In a world where one billion people live on less than a dollar per day and three billion live on less than two dollars, what can and should the world's wealthy nations do to save their less fortunate fellow humans from drowning in a sea of hunger, disease, and misery? This is the conundrum the world community tackled in 2000, when the United Nations adopted the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), a global commitment to cut extreme poverty by 50 percent and to improve the lives of those in the poorest countries in Sub-Saharan Africa by 2015.

Yet five years later, as the heads of the world's most powerful industrialized countries convene for the Group of 8 Summit in Gleneagles, Scotland, they are already woefully behind schedule in making good on their promises. That's why tens of thousands of protesters are turning out in Gleneagles and in nearby Edinburgh to push for the G8 leaders to fulfill their commitment to end global poverty. Spurred by religiously inspired principles of global justice and solidarity that the MDGs reflect, leaders and groups from across the religious spectrum are at the forefront of this effort.

Reaching the Millenium Development Goals--conceived as a comprehensive approach to tackling global poverty--would constitute an important milestone in creating a global community that honors the inestimable worth of every person-a value shared by Jews, Christians and Muslims, who hold that human beings are created in the image of God, and by every religious tradition that regards human life as sacred.

Among the Millennium Development Goals, the eighth spells out the actions that the most developed countries, including the United States and the members of the European Union, must take. It commits these countries to provide substantial debt relief to developing countries, lower trade barriers that limit imports from the least developed countries to the developed world, and earmark 0.7 percent of their gross domestic product (GDP) annually for development assistance. Their compliance-and especially that of the United States--is essential to the achievement of the MDGs.

Sadly, the U.S. government is failing to fulfill its pledge. Washington currently allocates about one-fifth of the 0.7 percent of its annual GDP, considerably lower than the 0.23 percent aid average contributed by other developed countries. At the current rate of progress, the goal of eradicating extreme poverty in sub-Saharan Africa by 2015 will not be met.

While religious support for achieving the MDGs-and the related "One Campaign"--is extensive abroad, it is now growing in the United States. This week senior leaders representing a broad cross-section of America's Christian denominations, led by Sojourner's Jim Wallis and Bread for the World's David Beckmann, traveled to Edinburgh under the "Make Poverty History" banner to lobby the G8 on behalf of the MDGs. In June, leaders from more than 35 nationally organized U.S. religious organizations-from the National Association of Evangelicals to the Unitarian Universalist Association, from the Islamic Society of North America to the Rabbinical Assembly of Conservative Judaism, along with Sikh, Hindu, and Bahai -gathered in New York to initiate an effort to mobilize religious Americans on behalf of the MDGs. Organized by the Consultation for Interfaith Education, this extensive inter-religious effort for a more equitable and compassionate global order reminds us that in America, religion can play an important public role when summoning us to look past our differences and commit to a common moral vision.

In an ever more interconnected world, common humanity alone would dictate that the global community should strive to meet these goals. Ethics and the world's religious traditions agree that when the protection of human dignity or the attainment of basic justice is attainable, we are obliged to take action.

It's not impossible: the implementation plans developed by the MDG Task Forces have brought the goals within reach-provided that the wealthiest countries deliver on their financial and policy promises.

The wisest counsel of every faith reminds us that the neighbor whom we are urged to love is not limited to our kin but includes the stranger, both the near and far one. Moved by this imperative, America's diverse religious communities are making common cause, integrating support for the goals into their public policy agendas. In doing so, America's religious leaders are hoping to spur President Bush and Congress to summon the political will to fulfill our MDG-related commitments.

If America takes the moral lead on this issue, it is more likely that other developed countries will follow. But if America does not take the lead, there is little chance that the goals will be attained and that more than a billion people will remain trapped in extreme poverty.

In an era in which religious differences get the most attention, the coming together of American religious leaders, and ultimately of America's religious communities-from right to left, from fundamentalist to liberal, from red states to blue-on behalf of the U.S. commitment to the Millennium Development Goals could prove extremely beneficial not only for the billions in abject need across the globe but for the vitality of our increasingly fractious American national and political life. The challenge of meeting the Millennium Development Goals is a religious issue, a moral issue, and in America's national interest.

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