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Evangelicals urge Congress to reject foreign aid cuts in ‘America First’ budget

100 prominent Christians worry severe cuts to foreign aid will reverse progress at reducing poverty

A number of America’s top evangelical aid agencies and denominations are urging Congress to reject proposed cuts to foreign aid in a letter signed by more than 100 prominent Christians, including 2 of the 6 clergy who prayed at President Donald Trump’s inauguration.

National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference president Samuel Rodriguez and Cardinal Timothy Dolan joined the many leaders on the list, which includes InterVarsity Christian Fellowship’s Tom Lin and Alec Hill and the presidents of Fuller, Gordon-Conwell, Denver, and Princeton seminaries. Michael W. Smith, Amy Grant, and Third Day also signed.

The Trump administration released its budget blueprint Thursday, which outlines the anticipated cutbacks to international aid programs. The plan reduces the State Department and US Agency for International Development (USAID) budget by 28 percent.

The Rev Samuel Rodriguez: a signatory to the letter protesting cuts to aid budget

“As followers of Christ, it is our moral responsibility to urge you to support and protect the International Affairs Budget, and avoid disproportionate cuts to these vital programs that ensure that our country continues to be the ‘shining city upon a hill,’” they stated. Currently, foreign assistance—America’s contribution to health care and development efforts abroad—represents a fraction of 1 percent of the nation’s budget.

Other signatories include leaders from humanitarian aid groups like World Vision USA, World Relief, Compassion International, Living Water International, Food for the Hungry, as well as denominational leaders from the Southern Baptist Convention, Assemblies of God, Wesleyan Church, Church of Nazarene, the Anglican Church in North America, the Christian Reformed Church in North America, and the National Association of Evangelicals. Catholic Relief Services and several Catholic dioceses also signed the letter.

These groups are major players in international development and poverty relief; World Vision’s president, Rich Stearns, wrote for CT a few years ago that its $2.8 billion budget ranks among the countries with the 15 biggest economies in the world for overseas assistance.

The 100-plus Christian leaders want America to maintain the international programs they consider “instrumental in saving lives, safeguarding religious liberties, and keeping America safe and secure.” Because of their involvement with such outreach, they have seen firsthand the impact of America’s generous support—and just how far its assistance can go.

“For more than 50 years, World Vision has worked alongside US government partners to address the needs of vulnerable children and families living in poverty around the world,” stated Stearns. “While World Vision proudly raises millions of dollars from the American people each year, government funding enables us to expand our programs and increase their sustainability.”

The letter sent to Congress emphasizes the Christian perspective that America cannot turn away from “those in desperate need” when it has been “blessed” with resources. Stearns went on to suggest cutting programs could halt or even undo the advancements made to eradicate diseases, reduce poverty, and improve education. “We risk losing the hard-won progress against poverty, wasting billions of dollars and decades of efforts,” he said.

The president intentionally focused on domestic concerns, including defense and homeland security, at the expense of the State Department allotment. “It is time to prioritize the security and well-being of Americans, and to ask the rest of the world to step up and pay its fair share,” Trump said.

Following his election, white evangelicals ranked healthcare, immigration, and the economy as the top priorities for the new president—the same top three as American voters overall, the Pew Research Center found.

During the previous administration, a majority of evangelicals favored cutting US assistance to the world’s poor—their top choice for spending reductions. Other popular areas for decreases were government assistance for the unemployed (40%) and environmental protection (38%).

Earlier this month, former Senate majority leader Bill Frist, now the chairman of a Christian global health nonprofit called Hope Through Healing Hands, penned an op-ed for Christianity Today similarly decrying Trump’s cuts.

Frist wrote that foreign assistance saves lives and furthers security efforts abroad. “Let us heed the call of the Scriptures to uplift the poor, save the lives of millions, and give the world’s poorest the chance at a life of flourishing and abundance,” he said. “This can be a win-win for America and the world.