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The Church and AIDS Printable Version PRINTABLE VERSION
by Thuputu Nyekha, India Dec 1, 2008
Health , Religious Freedom , HIV/AIDS  
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Today is "World Aids Day", 1st December, 2008. For the sake of commemorating this important day, I propose the popular slogan "Know AIDS for no AIDS," especially on the topic, the Church and AIDS.

I attended the funeral service of an AIDS-infected woman at Kohima, in Nagaland (India) in September, 2008. I felt tension directed toward the church ministers as no representative from the church had turned up to lead the funeral rites. The deceased was a Christian, but we do not know if she was baptized or had maintained membership with a church. Most of the people attending the funeral service were unwilling to go near the dead body. Alas! She was simply buried with one prayer pronounced by a family member.

Scripture verses have been used to condemn AIDS victims, concluding that this plague has been sent by God to punish those who lead a “sinful life-style”. It is a less than loving response to those who suffer with AIDS. The Bible condemns certain life-styles that are today associated with AIDS in people’s minds. Furthermore, little sympathy for sufferers is elicited from members of the church. I find myself wondering how Jesus Christ would have responded to the AIDS problem.

I think the current negative attitudes towards AIDS victims are based on ignorance about the disease and associated fears. Therefore, to eliminate misunderstandings and overreactions, it is important to know the history of AIDS, the disease process and current information regarding how the HIV virus is transmitted. I hope this will help replace the discrimination, negligence and homophobic reactions with the Christ-like reaction one would expect from the church.

What is AIDS?
Reports of diseases similar to AIDS date back to 1902. Researchers have found 19 cases meeting the criteria for this disease between 1950 and 1978. In the early 1980s the disease was noted among homosexuals. By 1982 the disease was found among IV drug users, hemophiliacs, blood transfusion recipients and those who had sexual intercourse with an infected individual. In 1989 some 50,000 AIDS cases were reported in the United States.

AIDS is a disease spectrum which results from infection with the Human Immune Deficiency Virus (HIV). The disease process begins when someone is infected with the virus. Those who carry the virus are considered to be HIV positive. This does not mean they have AIDS. The virus may be latent in a person for years without causing a problem. However, once the virus becomes active, the immune system is attacked and that person is subject to a variety of infections, possibly cancer, and eventual death.

As the disease progresses and produces more significant illnesses, people are categorized according to their symptoms, illnesses and laboratory studies. The final and most severe stage of this disease is considered AIDS. The time it takes to progress from the HIV positive stage to AIDS is variable and unpredictable. Some reports suggest the average time from HIV positive to AIDS is 7 to 8 years. Of course, there will always be some who progress more quickly. Remember, a person who is HIV positive does not necessarily have AIDS.

How is the virus transmitted?
The HIV virus is primarily transmitted via the blood and body secretions. The primary means of transmitting the virus is through sexual intercourse with an infected individual, sharing needles with an infected person, blood transfusions and from an infected mother to her developing fetus. Because the virus was first noted within the homosexual community, the stigma of AIDS as a “gay disease” increased significantly. However, the incidence of this disease is now so widespread that heterosexual transmission of the virus is much more common than in the early 1980s.

It should be noted that it is very difficult to become infected through casual contact such as shaking hands, hugging, or kissing. A study of 101 people who lived in the same house as someone with the disease found that the virus was not transmitted through sharing cooking utensils, holding hands or kissing. There is no evidence that the virus has the ability to penetrate normal skin.

Who is most likely to have AIDS?
Those most likely to have AIDS are those who have come in contact with contaminated blood. The major subsets of the population at greatest risk are male homosexuals, intravenous drug users, prostitutes, people with multiple sexual partners, hemophiliacs, those who received untested blood transfusion, and children born to infected mothers. While many of those infected acquired the virus through what the church defines as immoral acts, it is important to remember there are many who became innocently infected (i.e. through blood transfusions, blood products, infected spouse, infected mother).

How should the Church approach AIDS?
The church should be on the front lines fighting this disease. Church members should lovingly reach out to those with AIDS. Consider how Christ encountered the lepers (See Matthew 8: 3-4). This is a scripture-based example of how Christians should respond. Christians should also remember how Christ responded to the Samaritan woman and the woman caught in adultery (See John 4:1-23; 8: 1-11). Jesus was not afraid to reach out to these people. He offered hope; He physically touched them; yet He did not condone their adultery. To use a popular expression, though "He despised the sin, He loved the sinner.”

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