The subject of contraception is a hot topic in faith communities, which made for some exciting discussions at the recent International Conference on Family Planning in Indonesia (24-28 January).
Representatives of faith-based groups and religious leaders came together at a pre-conference event, to share best practice in faith-based family planning and explore ways to advance their role. It was an opportunity to reflect on what they already know, learn from each other and restate their commitments to promoting family planning.
Presenters shared current activities by faith groups in family planning and research on faith-based involvement. Small groups also discussed how to increase the contributions of faith groups, and explored the connection between faith values and family planning.
Myths and misconceptions
Contrary to popular belief, many faith-based organisations do support family planning as a process that helps improve people’s quality of life. For the first time, around 80 representatives from different faith groups attending the conference spoke of their commitment to continue informing and educating their communities on family planning. The consensus was that it is consistent with faith values, in order to protect the rights of women, children and families.
According to Hon. Janette Loreto-Garin, secretary of the Department of Health in the Philippines, the major reason why some people don’t support family planning, or label supporters as ‘abortionists’, is largely due to lack of information.
She argued that the only way to succeed and achieve universal access and improved quality of life will be to ensure people have the right information.
Promoting good health
On sharing different perspectives and faith beliefs on family planning, Christian Connections for International Health said that many faith organisations support it, and even help make services available, to promote good health among women and children and reduce abortions (which they are against) by preventing unintended pregnancies.
“Biblically speaking, family planning is supported because it helps provide life in its fullest,” said Dr Tonny Tumwesigye, executive director, Uganda Protestant Medical Bureau. “If you have 100 children who are miserable, you have made the world a worse place. If you have the number of children you can successfully educate, and who can enjoy good health and fulfill their potential, you are making the world a better place,” he said.
Muslim leaders also affirmed that the Qu’ran doesn’t object to family planning. Alhaji Sani Umar, district head of Gagi District, Sokoto State, in north western Nigeria, clarified the Islamic stand on family planning at the conference.
He said that his religion will never object to anything that will help men and women live healthy and productive lives. According to him, the only type of contraception that Islam rejects are the permanent methods because they will permanently deny people the ability to procreate if they decide to have children in future.
Time to find God
A very special perspective on faith and family planning was shared by David Olson, communications consultant for the faith pre-conference. He disclosed that while interviewing a former Zambian President, Kenneth Kaunda in 2002, he gave him the simple reason why he passionately advocates for condoms for HIV prevention despite his Christian background. It was because people needed more time to find God.
According to President Kaunda, the whole essence of Christianity is salvation. If using condoms can give Christians more time to find God then it is acceptable and he will advocate for it.
This is an argument faith leaders have to consider. Young people are having unprotected sexual intercourse so when religious organisations unrealistically insist on no sex before marriage, or advocate for the withdrawal method of family planning for those in marriages, they are paying no attention to the fact that people are then putting themselves at risk of being infected by various sexually transmitted infections and might end up dying before they find salvation.