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Influencing Religious Leaders for Change

Author: Steve Fouch
Date: 12.10.2010
Category: Social Justice, Truth and Pluralism, Scripture Engagement

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Originally Posted in English

Here is a question I am grappling with in two very specific health contexts, but which I think has a wider mission implication.

In many societies the status of women in very low, and very often this is either partially or primarily down to religious beliefs promulgated by the dominant faith - be it Christianity (of many forms), Islam, Hinudism, tribal religions, etc. Practices sucha s female genital multilation (not sanctioned in any relgion by the way, but incorporated into folk religious practices), sequestration of pregnant women (limiting or removing their access to healthcare), and the unwillingess to spend money on the health needs of women mean that many women die in childbirth, are at significantly greater risk of HIV and other sexually transmitted illnesses, and face a whole host of health risks and problems that are almsot always preventable or at least open to amelioration.

The approach of Westerners is to start thinking in terms of our own cultural approaches to these issues, based on our own, largely individualistic and rights based values (be they secular or Christian values). What we are learning is that you can address these issues by recourse to scripture - and winning over leaders at every level - Patriachs, Bishops, local clergy and ministers, theologians, etc. These are the people who will shape practice and values in the community, open doorways, etc.  The Bibole is replte with postivie images of the role of woemn, with child brth narratives, as well as more negative images and stories (whic are the ones most often used to shore up belfiefs and practics that marginalsie women).

The real challenge is to do this with full respect of local traditions and ways of discussing theological issues and the use of scripture.

Has anyone else experience on the ground of doing this? I am hearing examples although I am not too confident in sharing them as I do not have all the facts at my fingertips. And while I can see the immediate application to women’s health and HIV prevention, I am sure that there are other areas where we can use such approaches to bring transformation by re-discovering truths in scripture and tradition (and indeed, in an openess to the Holy SPirit to bring new understanding to all involved).

Keywords: health, medical mission, influencing change, religious leaders, scripture, Bible

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Reply Flag 0 Thumbs Up Thumbs Down John_Warlow (0)  

I think these comments are really helpful. In addition to a biblical and a cultural perspective, The Christian Wholeness Framework highlights the need not only for the whole church to take the whole gospel to the whole world – but also to the whole person... And in looking at the person, particularly through 3 different colour lenses – age, gender and culture. Thus you can get probably at least 9 varieties of colour (ranging from a 70-year-old Chinese lady to a 12-year-old boy from say Brazil). Thus in looking at the issue of gender, I think that there is a real need to indeed include the biblical and the cultural aspects which LAusanne is so good at – but I think there is a need to have a greater understanding of the whole person – men and women alike. I think when that happens to be a greater capacity for the church to be able to address these issues of gender bias.

Reply Flag 0 Thumbs Up Thumbs Down Jswatz (0)
United States

Unfortunately, the response worldwide has been far too slow to provide the care and support that women need.  In many countries woman suffer and are treated as though they are second class citizens simply because they were born as women.  The church has played its part in the degradation of women, and should work harder to right the ship and bestow upon them all that God wishes for them to have.  They deserve equality, and access to the same things that men are privy to.  The church should be actively involved in pushing their elected leaders to provide care to women abroad, and help give them access to medical care.

Reply Flag 0 Thumbs Up Thumbs Down SFouch (0)
United Kingdom

Thanks for the comments John - you hit the nail on the head. Respect, listening and that much abused and overused word, ’partnership’.

Trouble is we are being naive if we forget there is a fundamental power imbalance between us coming is rich westerners with the control of funding purse strings, which means partnerships are not necessarily equal, even if we want them to be, and respect is tainted by anxieties about what will be acceptable to funders (be they large faith based NGOs, churches or denominations).

Reply Flag 0 Thumbs Up Thumbs Down John_Warlow (0)  

Steve, you’re so right in your concerns (your focus on the "low” in status), and strategy (winning over church leaders of influence). I wonder if you also allude to the answers?: 1. Not imposing our approaches, because 2. There is respect for them... their Theology and traditions, (I would also add them as people). This is enhanced by UNDERSTANDING the leaders themselves... as whole people... spirit, soul, mind, body, social. This understanding has to be based on 3: connection, ... and connection happens best when there is s.a.f.e.t.y.!...when the S.ize of the number of people involved is smaller (2 is better than 6 to 12 which is better than a large group), when the A.ttitudes are ones of love, and as you mentioned, respect and choice (as opposed to imposing, as you said), when there is a reality and openness in the connection... F.acing the issues, as opposed to f.aking, or maybe f.leeing from them! E.mpathy, getting inside their skin is critical to connection, as is T.ime spent together, asking , in a reciprocal way Y.ou? , where are You at?. Thus, connection is spelt "s.a.f.e.t.y.”... and I hope and pray we can have a lot of C.onnecting with each other at Cape Town, so that we can U.nderstand better, that we may then be more able to influence the key people, as you are so rightly allude to. Thanks for your conversation, johnwarlow (“pom”in OZ!... in other words from the UK but living in Australia?)


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