Building on a global effort led by the United Nations to address the issues of sexual and reproductive health, the Latin American Council of Churches (CLAI) has concluded a two-day consultation here to develop plans for action in this region, one of the most hard-hit in the world by sexual violence.

“Our commitment is to respect the life of all people and to affirm their lives and rights,” said Marcela Suazo of Panama, one of the organizers of the U.N. effort that culminated in the release of an agreement called the Cairo Consensus. “Our thanks to CLAI for their commitment to this process and to building a global alliance that includes people of faith.”

The report produced by the consultation here May 21-22 ― formally titled “Continental Consultation on the Church and Sexual and Reproductive Rights” ― stated that “the Cairo Consensus needs to be framed in theological terms by the churches to educate and inform our members about the necessity of sexual and reproductive health.”

Moreover, the report stated:  “The churches must work to construct a society where sexual violence and violence against women are eliminated and to promote policies that protect the most vulnerable among us ― indigenous people, young people and women.”

The CLAI consultation ― which included more than 40 young adults from throughout the region among its 200 participants ― comes in a context of persistent sexual and domestic violence in Latin America. A welter of disturbing statistics about domestic violence, matricide, infant and maternal mortality, HIV and human trafficking buttressed the consultation’s call to action.

Twenty national and four regional consultations during the past year laid the groundwork for this “continental” consultation. Those gatherings addressed the biblical and theological underpinnings of the church’s position on sexual and reproductive health, as well as scientific and anthropological analysis of the issues.

Other factors impacting the problems of sexual and domestic violence in Latin America that were identified include poverty, lack of educational and vocational opportunity and the cultural shifts throughout the region brought on my immigration.

Consultation participants heard reports from church leaders in Panama, Argentina, Chile, Brazil and Cuba.

A guidebook entitled “The Church and Sexual Rights” has been produced to further engage faith groups in their study and response to the identified problems.

“As Christian citizens, we need to work for a society that heals these illnesses and creates a quality of life free of exploitation, violence and discrimination, so our youth can live long days and our women can live not under any curse (Isaiah 65, John 10:10), the consultation report states.

“Jesus Christ promised all people life in abundance,” the report continued. “The is the mission of committed faith ― to work for change to help protect dignity and human rights of all people to improve quality of human life.”

Though the consultation report was approved “in general” with only one dissenting vote, a number of participants offered proposed additions and changes:

  • “Statistical analysis must be accompanied by political analysis that demonstrates the political barriers to public policies that protect the most vulnerable among us, particularly women.”
  • “Too often churches support systems that prolong violence and increase death while at the same time advocating for the elimination of the policies advanced by those systems.”
  • Statistics do not produce hope ― we need as the church to hold out more hope.”

The next step for CLAI, said General Secretary Nilton Giese, “is to figure out how to adapt this process we’ve used here for use locally in coming years.”