Commentary: We must lift every hand in responding to AIDS
Feb. 7, 2007
NOTE: A photograph is available at http://umns.umc.org.
A UMNS Commentary By the Rev. Kelvin Sauls*
Black History Month is not just another opportunity to look back and celebrate our heritage. We also must critically survey today's landscape and consider present challenges. One such challenge is HIV/AIDS.
To change the course of this pandemic, we will have to do more than sing "Lift Every Voice." It will take more than wearing African attire and romanticizing about the "underground railroad." To turn back this pandemic, we will have to lift every hand to build a railroad of compassion and acceptance above ground.
The faith community must lead the way! Churches, temples, synagogues and mosques must walk in love and solidarity with our brothers and sisters who are infected with - and affected by - HIV/AIDS.
The time has come for Christians to be intentional about demonstrating faith rooted in compassion. In our walk, we can exclaim with the apostle Paul that "nothing can separate us from the love of God" - not even HIV/AIDS.
Too many lives are being lost, while too many people are doing too little. The facts and fears are real and overwhelming! There is still no cure or effective vaccine.
More than 40,000 people are infected each year. AIDS is the No. 1 killer of African-American males ages 15 to 45. Two teenagers are infected every minute in the United States. Nobody has been cured to date.
There are also signs of "feminization" of the disease, with minorities particularly hard hit.
According to the 2004 collaborative report "Women and HIV/AIDS: Confronting the Crisis," African-American and Latina women represent less than a quarter of all women in the United States, but together they account for up to 80 percent of the nation's AIDS cases among women.
Globally, 17 million women and 18.8 million men between ages 15 and 49 live with HIV/AIDS. However, since 1985, the percentage of women among adults living with HIV/AIDS has risen from 35 percent to 48 percent.
In its 2004 report, the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS observed: "Nowhere is the epidemic's 'feminization' more apparent than in sub-Saharan Africa, where 57 percent of adults infected are women and girls."
In the face of this challenge, people of faith are called upon to walk the talk and display compassion and care for all who are infected with and affected by HIV/AIDS. To change the course, we must move from stigmatization to mobilization. It's time to take our heads out of the sand and allow our homes and congregations to become places where people with HIV/AIDS can experience acceptance, peace and love.
The time for lip service is long gone. With every crisis comes an opportunity. Our opportunity is to practice hope and love through prevention, intervention and mobilization.
Prevention can come in the form of blunt, compelling and innovative education forums to stem the tide of ignorance, arrogance and stigmatization. Hence, our faith education must include preventative health education. We must invite, teach and challenge people to make the necessary behavioral changes to end the spread of this preventable disease. Intervention can include making our congregations available as testing sites for HIV/AIDS, hosting support groups, collaborating to provide life-sustaining services for HIV/AIDS patients, and coordinating opportunities for retreat and respite.
We can mobilize our congregations, districts and conferences to influence and direct policy at the local, national and international levels. When our congregations commit to be centers of wellness, Christianity can once again become a bedrock for communities to move from disparity to vitality. We must fight to ensure that funding and HIV medications are available to all who need them. Accessibility, understanding and elimination of health disparities are keys to turning the course of the pandemic.
My brother and sister with HIV/AIDS are still my brother and sister. Now is not the time to be a spectator. Become a participator. Move from stigmatization to mobilization and make God's love, care and compassion visible and viable. Remember, "nothing can separate you from the love of God" - not even HIV/AIDS!
May God's compassion ignite us from within so we can practice a vital faith with open hearts, open minds and open doors.
*Sauls is a native of South Africa and serves as director of congregational development for the United Methodist Board of Discipleship in Nashville, Tenn. Prior to his appointment, he was a pastor in Virginia, Ohio and California.
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