World Aids Day is Dec. 1 each year. It is a time when people around the world focus on raising awareness about HIV/AIDS and remember those who are infected and affected by the pandemic.
It is difficult for me to conceive how churches can be relevant today without engaging the pandemic with a missional focus today. The first Sunday in Advent, Nov. 29, is an ideal time to be reminded that the Son of God comes to the world for all people, even and perhaps especially to those who suffer the most.
Twenty years ago, when people did not know much about HIV, there was a lot of ignorance about what HIV was and why it was so devastating. Regrettably, and embarrassingly, many Christian preachers and people took a condescending and blaming posture. I can still hear those mean-sounding pronouncements of God’s judgment on immoral people. Fear and ignorance sometimes prompt people to lash out in hurtful ways. This does not excuse inappropriate behavior, but it might explain some of it.
The appropriate position for Christians to take today concerning the AIDS pandemic is that of compassion. Compassion draws one to engage the pain in another person’s life for that person’s good. Our compassion should lead us to care for those who are infected and affected by the AIDS pandemic wherever they may be. Further, compassion should lead us to work for prevention so that families and communities can be spared the devastating consequences.
For several years, the Lott Carey Baptist Foreign Mission Convention, the community I am privileged to lead, has made HIV/AIDS prevention, care and support a strategic priority in our global missional agenda. Our network is encouraging prevention and action on World Aids Day as well as on the first Sunday of Advent. What follows are strategies that we advance under the heading, “What the Church Can Say, and What You Can Do.”
This resource has been used in the Lott Carey network for several years and has proven to be very helpful. Please reproduce these or similar strategies in your worship and communication literature and encourage people to embrace one or more HIV/AIDS prevention strategies as a lifestyle commitment.
Abstain from sexual intercourse outside of marriage.
Sexual intercourse is a gift for the marriage relationship. The Bible teaches people to flee sexual immorality and not to sin against our own bodies. The Holy Spirit lives in the human body, and we are called to honor God with our bodies. Abstinence is the best strategy to prevent sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV (human immunodeficiency virus).
Be sexually faithful within the marriage relationship.
When people marry, the two become one. Sexual intimacy is among the most intimate expressions of oneness and love. It enables childbearing, strengthens companionship and contributes to growth in unity. Experiencing sexual intimacy uniquely within marriage contributes to emotional and spiritual health and wholeness as well. Sexual fidelity is a key strategy to prevent STIs and HIV.
Consistently and correctly use condoms if there is any risk of infection.
Everyone that has been sexually active outside of marriage is at risk of HIV infection, and everyone that is sexually active with a partner that has been sexually active before marriage or outside of marriage is at risk of HIV infection. You should use condoms consistently and correctly if you or your partner is at risk of HIV infection. The consistent and correct use of condoms is highly effective against sexually transmitting HIV, provides some protection against contracting some STIs and helps to prevent pregnancies.
Delay sexual debut until at least age 21.
Sexual debut during adolescence significantly increases risks of unintended pregnancies as well as contracting STIs and HIV infection. The earlier you become sexually active, the greater your risk of infections. You reduce your risk of infection significantly the longer you delay sexual activity. Delaying your sexual debut gives your body and your mind time to mature so that you physically and intellectually are better equipped to manage your sexuality. In any event, your sexual debut should be consistent with the first two strategies above.
Educate yourself, your friends and your family.
Accurate education is essential to prevent the spread of HIV and to help care for and support people infected or affected by HIV/AIDS. More than 1 million people are estimated to be living with HIV in the United States. Nearly 40 million people are estimated to be living with HIV worldwide. There is a great need to spread clear and correct information for prevention. There is a great need to provide care for people who are HIV-positive and who are living with AIDS as well as for their families. There is a great need to reduce the stigma imposed on people living with HIV/AIDS. There is a great opportunity to learn from people living with AIDS and how you can support and fight the global battle against HIV and AIDS. You can make a difference!
Forgo sharing needles for drug use with anyone at anytime.
HIV can also be acquired through sharing needles for drug use. Intravenous (IV) drug users and their sexual partners are a rapidly growing population that is contracting HIV. The vast majority of IV drug users share needles, and this increases the risk of HIV infection for the users and their sexual partners. IV drugs should not be used. Sharing needles for IV drugs should never be done.
Testing is the only way to know your HIV status. If you have ever been sexually intimate before marriage or if your sexual partner has ever been sexually intimate before marriage to you, you are at risk of HIV infection. HIV can result in AIDS – acquired immune deficiency syndrome – and that can be deadly to you and to those you love. Get tested. Know your status. Assume nothing. The stakes are high.
People around the world are suffering and struggling because of the HIV/AIDS pandemic. While improved medical regimens are helping some people to live relatively healthy and normal lives, most people infected have no reasonable hope for a normal future. Disciples of Jesus cannot be uninvolved concerning this crisis. We can and we must engage. Someone’s life depends on it.
David Emmanuel Goatley is executive secretary-treasurer of the Lott Carey Baptist Foreign Mission Convention.
David Emmanuel Goatley is Research Professor of Theology and Black Church Studies and Director of the Office of Black Church Studies at Duke Divinity School.