Churches across the UK have been encouraged to step up their commitment to tackling the global AIDS pandemic.
The call came from a variety of Christian HIV and AIDS charities and agencies ahead of World AIDS day on Monday.
More than 2.1 million people died from AIDS related illnesses last year alone. Nearly 7,000 people are newly infected with HIV every day.
The majority (more than 90 percent) of the 33 million people infected worldwide live in developing countries.
Many of the tragedies are preventable, according to Peter Fabian, the UK chief executive of the charity AIDS Care Education and Training (ACET) — but church taboos both here and abroad hinder the fight, he claimed.
‘In many countries church members are the leading activists in the care of those infected by HIV and the education and training programmes essential to prevent the further spread of the disease.
‘Congregations have had, however, to go on a journey to deal with the widespread stigma and ignorance surrounding HIV, often led by individual Christians who have had the courage to declare their HIV status and challenge the church into love before judgement.’
HIV/AIDS remains a problem in the UK, and Mr Fabian added, ‘I want to encourage Christians in the UK to take their place at the forefront of the response to this pandemic.’
To encourage congregations to tackle these issues, ACET has produced a nine-minute DVD with stories from its programmes around the world, and a fact pack, which is free for churches.
Elsewhere, the Christian HIV/AIDS Alliance (CHAA) has produced a ‘Creed for the AIDS Pandemic’, designed to be read out in churches on either Sunday nearest to World AIDS day.
The creed is a step towards its vision of seeing a ‘mobilised UK Christian community responding to the global pandemic’, the alliance stated.
Its chair, Ken Pearson said, ‘The creed for the AIDS pandemic is not new. It is being lived out every day by millions of Christians living with and caring for those affected by the pandemic.
‘My prayer is that the creed will reawaken the UK Church to our responsibility to share with them in their need.’
The short creed affirms Christian belief in God’s love to reach out to those infected and affected by HIV and AIDS while firmly rejecting the idea of the AIDS pandemic being God’s judgement on sinful behaviour.
Its emphasis is firmly on the Church being an agent of change, putting the responsibility on church members to reach out as Christ’s disciples ‘to comfort the broken hearted, help the oppressed, care for orphans and widows and minister to the sick’.
AIDS activist the Revd Alan Bain, vice chair of CHAA, told The Baptist Times the creed is suitable for ‘any church member from any denomination’ to read out, because it is not like the Nicene creed where doctrinal issues are stated.
It is simply based firmly on Scripture, he explained, and ‘invites those who want to, to make a new commitment to helping those affected by the pandemic’.
He added, ‘I don’t see any reason why Baptist churches shouldn’t use it as there is nothing divisive or scripturally contentious that would make them not want to.
‘It is just a great way to corporately underline the UK Church’s commitment to those involved in the pandemic.’
The Faith and Unity Department at the Baptist Union of Great Britain always publicises Worlds AIDS Day in its newsletter, and particularly encourages churches to make use of resource material such as that produced by Christian Aid.
Its head, the Revd Graham Sparkes, said, ‘The suffering caused by AIDS related illnesses is immense, with over two million dying in the last year alone.
‘It is vital that we go on challenging the stigma that too often surrounds this disease and prevents treatment reaching those who most need it, and the creed is one way of helping address this issue.
‘It adds to the excellent resources available to help our churches mark World AIDS Day.’
The Archbishops of Canterbury and York spoke out on Monday to highlight the vital role of the Church in supporting those affected by HIV.
Additionally, the Methodist Church produced an Asian Worship Service for World AIDS Day, while Christian charity hospital Mildmay is also encouraging congregations to ‘think, pray and respond’ to AIDS issues.
Used by permission of The Baptist Times.