(World leaders pose for a group photo at the G8 summit in Deauville May 27, 2011. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer)

By Aaron Stauffer and Rev Bud Heckman, May 17, 2012

Vladimir Putin is sitting out this year’s G8.  Why is it easy to skip all of a sudden?  Is the sizzle gone from these meetings?  The US suspiciously moved from a high fanfare and public Chicago doubleheader with NATO to the quiet retreat at Camp David.  Is there not anything meaningful and constructive left to talk about at these meetings?

Religious leaders think so.  Critical human development issues matter to billions of believers, and these summits are a way to hold governments accountable for their role and remind the faithful of the necessity of their own moral commitments.

With the deadline of the Millennium Development Goals drawing itself nearer each year, and the likelihood of unfortunate shortcomings in reaching them, the leaders of the G8 and G20 Summits hold an even more important role to play.

Religious and interreligious leaders from across the world are gathering today to urge and challenge these leaders to consider prioritizing the voiceless and marginalized – the poor, women, and children.  On the eve of the 38th G8 Summit in Camp David, Maryland, the leaders of diverse religious traditions – ranging from Buddhist, Baha’i, Christian, Hindu, Jain, Jewish, Muslim, Shinto, Zoroastrian, and others – are gathering today to speak with a moral voice and refresh their own commitments to the solutions.

This gathering demonstrates the potential of religious institutions and people of faith and goodwill to be a voice for justice and advocacy movements.  In the face of economic, food, and human security crises, leaders of religious communities hold a unique responsibility to turn their ear toward the downtrodden and their voice toward pinnacles of power.  They must focus on changing the macro systems that structure and guide our communal and individual lives.

This gathering is not only a moment to hold publicly accountable these leaders of the world’s eight largest economies, but also a moment to affirm what all religious traditions might deem as the common good. Where they have deeply held and widely shared values, they can speak with a strong moral voice and reaffirm their own communities’ commitments to work for peace with justice.

Soberly, it is important to begin by acknowledging the all too frequent misuse of religion for ill in this world as one of the mitigating factors.  This interfaith leaders’ summit marks a coming together that both urges and challenges the G8 and G20 leaders to uphold the political claims affirmed in past “G” meetings and offers guidance to them from theological and religious traditions that proclaim the hope-filled possibility of a better world.

Religious communities must speak to the pain that the current crises have waged upon individuals and their communities. This necessitates challenging the “G” leaders to focus on economic reform, regulation, and stability and on food and human security and poverty alleviation.  At the same time, the religious leaders are challenging themselves and their communities to own and locally live out the values of uplifting and transforming the lives of those who are the least and the last.

Religious leaders believe we are at a critical juncture where political, humanitarian, and economic decisions of the “G” summits hold powerful influence over billions of lives and the well-being of, most especially, the poor, women, and children.  Maybe retreating to a cabin in the woods is just the place where President Obama and his guests can “get real” about what really matters.