The challenges posed by HIV/ AIDS require both a global and a local response. How can we develop the will, knowledge, attitudes, values and skills required to prevent the spread of AIDS without the concerted efforts of governments, local communities, non-governmental organisations and research institutions? Churches, especially, are central to spreading messages to communities.
From the beginning of the pandemic some Christians, churches and church-related institutions have been active in education and prevention programmes, and in caring for people living with HIV/ AIDS. Churches have helped to fight racist attitudes to certain ethnic and racial groups who are mostly affected by HIV/ AIDS. These groups were unjustly stigmatised as the most likely carriers of the infection.
The situation continues to call for a fresh resolution by churches to address the situation directly. Churches are continuously encouraged to promote the use of condoms, since abstinence on its own is failing to reduce the infection rate in Africa.
The HIV/ AIDS pandemic raises difficult theological issues in the areas of sex. Sex before marriage is a sin in the eyes of most, and allowing Christians to use condoms is indirectly allowing sex before marriage. However, the infection rate is on the rise.
A statement by the World Council of Churches reads, “We wish to avoid any implication that HIV/ AIDS, or indeed any disease or misfortune, is a direct punishment from God. We affirm that the response of Christians and the churches to those affected by HIV/AIDS should be one of love and solidarity, expressed both in care and support for those touched directly by the disease, and in efforts to prevent its spread.’’
Churches are expected to give both spiritual direction and moral guidance. Many trained and gifted members of the community, as well as some pastors, are already providing valuable pastoral care. Such care includes counselling as a process for empowerment of persons affected by HIV/AIDS, in order to help them deal with their situation and to prevent or reduce HIV transmission. However, a few ministries have advocated for condom use.
The Catholic Church
The Catholic Church is the largest private provider of care to HIV/ AIDS patients in the world, but the Church’s position on HIV prevention is controversial because it is opposed to condom use. In relation to the sexual transmission of the disease, the Church teaches that sexual abstinence before marriage, and monogamy inside marriage, are a better means of limiting the spread of the epidemic than is the use of condoms.
United Nations bodies have criticised the Church for its position against condom use, on the basis that condoms are the best available means to prevent infections among sexually active people. UN bodies co-operate closely with the Church on the provision of patient care, and in eliminating infections in children. The Church provides approximately one quarter of all HIV treatment and care.
Key points on the Methodist’s mission on HIV/ AIDS read, “The church is a caring community bringing hope and unconditional acceptance. The church plays an active role in HIV and AIDS counselling. The church encourages voluntary HIV testing. Church workers are strongly encouraged to be tested and speak for the importance of testing. The church promotes access to testing. The church provides knowledge about the best methods of preventing the transmission of HIV. The church teaches about stigma and discrimination. The church is also involved in providing care to people suffering from HIV/AIDS.” Again, along similar lines to that of the Catholic church.
Apostolic sects in Africa
Some Apostolic sects have revolutionalised and are allowing church members to seek medical attention when they are ill. A number of these sects do not visit hospitals on any kind of sickness. UNAIDS and other care organisations have in the past engaged them on this issue, but there are little to no changes. HIV will continue to spread and some people are being deprived of HIV treatment because of certain beliefs.
Non-governmental organisations that fight against the spread of HIV in Africa are advocating for reforms and new government policies on HIV/ AIDS. They want condoms to be put in schools, churches and cinemas. To support their request UNFPA recently launched teenage condoms in Southern Africa. Parents and churches denounce these suggestions pointing out cultural values and Christian values respectively. It is right to stand firm on Christian grounds and say no to measures that might disrupt the church. However, teenagers are engaging in sex before marriage and they are being infected.
World AIDS Day 2015
“All our energy and commitment will be required to reach the goal of ending the AIDS epidemic by 2030 as part of the SDGs.” – Michel Sidibé, UNAIDS Executive Director on World AIDS Day 2015.
Author: Gesture Chidhanguro
Video source: UN Aids