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Churches Encouraged by UNAIDS to Equalize Love and Care

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

"Equalize" is the theme of World AIDS Day in 2022.

"Equalize" is the theme of World AIDS Day in 2022.

The Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) is still on the mission it began in 1996, to end the public threat of AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) by 2030. The church is being entreated now more than ever, to help achieve this goal.

“Equalize” is the slogan for World AIDS Day, Thursday December 1, 2022. It invites us to love everyone equally; and in gratitude for God’s unconditional love to us, we can afford to comply. “But you sin if you don’t treat everyone the same” (James 2:9 NIRV). “Everyone” includes the people living with AIDS as well as those who are vulnerable. God expects us to love them and treat them equally, and He gives us the strength to do everything He asks us to do (Philippians 4:13).

“We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak . . . Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up” (Romans 15:1,2 NIV). That’s our Christian responsibility, which must be guided by discretion not discrimination; sympathy, not stigma; restoration, not rejection. To continue this noble task of equal care for our relatives, neighbors and friends who are affected with AIDS, we must continually focus on (1) our awareness, (2) our attitude, (3) our actions.

Why the Church Is the Right  Place for Action

Why the Church Is the Right Place for Action

Awareness

“Let us not look back in anger, nor forward in fear, but around in awareness,” warns James Thurber.

Worldwide, new HIV infections have been reduced by 54% since the peak in 1996. For that we say thanks to God, and to those who contribute constantly to making progress possible. Still, in 2021, there were about 1.5 million new people (17 from the Federation of St. Kitts-Nevis) affected with HIV, and women and girls accounted for 49% of all new infections.

We cannot relax our efforts to educate our church and community members about AIDS/HIV prevention and treatment. Pastors do well to promote awareness in their marriage counseling, in their family life programs and in their discussions about sexuality with teens. When church people are confronted with the facts, they will be made aware that they are not completely outside the reach of sexual diseases.

Church leaders are accepted as the authority on moral conduct. As they share spiritual counsel on behaviors which may prevent the disease, they can also share counsel on the damaging effects of judging, stigmatizing and discriminating against people living with the disease. For God treats everyone equally (Romans 2: 11), and He judges individuals by the same standard they use to judge others (Matthew 7:2).

Attitude

“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32 NIV).

We may be prone to make secret decisions about who deserve more kindness and compassion based on how they contracted the disease, but God is impartial and He expects us to represent Him. Forgiveness is motivated by the realization that we receive it in abundance every day, from a God who gives to all of us more than we deserve.

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Not only should we practice kindness. We have the right to speak up against practices of bias and abuse in all forms. We cannot refuse kindness to members of the LGBTQ community, even though we hate their lifestyle. Shunning them will cause them to hide their health status and avoid testing, making it easier for them to spread diseases. By caring for them we extend care to our ourselves. The Golden Rule requires that we treat everyone the way we would like to be treated (Matthew 7:12).

Lavishing equal love on members of the AIDS community is a small return for the blessings continually dispersed to us. It is not that God loves us more. It could be that we need the service assignment to help pull our character into shape. We can give thanks in return for the opportunity to serve.

Medication Coverage Unequal in 2020

Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is an HIV prevention medication initiated before and continued throughout periods of potential exposure to HIV.

Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is an HIV prevention medication initiated before and continued throughout periods of potential exposure to HIV.

Actions

Speaking to delegates at the 11th Assembly of the World Council of Churches (WCC) in September 2022, Dr. David Barstow reminded them, “We emphasize stigma because we know that it is a major driver of the HIV epidemic. And we emphasize the role of local churches because of the influence they have on their members and on the rest of society. Local churches, indeed local communities of all faith traditions, are key to eliminating stigma and are therefore key to ending the epidemic.”

Gracia Violeta Ross, who leads the Ecumenical HIV & AIDS Initiatives and Advocacy in WCC also affirmed, “We should be part of the healing hands of God to the world.”

While we nod our heads in approval of these messages, we must show tangible support. Which one of the following activities ever happened in your congregation?

  • The church scheduled a prayer meeting specifically to request God’s intervention on behalf of people living with AIDS.
  • The church sponsored a workshop on its responsibility to the AIDS community, or led an outreach project to find and help people affected by the disease.
  • Someone living with AIDS was given the opportunity to share an experience of struggle and survival.
  • Information brochures with information about testing, prevention, and other HIV-related health services were posted on bulletin boards in the church and in the community.
  • An offering was collected for contribution toward a community AIDS fund.

These are some simple practical ways in which the church can promote awareness of the disease. It is never too late to start. Through our involvement, we can decrease the stigma and discrimination frequently aimed at those who already suffer.

Conclusion

By becoming part of the solution to the problem, we become part of the mission assigned to the church by its Founder and Leader, Jesus Christ. “By this shall all men know that we are His disciples, if we have love for one another” (John 13:35), including our brothers and sisters who are living with HIV/AIDS. Let’s give equal-love-to-all a try!

References

CDC (Centers for Disease Prevention and Control): PrEP for HIV Prevention in the U.S (11/23/2021)

UNAIDS, Fact Sheet 2022 (27/07/2022)

UNAIDS, People living with HIV speak loudly and clearly at World Council of Churches Assembly, (07/09/2022)

© 2022 Dora Weithers

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