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The Church's Role in the AIDS Epidemic

MsDora, former teacher and Christian Counselor likes to empower men and women and to explore religious and social issues which concern them.

“Global Solidarity, Shared Responsibility” is the theme for World Aids Day in 2021.

“Global Solidarity, Shared Responsibility” is the theme for World Aids Day in 2021.

Forty years ago (1981), the American Broadcasting Company made an announcement to the world. “It’s mysterious, it’s deadly,” the newscaster said, “and it’s baffling medical science: Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome.” In 2021, the World Health Organization refers to AIDS as a global epidemic and the United Nation provides the following information in its Global Statistics:

  • 79.3 million became infected with HIV (the human immunodeficiency virus that facilitates AIDS) since the start of the epidemic.
  • 36.3 million people have died from AIDS-related illnesses.
  • 37.7 million people globally were living with HIV in 2020.
  • 1.5 million of them became newly infected in 2020.

In 2021, World Aids Day will be commemorated on December 1 under the theme, “Global Solidarity, Shared Responsibility.” The church is again invited to participate in the global effort to reach out with compassion, comfort and hope to those who are AIDS/HIV positive; to share in the global commitment to end the spread of AIDS by 2030.

Individuals who contracted HIV through sexual activity or otherwise, are included in the population to which believers are commanded to preach the gospel. They are included in the memorandum from Jesus that “Whenever you did one of these things (give drink to the thirsty, visit the sick, show hospitality) to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40 MSG).

Rather than harbor indifference or dislike because of the lifestyle which brought on this crisis for many (though not for all), consider how the Christian lifestyle can benefit these individuals, the way the life of Christ benefits Christians.

Acceptance

Honor God by accepting each other, as Christ has accepted you (Romans 15:7 CEV).

To accept people who are living with AIDS and its related diseases is to see them as humans gifted with life from God, to separate them from their contrary behavior and its consequences, to offer them the compassion that Christ offers everyone. When the female adulterer was caught red-handed and brought to Him, He offered her mercy (John 8:44). It’s a challenge to accept people while denouncing their lifestyle, but followers of Christ learn to do what He did. And such benevolence brings honor to God.

The research shows that the disease is spread during sex and through contact with HIV-infected blood and body fluids. Outside of these situations, it is safe to sit, to talk with and listen to those who want to communicate. Many of them feel lonely, guilty, abandoned and hopeless. They are likely candidates for friendship and encouragement, for physical and spiritual nourishment. It is not possible to help them while ignoring them. The Christian’s responsibility is to model to everyone the total character of Christ, with the intent that everyone will desire personal fellowship with the Christ they see portrayed.

Fight AIDS. Not people with AIDS.

Fight AIDS. Not people with AIDS.

Education

Knowledge gives power (Proverbs 24:15 CEV).

Churches have the authority to educate its members and its extended community on how to live wisely and responsibly. In general, they are to be commended for their participation in distributing the facts and promoting adherence to protocols in the recent COVID pandemic. Protestant churches were much slower to associate themselves with efforts to stop the spread of AIDS, obviously because of its moral implications. However, in the aftermath of the tremendous loss of lives and the ongoing distress to individuals and families, it is as important now as ever to continue education for the prevention and spread of AIDS.

The church is well poised, given its role as guide in matters of morality and family life, to participate in HIV/AIDS education. The FACT website offers three pertinent reasons for training.

(1) To Prevent New Infections

Hopefully, the older people have been taught the facts about HIV and AIDS—including what they are, how they are transmitted, and the benefits of abstinence and monogamy as means of prevention. However, they are always some who are slow to learn. Because the church does not question past lifestyles in its process of accepting new members, some may be admitted who are already infected. In ignorance, they could marry, and without adequate precautions, cause new infections. So, for the unaware inside and outside the church, as well as for the young who have not been exposed to the facts of the disease, continuing AIDS education is beneficial.

(2) To Improve Quality of Life for HIV Positives

Some people have been infected through illegal and immoral activity, and others have been accidentally infected through contamination in a medical procedure. None of these individuals need judgement; they need information about services and treatments. What if the church could provide numbers to hotlines and agencies, and personnel trained in Christian practices of kindness, tolerance and empathy? Support groups for emotional health and practical assistance would not only improve life for individuals who are HIV positive, it would also provide service opportunities for members who are committed to continuing the ministry of Jesus.

Find resources for supportive churches by clicking at the Source of the image.

Find resources for supportive churches by clicking at the Source of the image.

(3) To Reduce Stigma and Discrimination

The red ribbon is the symbol of awareness and support for people living with HIV/AIDS. The color has significant meaning for Christians. It reminds them of the blood of Jesus and its power to equalize redemption for all sinners. It is the symbol for access to eternal life for everyone who has faith in Him (John 3:16). It has zero tolerance for stigma and discrimination.

  • Attaching stigma (disgrace) and discrimination to a person’s condition is to help make the person feel worthless, even worthless to God.
  • Stigma encourages people living with HIV to hide their condition for fear of being humiliated, bullied and treated as outcasts.
  • Discrimination makes them afraid to get tested, or to disclose the results, thereby facilitating the spread of the disease among an unsuspecting population.

The tool for reducing stigma and discrimination is education for people with and without the disease. The church has opportunity to teach the value of self-worth; of abstinence, monogamy and other aspects of morality; of spiritual transformation through repentance and acceptance of God’s forgiveness and His power to change lives.

Hope

[Lord,] You listen to the longings of those who suffer. You offer them hope, and you pay attention to their cries for help (Psalm 10:17 CEV).

There is no cure for HIV, but there is an antiretroviral treatment (ART) which can control the virus and allow people with HIV to live longer and healthier. As long as they live, God listens to them, pays attention to their cries for help and offers them hope. He does the same for everyone. There is also hope, that in gratitude to Him, and in its efforts to extend His Kingdom, the church will follow His example.

Get Us to Zero (0.35 minutes)

References

AVERT: Global Information and Education on HIV and AIDS (2021)

FACTS: Fighting AIDS Continuously Together, HIV/AIDS Education, Copyright 2010.

HIV.gov: About HIV and AIDS (2019)

Oloughlin, Michael: The Debrief, Plague: Untold Stories of Aids and the Catholic Church (1981)

UNAIDS: Fact Sheet (2021)

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 Dora Weithers

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