Influencing Religious Leaders for Change

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).