My friend, Bishop Thomas of the Coptic Church told me this story about a huge problem he encountered after he was named Bishop or Saydna.
The problem the Saydna had to deal with was what is known as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) or Female Circumcision. Many people think this is only an issue in Islamic contexts, but the fact of the matter is that this horrendous practice exists outside of both Christianity and Islam. Those who practice it will often refer to it being a part of their religious tradition, but most mainstream adherents to these religions would vehemently disagree.
Anyway, this tradition was being practiced in the diocese where Bishop Thomas was now installed. He immediately began telling his priests to talk to their parishioners making it clear that this was morally wrong and was not part of the Christian tradition. Alas, to no avail. He instructed his priests to preach against this act of evil. Nothing changed. He began visiting churches and preaching himself against it. Still nothing happened. Finally he began to investigate who it was who was doing this to the young girls in his diocese. He found out that it was a handful of elderly women who were performing the FMG. He went to them with the idea of demanding that they cease doing this wicked practice. But, instead of telling them what to do he decided to listen first to why they did this. “This is our livelihood. Without this job how would we be able to live?” they asked him. Without this job we would be out on the street!”
Bishop Thomas decided that an ethical appeal or reprimand, however strong it might be, would not work. Instead he went out on a limb and suggested a more practical approach. “If I agree to pay you, for the rest of your lives, what you earn each month from performing FMG, will you stop?” “Of course,” they answered. Without having the money in hand, the Saydna promised these women that he would personally make sure that they were paid a salary equivalent to what they were presently earning for the rest of their lives. Thanks to help from generous donors he has kept that promise!
Overnight Bishop Thomas had been able to accomplish what national laws, international norms and endless sermons could not; FMG ceased in his diocese.
When dealing with challenging issues, I wonder at times if perhaps our problem is not about having enough rules, laws or injunctions or about implementing these, but rather about listening enough to what the issues behind the issues are and being willing look for and implement creative solutions.
And being willing to take on the cost of such solutions, even when it costs a lot!