Tomorrow is World AIDS day. For some reading this that might stir very little in you. In this country at least HIV/AIDS has been perceived as a disease of promiscuity, largely but not in any sense exclusively amongst the gay community (indeed, in it’s early days in the US and the West it had such a higher prevelance in the homosexual communities then elsewhere that it was referred to initially as “Gay Illness Syndrome”). These days however, while the west still has an HIV problem, caused in part by the continuing glorification by some of promiscuous sex, it is largely a Developing World problem, and for that reason it is not as high on the agenda here in the UK as it should be. 60,000 people might have HIV in the UK, but most of them have a good long-term prognosis with increasing availability of drugs that in some cases as good as stop HIV in it’s tracks. However, across the world 40 million are infected and most of those don’t have access to even basic healthcare and that means that they will die.
Indeed, in some countries like South Africa HIV/AIDS is such a serious problem that it threatens to wipe-out whole generations of young people. Across the whole of Sub-Saharan Africa the infection rate runs at about 10%. And that should be enough to stir us into action, because while the chances of a global pandemic of Avian Influenza is still unknown (and some doubt it may ever happen) the reality of the HIV epidemic is clear for all to see right here, right now.
So what role do Christians have in tackling HIV/AIDS? Well a number of thoughts based on something sent to me in the past few days:
- Christ came to reconcile – Whereas the experience of HIV has produced anger and despair amongst those who suffer, their families, friends and communities, the experience of the real Jesus is that he brings healing in relationships. A large amount of the work done by Christians working amongst those living with HIV is less to do with physical healing and more to do with emotional healing.
- Christ said “Blessed are the Poor” – HIV/AIDS in the Developing World tends to hit those who have nothing in the first place and the inability to work (or the unwillingness of others to employ them) simply accents the problem of poverty. Christians have a key role in teaching Social Justice and then practising the same on the ground. There is no reason at all why anybody shouldn’t employ somebody who has HIV/AIDS simply because of fear of infection by social contact – such fear is unfounded.
- Christ is cross-cultural and counter-cultural – Although Christians worship in their own social and cultural context and Anglicans in particular have thrived on understanding and embracing this reality, Christ himself destroys the idea that “in my country we do things this way”. The transforming power of the Gospel and the call to holy living transcends individual cultures, tribes and tongues. Christ is the same Christ teaching the same thing and performing the same miracles where-ever he is in the world. This understanding of the catholic nature of Christian ethics helps to bring redemption into the myriad cultures, nations and peoples of the world. It’s not “I have my sexual moral and you have yours” – No, Christ is truth and his truth works anywhere and everywhere.
- Christ died for Sin – This seems so obvious but the reality is transforming. Christ died to remove the power of sin over the one who chose promiscuity and sinned, but he also died for the one who was raped or infected by their partner, the ones who were sinned against. Receiving forgiveness for sin is a real, spiritual event and transforms people’s outlooks from being trapped by death and destruction to being enlivened by hope. Forgiveness of Sin sets the captive free and gives them an eternal, assured perspective within which to live. it is literally the difference between life and death.
- Christ rose from the dead – On that first resurrection Sunday Christ rose physically, literally from the grave. It was the same body that Mary saw outside the tomb that had been murdered 48 hours earlier. He rose as the first-fruits of all those who he saves, guaranteeing the final victory over any force of darkness (like HIV) that may seek to ravage and destroy the human body. There is a sure and certain hope of physical resurrection for all those who die in the love of Christ. Death has been conquered and is no longer to be feared.
This World AIDS day pray for Christians all across the world who work amongst those suffering HIV/AIDS. Wear your red ribbon and think about what you could do to play your part in bringing Jesus to the world. Perhaps now is the time to consider sponsoring a child (there are thousands on the books of charities who are victims of HIV) or making a donation to groups like Tearfund working in these environments. Any of these things or others would be a perfect to spread the gospel and you would have an impact on people’s lives beyond anything you imagined.
Let me leave you with a link to a poem I wrote a few years ago on hearing the news from a friend of his diagnosis. He’s dead now, but he died knowing Jesus and therefore knowing that he could never really die. What will you do today to help others know that same truth?