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Christianity And Hiv Essay Research Paper As

Christianity And Hiv Essay, Research Paper

As an outsider who shares many values with sincere and faithful Christians, I am

troubled with the apparent lack of effectiveness of their most common approaches to

the current HIV crisis. The Christian ultimate objective of saving souls is not universally

shared, and arguments from that perspective will not be persuasive to a general

audience. However, even if we were all to agree to that goal, the current Christian

approaches are allowing far to many bodies and souls to be taken by HIV.

The approaches which Christians are taking toward this issue publicly [viz., to outsiders

as well as co-religionists] will herein be considered. The essence of the most typical

arguments will be explored. The impact of same will be analyzed, critically. Alternatives

will then be proposed. When pronouncements are made through the media and the

popular press by Christians as Christians, the impact upon perception of the faithful is

at least as great as upon the issue in question itself.

It is possible to have an ethical position promulgated which has the potential of mass

appeal without compromising any fundamental principles. Any pronouncements on an

issue as critical as HIV must take into consideration the current cultural climate.

Wanting of that, the risk of merely offending and the opportunity to reach a recalcitrant

mind to a moral perspective is lost [as is the opportunity to save a lost soul].

It is also true that, a ?value-neutral? approach is also ultimately doomed to fail. Doors

may be opened with a ?non-judgmental? approach, but the root causes are not

addressed. Popular opinion notwithstanding, HIV is a consequence of moral decisions.

Yet, there is significant cadre of Christians who loathe to even suggest a moral cause

and effect.

Clearly the most favored approach is what I will call the ?compassionate

non-judgmental? method. This is also most typically used by secular treatment facilities

and is looked upon approvingly by the mavens of the popular culture. A typical example

can be found in article generated by the AIDS National Interfaith Network. In it they

proclaim that the ?enormity of the pandemic itself has compelled us to join forces

despite our differences of belief.? (ANIN 1)

Further, we are told that ?AIDS is an affliction of the whole human family, a condition in

which we all participate.? (ibid) The assertion is then made that ?God does not punish

with sickness or disease.? (ibid) Now, if we agree that the Almighty is infinite and we, as

individuals are finite, how can anyone make such a definitive assertion of the intent and

method of Deity? This fallacy will be explored later; it is abused by advocates of several


The authors lay out their objectives: an emphasis on prevention for those not yet

infected and ?non-judgmental care, respect, support and assistance? for those who are.

They are ?committed to transform public attitudes and policies.? (ibid 2) These

?attitudes? which are to be transformed are ?the sins of intolerance and bigotry.? We are

admonished to remember that ?AIDS is not a ?gay disease.? (ibid) The policies

[government?] which need such ?transformation? are alluded to in the assertion that

?economic disparity and poverty are major contributing factors in the AIDS pandemic

and barriers to prevention and treatment.? (ibid)

Not included in this advocacy for ?prevention? and ?education? is any assessment in

how the behaviors which transmit the disease may be ?major contributing factors.?

Nowhere in this missive is the suggestion that any effective ?education? might need to

include what those who are infected may have in common and what could be learned

from this.

We are instead expected to take the leap that ?intolerance and bigotry? and ?economic

disparity? should be the focus of our efforts in the struggle against AIDS. Are we to

suppose that even they actually believe this to be true? Do they really mean to imply

that the original outbreak of HIV/AIDS and/or its continuation was caused by people

who consider the behaviors which transmit the disease to be morally abhorrent?

Also, there are places where HIV/AIDS are virtually unknown which have an essentially

medieval socio-economic structure [viz. a great deal of ?economic disparity and

poverty.?] The social mores in these traditional societies are as equally ?backward? in

comparison to ours as are their economic situations. How are we to assess that?

Claudia L. Webster, a Board of Directors member of the United Methodist General

Board of Global Ministries advocates what I would characterize as the ?practical?

approach. Church leaders are encouraged to facilitate discussion and education

targeted toward adults, teens and children. ?Personal stories? should be shared ?about

[how] HIV/AIDS has affected families… [to] bring home the reality of HIV/AIDS.?

(Webster 2)

?Sensitive issues? should be, ?addressed [italics mine]? such as, ?abstinence and

monogamy as well as safer [italics mine] sex practices including using a condom.? (ibid)

Also to be ?addressed? is needle sharing by intravenous drug users and, ?caring for all

types of people.? (ibid) Ms. Webster does allow that, ?[i]t is not who you are, but what

risk behaviors you engage in? (ibid) which risk infection. She offers that this aspect of

her recommended ?education program? would be ?challenging… to put it mildly.? (ibid)

The author considers that a ?church setting? would be a ?very meaningful? place for

?teens and children to learn about HIV/AIDS.? (ibid 3) In addition to ?medical facts?

children could be engaged in discussion of ?church teachings regarding caring for

persons who are ill and for families in need.? (ibid) She goes on to admonish her

co-religionists to avoid discrimination against HIV-positive volunteers and employees

(ibid 5) ?Infection control procedures? are listed if a situation arises to necessitate the

handling of bodily fluids [such as ?First Aid situations.? (ibid 6)

Advice on ?compassionate counseling? is offered for the families of the dead and dying.

Practical matters such as day care for those who are incapacitated by the illness are

outlined. Of course, no compassionate treatment on this subject would be complete

without the recommendation to advocate on behalf of increased government

involvement in the above-described recommendations. (ibid 9)

At least Ms. Webster recognizes the necessity of ?addressing? such ?sensitive issues? as

monogamy and abstinence but note how she phrases these as if they were morally

equivalent to using condoms and not sharing needles! Unlike ANIN, she is willing to

discuss the relationship between the behavior and disease, but the half-sentence

devoted to not engaging in the behaviors at all is dwarfed by the eleven pages devoted

to living with the behavior and its consequences.

A perspective which acknowledges accountability is what I would call the ?revelation

and repentance? approach. Johnny Chatham is a person who, as a young man,

embraced the homosexual ?lifestyle?. He became alienated from his parents and sought

to justify his behavior [and demonize his parents? reaction] to himself. After he tested

positive for HIV, he went through the typical periods of denial and resignation [which,

ironically included a ?party? phase]. (Chatham 1-4)

His parents were practicing Christians and, after much struggle, convinced him to come

back home with them. They insisted that he go to church and attend other Christian

events and services with them. Upon reflection, he noted that when spiritual guidance

and/or intervention was needed, it came. His father upset him greatly upon suggesting

that he might not be saved. ?He told me that great men and women of the Bible have

sinned, but that they didn?t continue to live in sin as I had.? (ibid 4-5)

He was reminded of how, when David was confronted with the sins he had committed

with Bathsheba, he repented. Johnny opened his Bible to Psal. 51 and found that a

?broken spirit? is what God wanted. He took from that he would have to give up

everything he had previously had built his life upon, ?the homosexuality, the parties,

everything!? (ibid 5) He came to the insight that his former ??life? had become my god,

that it was an idol.?

Mr. Chatham apparently succumbed to the disease [it is not said exactly when], but not

before he was re-united with his family and embraced the spiritual aspect which joined

him to a greater family. He considered himself subject to divine intervention the entire

time and assessed his life and impending death as ultimately leading to ?victory.?

His early adult life was defined by living the isolated, myopic ?lifestyle? which revolves

around sexual pleasure as the beginning and end of existence. Faced with an early

death which was precipitated by that lifestyle, he found himself forced to take a look at

the meaning of his life from a larger perspective. Eventually, he came to realize that

what people did, even as consenting adults, had consequences outside himself.

Further, he was not alone, he never was; he, like each one of us is bound by willful,

transcendent, spiritual power.

A spiritual experience such as this is by its nature personal. It cannot be adequately

explained to someone who has no similar point of reference. Unless one knows

firsthand what it is to experience divine contact… well, a clinical explanation of a voice

or image or feeling of power which cannot be summoned to be observed in a laboratory

is defined as schizophrenia.

Beautiful and moving as a testimonial of this kind is, the effect would be limited. There

may be those who are wavering in their conviction that there is nothing more to life than

what appears. I?m sure the story was told partly to reach those people before it is too

late; before they would have to learn what Mr. Chatham did the hard way.

There are organizations such as the Family Research Council, which, according to its

official website exists to promote ?the traditional family unit and the Judeo-Christian

value system upon which it is built.? There is a real or perceived suspicion by a

significant segment of general public that the media cannot be trusted to provide

unbiased coverage of current affairs. This perception is expressed in the hunger for

[and the success of] organizations such as the FRC and media commentary by

individuals who seek to counterbalance the bias of the cultural elite as well as that of

official pronouncements of government agencies.

Most of these alternative information sources are not speaking officially for any church,

but most are unabashed about their religious convictions. They are thus held as

examples of the conservative Judeo-Christian perspective. They are engaging the

secular humanist world head-on, in the public arena.

An illustration of how this happens is the controversy over the effectiveness of

condoms in HIV/AIDS transmission. The Center for Disease Control has found it

necessary to address this issue repeatedly. One recent example was contained in an

article proclaiming [with the full faith and credit of the U.S. government] that the ?correct

and consistent use of latex condoms during sexual intercourse…can greatly reduce a

person?s risk of acquiring or transmitting STDs [sexually transmitted diseases],

including HIV.? Furthermore, they are ?highly effective in protecting against HIV

infection.? (CDC 1)

Our servants in Washington go on to cite several studies which should prove this to us

all. As long as the subjects used condoms ?consistently?, the infected person did not

transmit the disease to the uninfected sexual partner. (ibid 1-2) Several common

doubts and concerns about the effectiveness of latex protection are labeled ?myths?

and are debunked, one by one. ?Condoms don?t work?, they break, the retrovirus ?can

pass through? the latex. (ibid)

Failure is caused by inconsistent and/or incorrect use. Tests show the breakage rate to

be ?less than 2 percent.? (ibid) [Is 2% good enough to bet your life on?] Whether or not

the pores in latex are larger than HIV is not directly addressed, but ?studies? are cited

showing ?that intact latex condoms provide a highly effective barrier to sperm and

micro-organisms, including HIV and the much smaller hepatitis B virus. (ibid 3)

U.S. representative Tom Coburn, (R) OK. is quoted as saying that the ??media and the

CDC have not printed warnings about the high communicability of some STDs because

the idea that truly safe sex is just a myth is unpopular.?? (Wyatt) The above-mentioned

FRC asserts that condoms are useless against HPV? [the virus which leads to genital

warts and cervical cancer]. Abstinence is recommended as a ??better solution.?? (ibid)

Planned Parenthood president Gloria Feldt is quoted responding that abstinence is

??the only 100 percent safe method to prevent STDs and unwanted pregnancy.?? (ibid)

However, she felt compelled to add that ??the abstinence-only sex education message…

is not in the best interest of adolescents or adults.?? (ibid) Ms. Feldt went on to chide the

FRC for ?promoting ?ignorance? and clamed FRC supporters ?want to impose their own

personal religious and moral agenda on all people.?? (ibid)

Further examination of the medical studies gives a hint as to who is ?promoting

ignorance? and who ?wants to impose their own… agenda? upon whom. Stanley

Monteith, M.D. is a columnist and radio talk show host with a medical background. He

questions the science and the moral implications of the pronouncements of the CDC.

The study which the CDC refers to is not cited completely. Viral-sized particles do pass

through the latex. The amount is decreased significantly, ?but when dealing with one of

the deadliest diseases known to mankind, the presence of any infectious viral-sized

particles penetrating an intact condom is unacceptable.? (Monteith 1-2)

Another clinical source cited by the CDC stated that ??condoms may reduce [the] risk of

HIV infection by approximately 69%.?? (ibid 2) The author goes on to state that a ?31%

failure rate is hardly ?highly effective.?? (ibid 2-3) Further studies used by the CDC to

bolster their claims of protection are analyzed by the good doctor who concludes that,

?[a]lthough condoms obviously offer a measure of protection to the uninfected, a 1% a

year failure rate [as indicated in an African study of heterosexuals] is unacceptable

when dealing with a disease that is 95-100% fatal.? (ibid 3)

Interestingly, Dr. Monteith concludes on a moral/social note: condom ?instruction and…

distribution? purport the notion that ?sexual experimentation and sexual activity before

marriage are socially acceptable.? He is explicit in stating that ?condoms are not an

acceptable safe alternative [to abstinence] in the age of AIDS.? (ibid 5) He then

explains in quantified clinical detail why this is so.

It goes on and on like this. The amount of data which is apparently deliberately

misinterpreted and distorted by the CDC is too vast and would be too great a

digression for the purposes of this paper. What this shows is that science can

sometimes take a very long and painstaking approach to prove a point that any sincere

follower of a life and love centered-religion already knows.

Unfortunately, as we have seen, it is necessary for even those who study the ethics of

a particular religion to delve deeply into the intricacies of other fields in order to get a

clear picture. Those who have an agenda which is antithetical to the goals of spirituality

and objective truth will stop at nothing. They will ignore truth; they will perpetrate


What can Christians do in the face of this? Science must not be abandoned to the

secular humanists. Their perspective is no more rational nor based upon reason than

those who embrace religion. I would contend that the humanist perspective is less

rational; they deny objective truth in favor of moral relativism, wherein each one of us

carries with our own rules, our own truth, our own reality. The clinical definition of that

perspective is schizophrenia.

Is AIDS or any other human suffering God?s punishment? The Almighty by definition is

infinite. We, as individuals are finite. Who are we to say what is the ultimate will of the

infinite? I will say as a prospective clergy student that anyone who presumes to make

pronouncements as to the will of the Almighty, whosoever dares to appoint themselves

to be the voice of God is committing blasphemy.

The simple fact is that if it were not for the widespread intimate sexual contact with

multiple partners, there would be not HIV/AIDS ?pandemic.? This cannot be denied. U.S.

Rep. Coburn had said ??STDs are a symptom of the illness that truly plagues us. Many

people don?t have the integrity and courage to say that there are consequences to

actions.?? (Wyatt)

Perhaps we can, as finite beings, infer that occurrences such as HIV/AIDS are

examples of divine punishment. Perhaps it is another test to determine our worthiness.

I prefer the assessment of one of the Christians who rescued Jews from Nazi-occupied

France: we apparently needed a lesson. We suffer because we have failed to

understand a fundamental principle which governs human existence. We will continue

to suffer until we learn it, or perish because we failed to learn it in time.




AIDS National Interfaith Network [ANIN], ??The Council Call? A Commitment on

HIV/AIDS by People of Faith.? from ?The African American Clergy?s Declaration

of WAr on HIV/AIDS? The Balm in Gilead Inc. 1994: 1-3.

Webster, Claudia L., ?Focus Paper #13 – AIDS Ministries and The United Methodist

Church.? HIV/AIDS Ministries Network 17 Feb. 1989: 1-11.

Chatham, Johnny, ?God?s Grace is Sufficient.? Oklahoma City: First Stone Ministries

Oct. 1993: 1-6.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], ?Facts About Condoms and Their

Use in Preventing HIV Infection and Other STDs? U.S. Department of Health and

Human Services, Public Health Service, Washington, D.C.: Aug 1996.

Wyatt, Rebecca, ?Activists attack safe sex as myth.? The Washington Times 23 Sept.

1999, final ed. p. A8.

Monteith, M.D., Stanley, ?Myth #9: Latex Condoms are Highly Effective in Preventing

the Spread of AIDS when Used Consistently and Correctly.? A Nation Deceived

and Betrayed: AIDS Update, 13 Jul. 1998: 1-7.

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