The Importance of HIV/AIDS Education to a Pastor and Ministry in the Church. 12/11/2012
Donald E. Messer on the Facebook page of the Center for Church and Global AIDS. Reprinted with permission
I wrote the following with deep sadness to my friends in Rwanda as I had hoped to join them in their HIV Workshop for pastors and spouses.
I have written a number of books on the global AIDS crisis. With over 34 million people infected in the world, this disease has been called “an unprecedented human catastrophe,” by the United Nations.
The Sin of Stigma
What makes the disease worse is that many people, including Christians, stigmatize and discriminate against people living with HIV and AIDS. The great sin of our time is the stigma and discrimination that religious people demonstrate toward persons living with HIV and AIDS.
Re-read the Gospel story of how Jesus related to sick people. He was constantly encountering sick people, ill with many diseases. Probably some of them were sexually-transmitted infections. We don’t know.
But what we do know is that Jesus never stigmatized persons. He showed love and care to every person he met and needed his love and healing. He told his disciples that they were to cure every sickness and heal every illness. No exceptions. No excuses. Reading the Gospel of Matthew, for example, is a thrilling experience when you realize that Jesus lived as he taught—a man of mercy who revealed a God of Compassion. Truly the Savior of the world!
While I trust that you as pastors and spouses learn many things at this seminar, my greatest hope is that you will make a deep commitment to be loving, accepting, caring, non-stigmatizing persons. People living with HIV feel enough pain from the disease, from their own internal disappointment and sometimes shame, and from the mean remarks of friends, family, and others, including those who claim to be Christian. They need from us a warm heart and a helping hand.
If we are to be good pastors—Shepherds of God’s sheep—we will not participate in the sin of stigmatizing and discriminating, but be a channel of God’s love and forgiveness—the miracle of the Christian Gospel. This is what means to be a Christian.
The Sin of Gossip
Christian pastors and spouses also must resist the sin of gossip. Persons living with HIV and AIDS suffer from not only their illness but also by the way people often speak of them. The pastor and spouse should be persons who always speak kindly of persons and should never engage in talking negatively about people and spreading stories and rumors. This is contrary to the Gospel of love articulated by Jesus Christ.
It would be wonderful if all the United Methodist pastors and spouses would voluntarily be tested for HIV. This should not happen, however, unless confidentially is guaranteed and counseling provided for all persons who may be infected. Also if the church is unwilling to accept having an HIV positive pastor or spouse, then persons will fear being tested. A pastor or spouse who is HIV positive can still be a marvelous pastor or spouse—and use their illness as a way of helping others know of God’s forgiveness and care.
Testing is very important because if a person is infected, they hopefully can start treatment that will prolong their lives and they can continue to provide for their families. Around the world people are promoting “treatment as prevention,” since research shows that people who are on anti-retroviral drugs have a 96% chance of not spreading the infection to their sexual partner. What is far more dangerous is when people are not tested and do not know their status and thus may be spreading the disease without knowing it.
As Christians, we follow Jesus who said he came to bring life abundant for all people. So we as pastors and spouses want always to be life givers and to promote methods that protect and preserve life, not destroy or damage it.
Loving Your People
The call of God to be a pastor is one of the greatest gifts one can experience in life. As a pastor, we are given an opportunity to be with many people, some more loveable than others, but all a part of God’s great diverse family.
We are not called to judge others, but to serve and to love others. We are given an opportunity to reach out to the rich and the poor, the sick and the healthy, the old and the young, the sinner and the sinned-against. Christian pastors are called to be lovers of life and to work in every way to educate persons about HIV, to promote prevention in every way possible, and to provide care and healing wherever possible.
As leaders in your church and community, I hope by being involved in this workshop you will be able to return home with more knowledge and deeper understanding. I trust your spirit of compassion and care will be deepened.
Reach out to others working in the field of HIV and AIDS—government and non-government workers. They will be thrilled to know that United Methodists truly care and want to be partners in bringing awareness, education, prevention, care and treatment. Become involved and invite others to help you educate members of your church.
Think of your congregation today. Pray that not one single young person or adult in your congregation gets infected because you and your church failed to provide education, prevention, and care information. Speak from the pulpit about the disease. Organize women’s groups. Educate the young people. Don’t be embarrassed to talk about human sexuality and condoms. You are in the life-giving and life-saving business. If you find yourself tongue-tied, invite a local doctor or nurse, or medical assistant, or social worker, or somebody who can provide accurate information in a loving fashion. God calls you to action today!
God Be With You
It is with deep regret that I was unable to join you, but my fervent prayer is that God will be with you now and in the future. Do not hesitate to contact me about any questions or concerns. My e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org I will be praying for you.