Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Gates Family Has Two Heroes – And Melinda Gates May be the Most Courageous One

Choosing Decency and Compassion over Strict Religious Dogma

The family of Bill and Melinda Gates will be known for their charitable work long after Windows 8 is languishing in the dustbin of technological history.  The $billions these two have from their investment in Microsoft are providing major improvements in the lives of millions, many of whom live in impoverished villages outside the major industrialized countries.

But the one thing Ms. Gates may be remembered for is not something to do with money.  It is to do with taking a stand, a stand that is contrary to her deeply religious beliefs.  She wants to bring family planning services to every woman.

UPPA/Zuma Press
Melinda Gates announced a goal to promote
 contraceptive use, particularly in poor nations,
 in London last July.

Ms. Gates appears well on her way toward her goal. At a summit last summer hosted by the Gates Foundation and the U.K. Department for International Development, donors pledged $2.6 billion—$300 million more than the hosts had hoped to raise—to bring voluntary family planning services to 120 million more women in the world's poorest countries by 2020.

The issue here is that the Catholic Church, of which Ms. Gates is a member, is deeply opposed to family planning, even for people who are not members of that church.  And it was not easy for Ms. Gates to go against her religion.

Declaring family planning to be her priority issue wasn't an easy choice for the Ms. Gates, 48 years old, who was raised Catholic. She has said she wrestled long and hard before deciding to speak out. But "I was frustrated," she said.

While she differs with the Catholic Church on contraceptive methods, she said she shares its social-justice mission. "I believe they're in the halls of Congress as much as I am fighting for foreign aid on behalf of poor people," she said.

But Ms. Gates had an advantage over those who make policy for her religion.  Unlike them, she has traveled to parts of the globe where women are desperate for family planning services, She has seen the difference access to family planning can make in the lives of those women, and the horror the lack of access can bring to women.

The Catholic Church, like any religion is free to set its own standards and in fact it should set out what one must do and believe to be a member of its religion.  But in areas like family planning, where everyone Catholic and non-Catholic alike want to work for the welfare and benefit of everyone, shouldn’t a religious order at least examine whether or not its own dogma is beneficial to its members, or whether or not it should use its resources to force its beliefs onto those who do not share those beliefs?  And shouldn't it examine and know the harm and horror its policies might do to the lives of those it forces it beliefs on?

Just a thought.

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