Debt Relief at the Millennium

This could be the start of something big

On October 2, I was seated at a table in the Cabinet Room in the West Wing of the White House. Across the table sat President Bill Clinton; at the table’s end was Pat Robertson of the Christian Coalition. Congressman John Kasich (R-Ohio) and Bono, lead singer of the rock group U2, were seated near the president. Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, Rabbi David Saperstein, and other religious, congressional, and administration leaders filled the other seats.

It sounds like a comedian’s opening line. A bishop, an evangelical, a rabbi, and a rock star are at the White House to meet with the president. Stop me if you’ve heard this one.

The surprising reality: I was witness to a remarkable coalition of leaders brought together at a "mini-summit" about a single issue: helping some of the world’s poorest countries get a fresh start in the new millennium. The group had gathered to talk about debt relief, the biblical concept of jubilee in which slaves are freed and debts forgiven, applied to some of the poorest countries that struggle to meet payments at the cost of food, education, and health care for their people.

At the end of the meeting, the participants vowed to work with their constituencies and colleagues to make sure Congress funded the full amount needed for debt relief for 2001, $435 million, before the end of the session. With just a few weeks to go, it was a lofty task.

But the coalition...

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About the Author

David Beckmann is president of Bread for the World, an interdenominational Christian citizens' movement against hunger. A Lutheran pastor, he was formerly a World Bank economist.