When the British government and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation bring together governments, donors, civil society, the private sector and the research and development community in London on July 11 for a major summit that hopes to rekindle the neglected embers of family planning, there will be one constituency there that might surprise some people — people of faith, including Christians (Catholics, mainline Protestants, and evangelicals), Muslims and other faiths.
These religious leaders are working to mobilize the faith community to work with governments, donors and other secular partners to bring family planning back as a major force in maternal, child and community health, something that has been downplayed the past two decades, in part because AIDS and other health issues took precedence, and in part because of the religious and political sensitivities to sexuality and family planning.
This faith support for family planning ranges from progressive Christians to Catholics and evangelicals.
“Family planning is morally laudable in Christian terms because of its contribution to family well-being, women and children’s health, and the prevention of abortion,” said Richard Cizik, president of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good. “Our loving challenge to pro-life Christians: Please do not block family planning efforts, globally or domestically, because of your opposition to groups that provide both contraception and abortion. Instead, consider how a deeply pro-life moral commitment, focusing on the flourishing of all human beings made in God’s image, actually ought to lead to support for family planning.”
More than 250 religious leaders and supporting partners — including Muslims, Protestants, Catholics, Buddhists and Hindus — endorsed an Interfaith Declaration to Improve Family Health and Well-Being in support of family planning, calling on governments and donors to partner with faith-based organizations (FBOs) to help them “bring their faith to action in enabling families to plan the timing and spacing of their pregnancies, consistent with their faith.” Coordination of this declaration was led by DSW (an international development organization based in Germany), Christian Connections for International Health (CCIH), and Muhammadiyah (a Muslim social services agency in Indonesia).
The London summit will mobilize global policy, financing, commodity and service delivery commitments to enable an additional 120 million women and girls in the world’s poorest countries to use contraceptive information, services and supplies by 2020.
Ray Martin, executive director of CCIH, was invited to the summit. He is working to continue the dialogue about the role FBOs can play in advocacy and an expansion of family planning services.
What do faith leaders anticipate getting out of the London summit? Martin cites the following:
-To demonstrate that the faith community is a major player in international health and development, including family planning.
-To demonstrate that many religious leaders and FBOs actually do support family planning, and have found ways to position it in a manner that respects religious beliefs and sensitivities.
-To reduce the tendency for much of the global development community to undervalue and overlook the major role played by FBOs in international development.
-To share the faith community’s considerable experience in faith-friendly family planning advocacy and programming with other stakeholders, both secular and faith-based.
-To counter some of the religious and political opposition to family planning that too often is based on narrow, non-evidence-based biases that ignore the incontrovertible evidence of the positive health and family benefits of child spacing.
CCIH and its partners are planning a consultation on FBOs and family planning immediately following the summit to discuss approaches to faith advocacy for global family planning in ways acceptable to religious communities and to discuss next steps for FBO involvement in family planning, building on the commitments made at the July 11 summit. Representatives from the Gates Foundation as well as other donors, recognizing the importance of the faith sector, are planning to participate.
Linda Bales Todd, director of the General Board of Church and Society of the United Methodist Church, women’s advocacy, says that FBOs are often the only providers of health services in many communities and play a pivotal role in assisting women and men who want to avoid pregnancy or space their children.
“Funding, however, is not always accessible to faith-based initiatives that are doing so much of the work,” Todd said. “Having faith-based representatives at this summit is critical and presents an opportunity to tap into vast possibilities for expanding services which, in the long run, will save lives.”
David Olson serves on the board of directors of Christian Connections for International Health.