The American Academy of Pediatrics states that “infant feeding should no longer be thought of as a lifestyle choice, but rather as a public health issue, because of all of the short and long term risk reductions to both mothers and infants.”
Memphis has one of the lowest breastfeeding rates in the country. We also have one of the highest rates of infant mortality, obesity, and even diabetes and asthma – conditions which are less likely to occur if mothers breastfeed.
At St. Andrew AME, Drs. Kenneth and Marilyn Robinson have a ministry called “The Right Start” — a new program that trains “Milk Missionaries” to guide new and expectant mothers, to help them reach their breast-feeding goals.
Such public health matters are often thought of as government responsibilities. Does the faith community also have a responsibility when it comes to public health in general, and breastfeeding in particular?
What is your congregation doing about public health? Which faith-based public health ministries impress you?
Yes, of course the faith community has a responsibility in matters of public health!! That includes everything from teaching young people about responsible intimacy to encouraging HIV testing to education about nutrition—even what gets served for Wednesday night suppers!
Many of us were taught—by well-meaning pastors in our well-intentioned churches—that the body is the “lesser” part of the human being, and that to be close to God we had to somehow “master” the flesh in service to the spirit. The implication being that the health of the body is the purview of physicians as members of a rational, scientific (i.e. non-religious) community. The philosophers who led us down this path, beginning with Plato in the 4th century B.C., had no idea what mischief they were stirring up!
Fortunately, many people of faith are recognizing the interconnectedness of body, mind, and spirit. The beautiful word “shalom” captures so well, I think, this integration as the true human condition. Shalom is the Hebrew word for peace, but within that meta-definition are much deeper and richer nuances of meaning having to do with the total well-being of human beings—beings created in God’s image, beings made of earth into which God breathed life.
If we believe that faith communities are devoted to this idea of shalom, then it is not a leap to imagine that part of our mission is to assume responsibility for bodily as well as spiritual health, especially for the most vulnerable among us. My own faith community, Calvary Episcopal Church, has a way to go in learning to take bodily health as seriously as spiritual well-being, but I am grateful for our baby steps in this direction—a recent month-long focus on the relationship between food and faith, for example.
Wherever we are in our perspective congregations, we owe a debt of gratitude to visionaries like Drs. Kenneth and Marilynn Robinson and initiatives such as their “Right Start” ministry to encourage and support breast feeding. And certainly faith based organizations like The Church Health Center and the Center for Excellence in Faith and Health at Methodist Healthcare (and many others) are enriching our understanding of what it means to become whole.