The Role of the Church
The faith based sector has been described as a key component in an integrated country or regional response to HIV.
The direct involvement of State Departments, actions taken by Industry and Business and the support of the Corporate Sector to NGOs in the HIV and Aids pandemic will all be inadequate if the churches and faith communities of the region remain uninvolved.
Since the beginning of the AIDS pandemic there have been wonderful stories of the role of the church in the response to HIV. There have also sadly been many stories of Stigma, Shame, Denial, Discrimination, Inaction and Misaction.
In many instances:
- People living with HIV, their families and friends find it difficult to trust their congregations with their HIV status because they fear judgment and rejection;
- People are suffering, but they find little support within the faith community;
- Many pastors and church members do not understand the issues and problems around HIV and Aids and therefore do not know how to respond. Some respond in a negative way – fuelling stigma, judgement and fear;
- Many churches and congregations are NOT involved at all;
- Many denominations do not have information about HIV or Aids and related programmes and therefore they are not able to plan, support, coordinate and improve their involvement in the HIV pandemic.
This sad and unfortunate situation has been described by many within Southern Africa as well as analysts visiting the region, including in studies of the WCC.
Christian churches provide a powerful channel for the implementation of HIV and Aids strategies. However, church leaders are often uninvolved because they lack a complete and comprehensive view of the pandemic and its drivers.
In order for this to change, and for churches to fulfill their potential as a powerful channel for the implementation of HIV and Aids strategies, churches and faith communities need:
- To be confronted with the realities of the pandemic and the multilayered factors adding to the vulnerability of individuals and communities:
- Need to understand the biblical imperative for becoming involved; and
- Need to understand the role they can play in their communities.
The need for a Christian HIV and Aids service in South Africa was identified when congregations of various churches asked pastor Christo Greyling, an HIV-positive ordained minister of the Dutch Reformed Church, for guidance on their involvement in the HIV terrain.