1997, and, its 1999
Churchwide Assembly reaffirmed that support.  Through its Lutheran
Office for Governmental Affairs (LOGA) in Washington, D.C., the ELCA
also sponsored the Jubilee 2000/USA rally.
     "The grounding of the ELCA involvement is Christian concern for
the poor," said the Rev. Russell O. Siler, LOGA director.  "It is one of
the principal objectives of the ELCA's statement on economic life."
     The impact of heavy foreign debt is most evident in Africa.  
Sub-Saharan governments owe foreign creditors an average of almost $400 for
every man, woman and child -- more than most Africans make in a year,
according to the World Bank.   Nearly one-third of children there are
undernourished, resulting in a high mortality rate, according to
statistics compiled by Jubilee 2000/USA.  Half of Africa's population --
about 300 million people -- live without access to basic health care or
a safe water source, the campaign said.
     The Jubilee campaign was inspired by the "jubilee year" in the
biblical text of Leviticus, which speaks of redemption of property and
release from slavery.
     Among the rally participants was Sven Allenbach-Schmidt, an ELCA
member, Silver Spring, Md.  Participation in the April 9 rally was an
outgrowth of his congregation's reflection on the biblical text, he
      "This is a perfect example of a modern way we can live up to that
material," Allenbach-Schmidt said.  "For Christian reasons and basic
economic reasons, this is a good idea."
     Six Lutheran campus ministry students from the University of
Wisconsin-Milwaukee drove 17 hours to participate in the rally.  Jamie
Armata, a sociology major, has studied the conditions in poor nations.
The Jubilee 2000/USA movement is a way to respond to the concerns he has
learned about, Armata said.
     "This is a way to break the cycle," he said.
     Leading those around him in a chant of "Jubilee means peace -- the
debts must be released," fellow student Marcos de Jesus said faith
prompted his involvement.
     "You have to believe all the way," de Jesus said.  "Working for
social justice is a cog in the wheel of faith."
     Ken Best Sr., a former Liberian journalist, newspaper publisher
and ELCA member, sang at the rally with the Grace Lutheran Church
Rainbow Choir, Washington, D.C.
     "In principle, I welcome the idea [of debt cancellation] and am
grateful for those who agitate for it," he said, "but no country should
get debt relief until it shows a commitment to good governance."
     Grassroots coalitions within debtor nations are committed to using
funds freed up from foreign debt payments for poverty reduction, job
creation, health and education programs and environmental stewardship,
Jubilee 2000/USA organizers said.  For example, Uganda spent $3 per
person on health care in 1996, and spent $17 per person repaying debt.
One in five children there dies from a preventable disease before
reaching the age of five.  The Ugandan government has established a
Poverty Action Fund for savings from debt relief to be used for specific
goals such as universal primary education.
     The Rev. William E. Lesher, former president of the Lutheran
School of Theology at Chicago, was also a rally participant.
     "If we can remove the unpayable debt, we will have given the most
help possible to developing nations," he said.  Lesher attended the
rally with a group of people from northern California called the "San
Francisco Bay Area Coalition for Jubilee."
     The financial impact of debt cancellation would not be a hardship
for the United States, Lesher said.
     "The rich don't need the money we're getting. It's a pittance for
us," he said.  "The bottom line is it won't cost much."
     The rally culminated with participants forming a human chain
around the circumference of the Capitol grounds.  Rams' horns, sounded
by members of the Jewish community in keeping with an ancient biblical
practice, announced the beginning of a procession of people carrying
home-made chains of paper and tattered cloth.  At the front of the line
were children.
     "In impoverished nations, children are at the end of the line,"
said Siler, referring to limited access to health care, education and
other necessities.  "Here they are at the front of the line."
     The 41 nations identified by the World Bank as Heavily Indebted
Poor Countries (HIPC) hold total debts of $213 billion, of which $169
billion is owed primarily to Western countries or  the International
Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank.  Debts owed to the U.S.
government are estimated at $6 billion.
     About 800 people returned to Capitol Hill April 10 to learn more
about Jubilee 2000/USA and talk directly with congressional
representatives about the campaign for debt cancellation.  Congress is
considering a budget proposal to designate $810 million for debt relief.
Jubilee 2000/USA supporters voiced their support for the proposal in
meetings with the legislators and their staffs.
     "It is not alone a matter of the cancellation of the debt of the
poorest nations in the world
-- an exciting concept in its own right -- but of freeing monies
consumed in debt service so that they can be used to address poverty and
the building of the infrastructure in these poorest countries,"  said
the Rev. Theodore F. Schneider, bishop of the ELCA Metropolitan
Washington, D.C., Synod and a rally participant. "It is an act of
generosity, soundly biblical, that becomes the seed of hope for millions
of the world's poorest peoples and nations."

Editors: Information about Jubilee 2000/USA and the rally is available
on the LOGA Web site at

[*Karen S. Krueger is communication coordinator of the Metropolitan
Washington, D.C. Synod.]

For information contact:
John Brooks, Director (773) 380-2958 or NEWS@ELCA.ORG

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