Christianity and HIV Essay

This essay has a total of 2881 words and 13 pages.

Christianity and HIV

As an outsider who shares many values with sincere and faithful Christians, I am
troubled with the apparent lack of effectiveness of their most common approaches to
the current HIV crisis. The Christian ultimate objective of saving souls is not universally
shared, and arguments from that perspective will not be persuasive to a general
audience. However, even if we were all to agree to that goal, the current Christian
approaches are allowing far to many bodies and souls to be taken by HIV.

The approaches which Christians are taking toward this issue publicly [viz., to outsiders
as well as co-religionists] will herein be considered. The essence of the most typical
arguments will be explored. The impact of same will be analyzed, critically. Alternatives
will then be proposed. When pronouncements are made through the media and the
popular press by Christians as Christians, the impact upon perception of the faithful is
at least as great as upon the issue in question itself.

It is possible to have an ethical position promulgated which has the potential of mass
appeal without compromising any fundamental principles. Any pronouncements on an
issue as critical as HIV must take into consideration the current cultural climate.
Wanting of that, the risk of merely offending and the opportunity to reach a recalcitrant
mind to a moral perspective is lost [as is the opportunity to save a lost soul].

It is also true that, a ‘value-neutral’ approach is also ultimately doomed to fail. Doors
may be opened with a ‘non-judgmental’ approach, but the root causes are not
addressed. Popular opinion notwithstanding, HIV is a consequence of moral decisions.
Yet, there is significant cadre of Christians who loathe to even suggest a moral cause
and effect.

Clearly the most favored approach is what I will call the ‘compassionate
non-judgmental’ method. This is also most typically used by secular treatment facilities
and is looked upon approvingly by the mavens of the popular culture. A typical example
can be found in article generated by the AIDS National Interfaith Network. In it they
proclaim that the “enormity of the pandemic itself has compelled us to join forces
despite our differences of belief.” (ANIN 1)

Further, we are told that “AIDS is an affliction of the whole human family, a condition in
which we all participate.” (ibid) The assertion is then made that “God does not punish
with sickness or disease.” (ibid) Now, if we agree that the Almighty is infinite and we, as
individuals are finite, how can anyone make such a definitive assertion of the intent and
method of Deity? This fallacy will be explored later; it is abused by advocates of several

The authors lay out their objectives: an emphasis on prevention for those not yet
infected and “non-judgmental care, respect, support and assistance” for those who are.
They are “committed to transform public attitudes and policies.” (ibid 2) These
‘attitudes’ which are to be transformed are “the sins of intolerance and bigotry.” We are
admonished to remember that “AIDS is not a ‘gay disease.” (ibid) The policies
[government?] which need such ‘transformation’ are alluded to in the assertion that
“economic disparity and poverty are major contributing factors in the AIDS pandemic
and barriers to prevention and treatment.” (ibid)

Not included in this advocacy for “prevention” and “education” is any assessment in
how the behaviors which transmit the disease may be “major contributing factors.”
Nowhere in this missive is the suggestion that any effective “education” might need to
include what those who are infected may have in common and what could be learned
from this.

We are instead expected to take the leap that “intolerance and bigotry” and “economic
disparity” should be the focus of our efforts in the struggle against AIDS. Are we to
suppose that even they actually believe this to be true? Do they really mean to imply
that the original outbreak of HIV/AIDS and/or its continuation was caused by people
who consider the behaviors which transmit the disease to be morally abhorrent?

Also, there are places where HIV/AIDS are virtually unknown which have an essentially
medieval socio-economic structure [viz. a great deal of ‘economic disparity and
poverty.’] The social mores in these traditional societies are as equally ‘backward’ in
comparison to ours as are their economic situations. How are we to assess that?

Claudia L. Webster, a Board of Directors member of the United Methodist General
Board of Global Ministries advocates what I would characterize as the ‘practical’
approach. Church leaders are encouraged to facilitate discussion and education
targeted toward adults, teens and children. “Personal stories” should be shared “about
[how] HIV/AIDS has affected families... [to] bring home the reality of HIV/AIDS.”
(Webster 2)

“Sensitive issues” should be, “addressed [italics mine]” such as, “abstinence and
monogamy as well as safer [italics mine] sex practices including using a condom.” (ibid)
Also to be ‘addressed’ is needle sharing by intravenous drug users and, “caring for all
types of people.” (ibid) Ms. Webster does allow that, “[i]t is not who you are, but what
risk behaviors you engage in” (ibid) which risk infection. She offers that this aspect of
her recommended “education program” would be “challenging... to put it mildly.” (ibid)

The author considers that a “church setting” would be a “very meaningful” place for
“teens and children to learn about HIV/AIDS.” (ibid 3) In addition to “medical facts”
children could be engaged in discussion of “church teachings regarding caring for
persons who are ill and for families in need.” (ibid) She goes on to admonish her
co-religionists to avoid discrimination against HIV-positive volunteers and employees
(ibid 5) “Infection control procedures” are listed if a situation arises to necessitate the
handling of bodily fluids [such as “First Aid situations.” (ibid 6)

Advice on “compassionate counseling” is offered for the families of the dead and dying.
Practical matters such as day care for those who are incapacitated by the illness are
outlined. Of course, no compassionate treatment on this subject would be complete
without the recommendation to advocate on behalf of increased government
involvement in the above-described recommendations. (ibid 9)

At least Ms. Webster recognizes the necessity of ‘addressing’ such ‘sensitive issues’ as
monogamy and abstinence but note how she phrases these as if they were morally
equivalent to using condoms and not sharing needles! Unlike ANIN, she is willing to
discuss the relationship between the behavior and disease, but the half-sentence
devoted to not engaging in the behaviors at all is dwarfed by the eleven pages devoted
to living with the behavior and its consequences.

A perspective which acknowledges accountability is what I would call the ‘revelation
and repentance’ approach. Johnny Chatham is a person who, as a young man,
embraced the homosexual ‘lifestyle’. He became alienated from his parents and sought
to justify his behavior [and demonize his parents’ reaction] to himself. After he tested
positive for HIV, he went through the typical periods of denial and resignation [which,
ironically included a ‘party’ phase]. (Chatham 1-4)

His parents were practicing Christians and, after much struggle, convinced him to come
back home with them. They insisted that he go to church and attend other Christian
events and services with them. Upon reflection, he noted that when spiritual guidance
and/or intervention was needed, it came. His father upset him greatly upon suggesting
that he might not be saved. “He told me that great men and women of the Bible have
sinned, but that they didn’t continue to live in sin as I had.” (ibid 4-5)

He was reminded of how, when David was confronted with the sins he had committed
with Bathsheba, he repented. Johnny opened his Bible to Psal. 51 and found that a
“broken spirit” is what God wanted. He took from that he would have to give up
everything he had previously had built his life upon, “the homosexuality, the parties,
everything!” (ibid 5) He came to the insight that his former “’life’ had become my god,
that it was an idol.”

Mr. Chatham apparently succumbed to the disease [it is not said exactly when], but not
before he was re-united with his family and embraced the spiritual aspect which joined
him to a greater family. He considered himself subject to divine intervention the entire
time and assessed his life and impending death as ultimately leading to “victory.”

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