Gates And United Methodists Followup

It came as no surprise that a conversation between United Methodist leaders and staff of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation would find common ground. But the sense of shared commitment to the claim that every life has value that pervades the Gates Foundation philosophy struck some of us as a strong complement to the religious claim that all life is sacred. So it isn’t just commonality about programs or approaches to confronting poverty, hunger and disease. It’s a shared sense of belief in the value of human life. This became more obvious to me as the conversation progressed. And it made the possibility of partnership seem possible.

Sometimes when I write about values I get a bit defensive because I’m aware of the skepticism about religion that many thoughtful people in the United States feel. And, I’m also aware that religious claims strike many people as having little authenticity. The contentious period we’re passing through makes it more difficult for some to believe these claims and to trust they are genuine. I think this is a bit of the fallout that comes from the close identification of religion with right wing politics and, equally important, the identification of religion with cultural values as if religion and culture are the same. They aren’t of course, but to state even this is to invite criticism of disloyalty to one’s nation in the minds of some.

So, I tend write less about values than I should and when I do, I write more defensively than I should. And honestly, the conversation between the church folks and the Gates folks didn’t even broach this subject in the way I’m writing in this post. But the conversation did lead me to reflect on a growing desire that I believe is afoot. People, religious or not, want to make a difference in the world and to engage the problems that make life so miserable for some.

I take this as a hopeful sign. I’ve been amazed at the way the Nothing But Nets campaign to raise funds for bednets to prevent malaria has taken hold in The United Methodist Church. Every day I get a note reporting another story of commitment and hard work to raise funds for bednets. Some are about children taking up this cause. Others are about youth. And still others are about local congregations, many of whom might have said they can’t be pushed to give more because they’re already stretched to the breaking point financially. Yet, they continue to push to raise funds for bednets.

Despite the current stock market roller coaster ride, the developed nations of the North live in abundance. We are not in a setting of scarcity. I appreciate that the abundance is ill-distributed to the point of being unjust. But never the less, the mainline faith communities exist in abundance, and many in them are motivated to do more than settle into material comfort and forget the rest of the world.

I live in the hope that this percolating concern and emerging good will can be focused into a movement, a movement to improve living conditions and provide the medicines, knowledge and support for ending much of the human suffering that exists unnecessarily around the world today. That’s a visionary hope, I know, and it probably meets with skepticism, but I hold to it none the less. And I wonder what would happen if a global movement took hold to call upon governments and civic organizations to concentrate on saving lives and put an end to the wars, poverty and diseases that are killing children and adults today at a frightening pace. I think I hear the seeds of this movement when I hear young people talk about what they want to do with their lives. And I think I witness it when I hear the reports of people who thought they couldn’t do it, reach financial goals for bednets that make them feel they’ve accomplished something wonderful. And they have.

So these are my ruminations following the much more specific and concrete conversation I was privileged to be part of with the Gates staff. I just keep wondering what would happen if a global movement were to take hold and tackle the diseases of poverty. How many lives would be saved? How many promising children and young adults might live long enough to take up the cause and find ways to unleash life, and turn away from death?
What would happen if people of faith were to take seriously the call of Jesus to live abundantly and to serve others graciously? That would provide a different view of religious faith to the world, it would save lives and it would reaffirm the biblical teaching that all life is sacred. I keep wondering.

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