We've been saying that there is vast support among Americans for the health and rights of women, even among self-identified conservatives and now I wish I'd placed some bets on it.
In a piece in this past Sunday's New York Times magazine entitled "The Evangelical Crackup," David D. Kirkpatrick quotes Bill Hybels as saying that conservative Christians are telling their leaders, "We are interested in the poor, in racial reconciliation, in global poverty and AIDS, in the plight of women in the developing world."
Let me reiterate that last part. Bill Hybels, founder of the megachurch, Willow Creek Community, near Chicago, and cited by Kirkpatrick as possibly the single-most-influential pastor in America, said, "interested…in the plight of women in the developing world."
Now, what made me drop my cup of tea was not that the conservative Hybels cares about women in low-income countries. As I've mentioned, nobody thinks women should die in childbirth from preventable complications. Hardly anybody thinks violence against women is acceptable. And everybody thinks girls should have access to education.
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And it is clear to anybody who is paying any attention that countries cannot develop to their fullest potential without the participation of half of their citizens. So I am not surprised that Hybels considers the challenges for women to be worthy of his church.
I am surprised that the public debate that I have been coveting (dare I say praying for?) among the Presidential candidates may emerge thanks to a leader in the movement that has so publicly sought to restrict the rights of women over the years.
Don't misunderstand me. I have always believed that most of the members of the Conservative movement supported the work of UNFPA. In fact, I have heard about a very conservative minister who sounds very much like me when he speaks of the need to elevate the status of women around the world so that they are not so vulnerable to maternal mortality and HIV/AIDS. I just never expected to hear one of their leaders give a public shout out to the "plight of women" around the world.
In all my daydreams on this issue, it was not the pastor in khaki pants and a polo shirt that stood up to the mic. But I'll be the first to hand the mic to Hybels if he will ask the Presidential candidates:
Are we the kind of country who uses global women's health for political expediency? Or are we a generous and noble country that promotes equality?
Forty million dollars is less than 1/100th of one percent of the federal budget. Is that really what the American public wants to contribute to safe motherhood, HIV prevention and girls' access to education around the world?
Senator/Governor, if elected, would you restore funding to UNFPA to assist in global efforts to promote women and reduce poverty?
In truth, I don't know what Bill Hybels thinks about UNFPA specifically but I'd be happy to have a discussion with him about how we in the "women's rights movement" could work with the members of the 12,000 churches in his network to promote women around the world. Can I, a Muslim American, get an "Amen?"