Crossing the Boundaries of Faith to Fight Poverty


People won’t always see eye to eye, but there's no reason why people of good will can't partner with people of good faith.

Conflicts between religious and secular organizations have filled the news this year. From political ads to boycotts, religious viewpoints seem to be in opposition to secular positions. On both sides, the attitude can be one of mutual suspicion, with neither side willing to work toward common values or to seek understanding.

As the head of an organization that works with religious groups of other faiths as well as secular companies and governments, I think these conflicts ignore what we have in common to the peril of children and families sinking further into poverty. We don’t always see eye to eye, but there is no reason why people of good will cannot partner with people of good faith.

Despite (sometimes deep) disagreements, religious and secular organizations share a desire to help people around the world live healthy and productive lives.

We can respect each others’ differences while still partnering to achieve shared goals. We all want children to grow up healthy, with access to education and future opportunities. We desire economic opportunities for parents. We work for women and girls to be empowered to make decisions affecting their lives. 

Faith-based and secular organizations share common values in part because the individuals in them are motivated by faith or values, regardless of the type of organization we work in.

As a Christian, I like to say that the Christian faith is one that requires demonstration. All of us give testimony to something through the work that we do. In my work, I give testimony to the life and work of Jesus Christ and I have the desire to see children experience fullness of life because that is Christ’s desire (see John 10:10).

People of other faiths or with different values may have different motivations, but still seek to improve the well-being of children. Our common ground is valuing human life and giving people hope for the future. Far from causing harm, working with faith-based groups may not only be beneficial but essential to good development. 

We can disagree with each other, yet we may still work together without expecting people of other faiths or no faith to compromise their values.

Faith-based organizations can play a unique role in development. About 90 percent of the world’s population has a profoundly religious worldview. As a result, secular organizations may find it difficult to fully understand the issues in deeply religious communities. Religious leaders, whether they are Hindu or Buddhist, or Muslim, Jewish, or Christian, have tremendous influence. They have moral authority and the trust of community members. Organizations that can mobilize faith communities can begin to change behaviors.

Finally, a community’s religious groups are the most sustainable. Long after the humanitarians have left, the mosque will still be there, the church will still be there, the synagogue will still be there, and the temple will still be there.

It is true that faith-based and secular organizations have their differences. Sometimes disagreements run deep. But we must learn to respect each other’s differences. We should not ask religious groups to violate their beliefs. Yet, while just under 16,000 children die every day of largely preventable causes, we must not allow our differences to hinder our progress when the contributions of all are desperately needed.

If we respect one another’s differences and recognize that with those various world views come important strengths, then we can break through impediments to accomplish the greater good. There is room for everyone in the fight against poverty and injustice. We can’t afford to leave anyone on the sidelines. 

This originally appeared in The Huffington Post, Aug. 29, 2012. Updated Dec. 19, 2016. 

Photo ©2011 World Vision, Jon Warren

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