AIDS and the Church

It took AIDS only 25 years to run it course and suddenly become the single greatest health and economic burden

known to man of any totally preventable disease in recorded history. Today over 40 million people have HIV/AIDS with 4 million new infections recorded each year. Moreover, nearly 30 million people have already died.

Since the first case of AIDS was reported on June 5, 1981 researchers have spent billions of dollars searching for that all-elusive AIDS Vaccine. Yet today, they are no closer to finding an AIDS vaccine than when they first started. Anti-retroviral drug therapy is far too expensive for most people to use and is by no means a cure for AIDS.

With 15,000 new infections reported each and every day and 8,500 deaths, the need for a real solution is all too clear. Health experts fear that by 2010 AIDS cases may more than double from 40 million people to infect over 100 million people; and leave in its wake over 25 million orphans, thus becoming the greatest health and economic burden known to man of any totally preventable disease.

Yet, with all the known dangers about AIDS today, the AIDS “time bomb” ticks away. AIDS will kill more people this decade than all the wars and disasters in the past 50 years combined. What desperately is needed now is for status quo rhetoric to make way for a “decade of transformation” that will change the course of AIDS forever and protect the lives of innocent generations yet to come.

What Would Jesus Do…?

For over two decades the majority of the Christian Church has been conspicuously silent, and their presence absent from showing any significant social concern toward the people who struggle daily with AIDS. Complacency, inaction and even judgment have kept most of the church from responding to the crisis in a timely fashion, allowing the disease to reach pandemic proportions.

The commandment given by Jesus for us to ‘love one another,’ even those with AIDS, has become marred with apathy instead of love, and discrimination rather than liberation toward those who have become the unfortunate victims of this terrible social tragedy.

In response to the fast-growing AIDS crisis The Orphans of AIDS foundation calls for the immediate response from every church, parish and congregation and challenges every ecumenical leader to take action against the AIDS pandemic through educational programs of awareness, care and support.

To help win the fight, “the United Nations campaign against the growing HIV and AIDS problem now supports messages from the pulpit, not necessarily suggesting the use of condoms but the traditional Church prescription of abstinence and loyalty to partners.” Inquirer 12/20/05

That’s rare good news in the developing arsanal in the fight against AIDS who has for years criticized the church for standing by the traditional values of abstinence and marriage.

To better help congregations put into practice this unique opportunity we have formed the Pastor’s Commission on AIDS. Our objective in this process is to initiate a forum where faith and action can mutually unite against this crisis and participate together as one unified ‘Body of Believers’ bridging denominational barriers and embrace the compassionate and uncompromising actions of Christ toward a world afflicted.

Without realizing, some uninformed pastors have actually helped spread the wrong message about AIDS to their congregations by cultivating shame, blame, bondage and disgrace into the victims of AIDS, instead of helping the people that have AIDS become free from the stigma of social discrimination.

Who is Responsible for AIDS?

Please ask yourself this important question!

Who is the first group of people that comes to mind when you think of AIDS? OK! Have you got one?

Now, in all honesty was the first group of people that came to your mind the 15 Million innocent children that have lost their parents due to AIDS that are neither homosexual, or IV drug users or the sexually immoral, and who are now orphaned because of AIDS?

Or, were the first people that came to your mind the 17 Million widows that lost their husband because their spouse has died of AIDS?

Or, when you thought of AIDS did it make you think of the hundreds of thousand of innocent women in the United States who caught HIV/AIDS this year through no fault of their own while their husbands were out having a “down-low” secret relationship outside the marriage?

Did thinking of AIDS make you consider the more than 1.5 Million Young Adults ages 18-24 that will catch this deadly disease this year?

Or, could the group of people you were thinking of be another 2 Million children who will be orphaned this year all because of AIDS?

Typically when we think of AIDS the first group of people that comes to our mind is Gay, Lesbian or homosexual people. True!

AIDS is equal-opportunity global killer that infects people regardless of gender, race or sexual orientation. Still the origin of AIDS continues to raise more questions than provide answers.

Where Did AIDS Come from?

Entire medical journals, dissertations and novels have been written concerning the Origin of AIDS and still, no one knows for sure where AIDS came from. There are many topics of debate that make the AIDS pandemic (epidemic) distinct. However, origination of the disease should not be one of them here. The best we know about where AIDS came from is that it seems to have appeared simultaneously on two continents, Africa and the United States, in the early 1980’s.

It is believed that the United States reported the first case of AIDS on June 5, 1981. Similarly, Uganda and Congo were discovering their first cases of AIDS at the same time the disease began to explode within the homosexual communities of Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco. Those and other early infected people were labeled as having a “gay cancer,” or GRID (gay-related immune deficiency), which created the first stigma associated with HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) and AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency virus). HIV/AIDS quickly became a virus and disease that can affect anyone regardless of race, sex, age, religion or sexual orientation. HIV (the virus that causes AIDS) is an equal-opportunity infectious disease that knows no boundaries. The perception that certain groups or people are immune to it is entirely false.

No one knows for sure where AIDS came from. But experts estimate that today only about 20% of AIDS infection is accountable to homosexual activity; although at the onset of AIDS this percentage was much higher during the 80’s.

AIDS is a social/sexual and moral issue that seems to have appeared simultaneously on two continents in the early 1980’s in Africa and the United States. It is entirely possible that even without the Gay Rage of the 1970’s that AIDS would still be considered a major health concern today, just not as entrenched or as progressed in society. Nevertheless it would still exist and be a growing threat today.

Listed in the Merck Manual Physician's Desk Reference is a similarly mentioned disease with AIDS-like symptoms and causes. It was formerly called IDS and has been listed since 1952.

Whether the AIDS virus first appeared on the scene in 1952 or in 1981 shouldn’t matter here. The fact is that AIDS is here today and how we deal with it now, today, will determine the course of the disease in the lives of countless millions of people.

Some speculate AIDS may have been introduced by the green monkey virus from Africa. Others believe it is a curse from God. Others are convinced it was bio-engineered in a secret laboratory and was inflicted on man. Yet, others fully blame the homosexuals for the disease.

AIDS is both a medical problem as well as a moral metaphor that regardless of its origin AIDS is a very serious social/sexual disease that is spread by social/sexual activity and the ignorance of people from behaviors like sex, sharing IV drug needles and by Mother to Child Transmission (MTCT). In some countries (especially Africa) AIDS is still being transmitted through tainted blood and is a real threat.

Today AIDS is a major health threat on every Continent of the globe that affects mainly the innocent, the orphans, widows and the weak and is not a respecter of persons.

If someone still thinks AIDS is strictly a homosexual disease, then all of us will need to apologize to the 15 million innocent Orphans of AIDS that are neither homosexual, are IV drug users or the sexually immoral. Also to the 17 million innocent widows worldwide who have HIV/AIDS today.

How would Jesus respond to people with AIDS today…?

Due in part to increased social-profiling and stigma a chasm now exists between fulfilling the mandate of Jesus Christ to be His hands and feet to a suffering world which has greatly reduced the general response of Christians around the world through certain theological assertions.

It is evident that these theological taboos have contributed to the escalating HIV/AIDS crisis and helped this disease to rampantly spread out of control right under the nose of the Church. These religious taboos should be examined to determine how wrong theological thinking about AIDS sometimes causes widespread harm instead of bringing healing.

These theological taboos include:

  • Avoiding open discussion about sexual issues by not disclosing the whole truth about “Sex” STD’s and Condoms, which hinders people from understanding how the disease is spread and how to prevent the disease in the future.
  • Unfair bias and moralistic judgments toward HIV-infected persons and their families have added to the stigmatization.
  • Religious prejudice toward sex workers, injection-drug users, gays and others have contributed to social discrimination.
  • Silence, stigma, discrimination and shame keep people from getting tested and treated; this is especially true with women and youths.

To help Christians better understand what is God’s role for the Church we have initiated these forums to assist churches, pastors and congregations to help unify our actions against the growing HIV/AIDS crisis through comprehensive programs of awareness, education, care and support.

Our program includes:

  • Awareness: Our work includes HIV health education workshops for youths, women, pastors, and lay leaders in churches in the United States, Africa, and Asia to include comprehensive HIV/AIDS education.
  • Care: Our work includes support of home-based care programs encouraging congregations to "Covenant Care" by welcoming people with HIV/AIDS and their loved ones.
  • Support: Our work includes under girding programs for children that become orphaned by AIDS such as providing basic necessities, building orphanages and assisting hospitals through HIV/AIDS revitalization programs.

“Do people in the Church have AIDS also?”

An HIV/AIDS poster produced by a Church in Great Britain boldly declares, “The Body of Christ Has AIDS.” Citing 1 Corinthians 12:27, 26 (NIV), it reminds Christians, ‘Now you are the Body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it . . . . If one part suffers, every part suffers with it.’

Many AIDS suffers today have repented and now profess Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior and need our love not condemnation, and simply are being hurt by the Church’s insensitive response. (Romans 8:1) According to Scripture, in the eyes of God, “sexual sin” is wrong whether it comes from the gay homosexual or from the straight heterosexual adulterer.

The AIDS pandemic presses the life-and-death ethical dilemma upon people around the globe each and every day. For them, the world's worst health and economic crisis is not simply a matter of reciting statistics about how the growing AIDS pandemic continues to infect more people each subsequent year, but is a question of how to sustain life in the face of an overwhelming personal crisis. They need a real solution!

We live in a world today in which six people every minute die from AIDS and 15,000 more are becoming infected with the deadly HIV virus each and every day. Yet, the Christian communities in general have not yet mobilized effectively to respond to God's call for mission and ministry. We have neither ‘walked our talk’ nor have we ‘put our money where our mouths are.’ If we examine the budgets of our general church and conference apportionments, we will discover that funding to fight AIDS globally is nearly non-existent. We simply have not seen it as the priority that it is.

While a few local churches have done some pioneering work in the battle against HIV and AIDS, their service has often been obscured by those voicing a twisted theology claiming that “AIDS is the punishment of God.”

This opinion has prompted many people in the church today to embrace a theology of condemnation rather than compassion; indifference rather than involvement; discrimination rather than liberation.

Will AIDS Become a United Christian Priority?

The Orphans of AIDS and the Pastor’s Commission believe that the social concerns of AIDS must become a united Christian priority. Our hope is to develop an Ecumenical AIDS Fund to support those who are already working to prevent, treat and defeat AIDS. Our objective, as a unified body of believers must be to heed our own biblical mandate to “care for the widows and the orphans” and “visit the sick,” even those with AIDS. James 1:27 (emphasis mine)

By locking arms with committed church leaders like Rick and Kay Warren, Franklin Graham, Dr. Phillip Goudeaux and Dr. James Dobson we are joining together pastors from around the world that show deep concern about the crusade of fighting AIDS in Africa (India and China) and admonish churches that won’t join in on the fight.

The International AIDS Conference, 2006

Recently at the 2006, International AIDS Conference held in Toronto Canada, Dr. Rick Warren and his wife Kay emphasized that the Church can and must play a more vital role in the global response to HIV and AIDS.

The Warren’s stated, “We are here at this conference to say to fellow Christians that we believe the Church needs to take the lead in the greatest health concern on the planet.”

They also challenged ecumenical Christian leaders from around the world to recognize the unique resources they bring to this struggle. "We also want to make a statement to the “watching world” about how much is already being done by churches around the globe to bring hope where many feel hopeless.”

Dr. Warren stressed, “It is not a sin to be sick. We need to move from asking, 'How did you get HIV?' to 'How can I help?'" he added. "This is the greatest opportunity for the Church to be the Church and meet hurting, suffering people at their point of need.

Dr. Warren told delegates it is imperative to define their purpose in working towards prevention before the solution can be determined. "Is your goal to merely reduce or to resolve this issue; do you want to decrease or to destroy this pandemic; do you want to just slow it down or stop it altogether?" he asked rhetorically. "Each requires a different strategy, which can't be addressed until you know the answer to that question."

According to Dr. Warren, most prevention efforts are directed towards slowing, not stopping the spread of HIV/AIDS, because the tactics are easier and more popular. These include supplying condoms, encouraging limited sexual partners, offering needle exchange and advocating delaying the initial sexual experience. "Those efforts will slow down the pandemic, but not stop it," he said.

"The solution to eliminating the threat of HIV/AIDS is not education, it is transformation," Dr. Warren said. "That involves saving sex for marriage, training men to respect women, offering treatment through churches and encouraging individuals to pledge themselves to one partner.

I believe that faith, ethics and morals play an important role in the fight against HIV/AIDS," Dr. Warren continued. "I am not a scientist, a medical professional or activist. I am a pastor, whose motives are different. I love people, and I have a Savior named Jesus who said, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'"

Kay Warren further challenged that there needs to be an integrated effort between governments, business/NGOs and the church in order to keep AIDS from galloping into the next generation. "My generation was given an epidemic, but we are handing our children a pandemic," she said. "That means we need to respond to this crisis on all fronts with everyone doing their part -- at times working in groups with which you may not agree -- if we don't want HIV to spiral out of control."

In that context, the Warren's said they are pressing for a "coalition of civility," where diverse groups can disagree without being disagreeable or denouncing one another, and seek unity without requiring uniformity in order to reach critical mass in the response to HIV/AIDS.

Dr. Warren emphasized that the Church brings several distinctives to the table that neither governments nor business/NGO organizations will ever have, including the largest distribution network; the biggest pool of volunteers -- representing 2.3 billion individuals; local credibility, the longest record of caring -- more than 2,000 years; moral authority to carry out its mission; and the power of God. "I make no apology that the Church can lead the way in the name of Jesus Christ," he said.

You don’t have to be a Christian to be concerned about changing the course of AIDS. If you or your group is interested in learning more about how your group or parish can help, please tell us about yourself in the short questionnaire provided.

Thank you for helping us change the course of AIDS

Sincerely,

Dr. Rev. Paul J. Caratti
The Orphans of AIDS

This forum was adapted from Global Ministries and the United Methodist Church Web site and reflects the views of the United Evangelic Voice against AIDS; The Orphans of AIDS, Global AIDS Day and the Pastor’s Commission on AIDS.

Comments from Dr. Rick and Kay Warren are taken from the International AIDS Conference, 2006 press release by Saddleback Valley Community Church.

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