Archive for December, 2012

Family Planning: The Christian Thing To Do

Monday, December 31st, 2012

I have been spending my recent days on my (Facebook) soapbox angrily shouting at religion,  the governments of various states, and the leadership of various organizations and businesses.  Now, I am not simply angry with the religion and state government. No. There is one particular issue that is really causing me pain. I am mad at religion and state governments of their constant attack on the decisions made about reproductive healthcare.  Quite frankly, I am ashamed that the Christian community I see the news is so decidedly against allowing any funding that would give an individual free-will to make a decision about when it is right to have a child. As a young woman, I never thought I would see a day when I would be worried about my access to full reproductive health care including contraception and abortion.

I am Christian and I am a United Methodist.  I am also proud to say I support putting the decision-making process of having a child into the heart and head of the person who will carry and potentially raise the child. I believe this because of my faith, not in spite of it.  In 1 Timothy 5:8 we read,  But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever (ESV). So what happens when a family decides that another child would prevent them from caring for the family they already have? Or if they have no children but know they could not provide for one emotionally, physically, or economically. Should they be forced into a situation where they will be knowingly unable to provide?

The United Methodist Church seems to agree with me. The 2008 Book of Resolutions says this: Each couple has the right and duty prayerfully and responsively to control conception according to their circumstances.  They are, in our view free to use those means of birth control considered medically safe.  As developing technologies have moved conception and reproduction more and more out of the category of a chance happening and more closely to the realm of responsible choice, the decision whether or not to give birth to children must include acceptance of the responsibility to provide for their mental, physical and spiritual growth as well as consideration of the possible effect on quality of life for family and society… Although I would like it to say each person and not reserve the right solely for couples I have to say AMEN!

In news article after news article, we learn of challenges to the Affordable Care Act’s mandate that  contraception be made available without a co-pay.  To be clear this is not free contraception. This means if I have insurance and pay a premium, I do not have to pay a co-pay for contraception.  The employer isn’t buying my contraception; instead he or she is paying for insurance.  Unless these organizations and business are providing insurance without any contribution from the employee, they really aren’t paying for contraception.  Furthermore, why do the employer’s religious beliefs trump their employees? As I stated above, my faith tradition supports me making me the  choice that is right for me and my family, so now at every job interview will ask will if I will be allowed to continue to have coverage for contraception that, in my case, is used for medical reasons beyond simple contraception.

As Christians and as United Methodists we need to stand up for safe family planning methods; for the health of parents and for the health of children. It never ceases to amaze me that politicians who want to cut contraceptive and abortion access are the same legislators who want to deny access to food stamps, childcare subsidies, and access to affordable health care, all of which benefit both the parent and child. Studies show that for every $1 spent on family planning at least $3.50 is saved in tax dollars (guttmacher.org).  The World Health Organization has stated whether abortion is legal or not, the rate of abortion does not change.  The only thing that changes is the death rate, and that goes up when it is done illegally. There is nothing life-giving about that statistic.

It is our duty as United Methodists, and more importantly as Christians, to protect full access to reproductive healthcare. It is an issue of caring and compassion. It is a social justice issue. We are called to love. We must love ourselves and we must love each other. We must love each other enough to know decisions as important as family planning must be left to the person having a family.

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Kristen Dart is a fourth generation Methodist. She is originally from Upstate NY, but currently resides in New England working as a community organizer and reproductive health advocate.  When she is not standing on a soapbox (which isn't often) she enjoys watching and playing sports and spending time with her friends and family.
 

MFSA Responds to School Violence

Monday, December 17th, 2012

The Methodist Federation for Social Action’s board, staff, and members continue to grieve the loss of life in Newtown, Connecticut this past Friday. “We stand firmly in our belief that violence, in all its forms, is anathema to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We encourage all people of faith to work for a world in which such violence is no longer commonplace,” stated Chett Pritchett, Interim Executive Director

MFSA encourages United Methodists to put into action General Conference Resolution 3426 (2008, 2012 Book of Resolutions) which encourages communities and congregations to address the issues of gun violence in schools and among children. “Advocating for stronger accountability in regards to gun ownership and greater access to mental health care are two ways to pro-actively work so that an event of this magnitude will not happen again,” stated Pritchett  “But beyond advocating for public policy changes, we must also change the way we address, or don’t address, these issues throughout our Church.”

Since 1907, the Methodist Federation for Social Action has worked to mobilize, lead, and sustain a progressive movement, energizing people to be agents of God’s justice, peace, and reconciliation. As an independent, faith-based organization, MFSA leads both Church and society on issues of peace, poverty, people’s rights, progressive issues, and justice within The United Methodist Church.

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Our Call to Divestment: Part II

Thursday, December 13th, 2012

Last Friday, MFSA staff members Chett Pritchett and Rev. Steve Clunn presented at a public forum of the General Board of Pension and Health Benefits, encouraging the board to create a pension option that is divested from the occupation of Palestine by Israeli settlers. Below is the presentation by Rev. Steve Clunn, Coalition Coordinator.

Members of the GBOPHB Board of Directors,

My name is Steve Clunn.  I am a cradle Methodist. For the last 25 years I have strived to be a faithful servant to the ministry and way of Jesus Christ though the United Methodist Church as a clergy member of what is now the Upper New York Annual Conference. During that time, I and the ministries I have had the privilege to serve have dutifully paid into the pension program and connectional costs.  

I am currently on extension ministry appointment with the Methodist Federation for Social Action as a Coalition Coordinator, working with many various groups within and on the margins of our denomination; around the intersections of justice issues and how our Wesleyan heritage of social holiness calls us to be in connection with one another as we faithfully respond to the high calling of loving God with all we’ve got and loving neighbor as ourselves.  It is to this high calling as it relates to our sisters and brothers; Muslim, Jewish and Christian, caught up in the ravages of war, terrorism and fear for the past 45 plus years between Israelis and Palestinians that I have come to speak to you today.

I want to talk about the people; the imbalance of power; the human rights that are often violated in the name of religion; and the inequality that exists in terms of access to gainful employment, basic resources in the form of arable land and water, and the right of self-determination.

In our Book of Discipline, we outline many of these moral ideals within our “Social Principles.” In paragraph 163, “The Economic Community” we outline our belief that “private and public economic enterprises are responsible for the social costs of doing, such as employment and environmental pollution, and that they should be held accountable for these costs.” In the sub-paragraphs that follow we outline our belief in the right of private ownership of property as both a trust from God and something that just legal systems should protect for the betterment of individuals and society at large (¶ 163.A).  We promote a person’s right to work “at a living wage” and have access to those things that provide “for creative contributions to society” such as “educational, cultural, and recreational outlets (¶ 163.C).”   

In the section on “Poverty” (¶ 163.E) we recognize that “increasing technology, when accompanied by exploitative economic practices, impoverishes many persons and makes poverty self-perpetuating.” We also recognize that “we are called to support the poor”…  and “support such policies as: adequate income maintenance, quality education, decent housing, job training, meaningful employment opportunities, adequate medical and hospital care,” … to “work for peace in conflict areas and efforts to protect creation’s integrity.”  We also call upon governments and all employers to ensure for foreign workers the same economic, educational and social benefits enjoyed by other citizens (¶ 163.F).”  We again reiterate “the rights of people to possess property and to earn a living by tilling the soil.”  We do this under the heading of “Family Farms” and recognize that “the value of family farms has long been affirmed as a significant foundation for free and democratic societies (¶ 163.H).”

We outline the importance of “Corporate Responsibility (¶ 163.I)” and that they “are responsible not only to their stockholders, but also to other stakeholders: their workers, suppliers, vendors, customers, the communities in which they do business,” for example. In order that “we support the public’s right to know what impact corporations have in these various arenas, so that people can make informed choices about which corporations to support.  On the issues of “Trade and Investment (¶ 163.J),” I believe, we make clear what our calling and economic stewardship should be: “Trade and investment should be based on rules that support the dignity of the human person, a clean environment and our common humanity.”

Finally, in terms of the Book of Discipline, we find this statement under ¶ 716 (“Chapter Five, Administrative Order, Section 1. General Provisions”): “Socially Responsible Investments – It shall be the policy of the United Methodist Church and all general boards and agencies, including the general board of Pension and Health Benefits, and all administrative agencies and institutions… in the investment of money, make a conscious effort to invest in institutions, companies, corporations, or funds whose practices are consistent with the goals outlined in the Social Principles; and shall endeavor to avoid investments that appear likely, directly or indirectly, to support racial discrimination, violation of human rights, sweat-shop or forced labor… etc.”

I applaud the past efforts, over numerous years, of our boards and agencies in trying to use our investments as a way of constructively engaging companies in the social principles we United Methodists value!  However, in the areas of Israeli and Palestinian dignity, these efforts have bore little to no fruit.  I also applaud our denominations consistent understanding that both the people of Israel and Palestine have the right to self-determination and to live in peace and security with their neighbors.  

I am also grateful for the first steps that were taken during and after this past General Conference; with two of the nonviolent moral steps requested by Palestinian Christians being adopted at General Conference 2012. Our approval of the mandate to call on all nations to boycott products produced in Israel’s illegal settlements and the call for ending all unrestricted US military aid to the region. I also give thanks for our commitment to invest in Palestinian businesses, that meet our “Social Principle” standards, as a way of helping an economically beleaguered people.

These efforts, followed by the letter from fifteen church and religious organization leaders – including Bishop Rosemarie Wenner, President of our United Methodist Council of Bishops – requesting the United States Congress to hold hearings to examine Israel's “compliance with applicable U.S. laws and policies in relation to human rights violations… will hopefully go far in encouraging Israel to rethink current approaches and policies toward Palestinian self-determination and human rights.

However, I also believe that we have come to a critical juncture in the life of this ongoing conflict.  The nation of Israel has in the name of security and fear of terrorism, continued to violate agreements and principles around land and settlement expansion into Palestinian territories and negotiating in good faith with the broader community of nations around human rights violations and the return of occupied lands.  I believe that this became so evident this past week, when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced plans to begin developing 3,000 housing units in disputed territories.  He did so the day after the UN General Assembly recognized the Palestinian Authority as a “non-member observer state.”

I believe it is a critical time because as many other nations in the region struggle with self-determination, human rights and potential democratic rule, their efforts are often tainted by the ongoing, unfinished agenda of Israel/Palestine.

Finally, I believe it is a critical time, because it is almost too late for Palestinians to be able to recover from what has been taken from them.  The small, segregated and cut-off tracts of land they have left because of illegal settlements and inhumane fences and checkpoints; the loss of resources, access and economic viability coupled with inflation and growing poverty; together all of these factors are leaving the people with very little hope or possibility for a sustainable future.  

I am not, nor will I ever be a wealthy person.  The more than $300,000.00 invested in my pension plan, to date, is the single most important and valuable asset for my wife’s and my future.  Granted, I do hope to continue contributions over the next 15 to 20 years before retirement.

However, the point remains, I did not follow the calling to ordained ministry to become financially well-to-do.  I came into the ministry to help people learn to live out our Wesleyan heritage of being in community, so that we might know and love God with everything we’ve got, including our financial resources; and,  then to live out into the world in such a way that others might see God’s love in us; and, in broader relationships, we might build God’s beloved community together.  This is, I believe the hand-in-hand walk of personal and social holiness through life.

I cannot in good conscience make money off of investments on my behalf, my pension, at the expense of the well being, rights and humanity of others.  In my mind, that is a violation of the first of Wesley’s three simple rules: “do no harm.”  

So today, I stand before you as an elder of the church, requesting and pleading, that if you do nothing else, at least establish a fund that is free from companies that are materially supporting the illegal settlements and occupation of Palestinian lands by Israel.  Please do this for myself and others who feel that we are being required to participate in a practice that is in violation of our sense of morality and the Social Principles of our denomination.  Do it because it may help others to know they are not being ignored and have hope; and, to help others know that while we support their right to exist in peace and security with dignity, it can’t be in violation of those same principles for others.  

I sincerely thank you for your time and consideration!

Our Call to Divestment: Part I

Monday, December 10th, 2012

This past Friday, MFSA staff members Chett Pritchett and Rev. Steve Clunn presented at a public forum of the General Board of Pension and Health Benefits, encouraging the board to create a pension option that is divested from the occupation of Palestine by Israeli settlers. Below is the presentation by Chett Pritchett, Interim Executive Director.

General Secretary, Board Members, and Staff of the General Board of Pensions and Health Benefits, 

My name is Chett Pritchett, and I serve as the Interim Executive Director of the Methodist Federation for Social Action.  I am thankful for this opportunity to speak to you today.

In 1993, 4 friends and I represented my high school in our County Board of Education’s “Global Summit.” Each high school team was assigned a country and charged with researching the political, economic and social issues of that country and form Model United Nations-like petitions so that we might learn to engage in civil discussions. Teams were also encouraged to learn about cultural expressions like food, clothing, and music. To facilitate all of these experiences, teams were paired with international students at local universities. 

This is how I met Haitham. Even in 1993, organizers of the Global Summit had the foresight to share the stories and experiences of the Palestinian people. Haitham talked with us about the basic needs that were a struggle for the Palestinian people: clean water, access to health care, and most importantly, the need for self-governance and recognition in the global community. We also learned about Palestinian culture, religious expressions, and traditional food. I learned how to make kibbeh, and even though it was a culinary failure, our Global Summit team ate it, sharing in solidarity with our new friend.

When the day of the Global Summit arrived, we tasted the difficulty of engaging in international discourse from the perspective of a nation that was both un-recognized diplomatically and occupied by a neighboring state. That day we learned the importance of building relationships with others and asking them to stand in solidarity with us.

I don’t know where Haitham is today. But I do know that his fellow Palestinians have asked us to stand in solidarity with them as they continue to struggle for independence, recognition, and self-determination.

In the area that many of us know as the West Bank, a separation wall has been constructed, turning towns and villages into prisons, cutting off the economic necessities needed for communities to flourish. Palestinians in Gaza live in inhumane conditions, under permanent blockade and cut off from other Palestinian territories. 

There are shrinking economic options for the Palestinian people. Agricultural land has been confiscated for Israeli settlements – no longer are farmers able to raise sheep or harvest olives for their livelihood. Access to clean water, a necessity for life, is limited. 

Personal humiliation happens at military checkpoints as Palestinians traveling to work, school, and hospitals are dehumanized. Families have been separated and religious liberty has been limited, as many Arab, Christian clergy are regularly stopped from entering Jerusalem, under the false pretext of security. [cite]

In 2009, Palestinian Christians released a Kairos Document calling on Christians across the globe to hear their plight. ‘The problem,” they state, “is not just a political one. It is a policy in which human beings are being destroyed, and this must be of concern to the Church.” [cite]

As occupation and isolation continues to grow, our Christian siblings have asked for our assistance in creating a just peace through prayer, education, and action– specifically boycotts and divestment from corporations who profit from the physical and emotional violence of the occupation. 

Motorola, which many of us know as a provider of cellular phones in the United States, has the exclusive contract to provide the Israeli military with encrypted mobile phone technology.  This means that every Israeli boarder guard manning a checkpoint inside of Palestinian territory and every Israeli soldier committing war crimes in the assault on the Gaza Strip takes their orders through a Motorola device.  Motorola "virtual fences" and surveillance systems are used at dozens of illegal Israeli settlements built on Palestinian land.  These Jewish-only settlements are a potent symbol Israeli apartheid and are illegal under several international laws, including the 4th Geneva Convention.  Settlements use high-tech Motorola equipment to ghettoize Palestinian communities as confiscate their land. [cite]

Many products that we enjoy are made with resources from occupied Palestinian lands. SodaStream, producer of this year’s most popular holiday gift, is a corporation that produces all of its carbonation devices in an Israeli settlement on occupied Palestinian land. [cite] Ahava beauty products come from stolen Palestinian natural resources in the Israelli-occupied West Bank. While labeled as "Made in Israel," Ahava is produced on Palestinian land. [cite] Delicious Sabra hummus is also labeled as a “Product of Israel.” Co-owned by the Israeli food and beverage company Strauss Group, the company has close ties to the Israeli military’s brutal and repressive Golani Brigade, which routinely violates human rights and international law standards. Such violations are anything but delicious. [cite]

But perhaps the most egregious supporter of emotional and physical violence in the occupied Palestinian lands is Caterpillar, the world’s leading producer of construction and mining equipment. More than 3,000 homes, hundreds of public buildings and private commercial properties, and vast areas of agricultural land have been destroyed by the Israeli in Occupied Territories. Thousands of families have had their homes and possessions destroyed under the blades of the Israeli army’s US-made Caterpillar bulldozers. [cite]

Loss of homes and livelihood pale in comparison to loss of life. In 2003, Rachel Corrie stood in physical solidarity with Palestinian families whose homes were to be bulldozed. Israeli forces used the bulldozer as a weapon and crushed Rachel’s body, causing her death. [cite]

Simply stated, The United Methodist Church is invested in many of these corporations and we are profiting from the systemic oppression of the Palestinian people and the violence that follows such oppression.  The aforementioned companies and a handful of others profit directly from the occupation of Palestinian lands. 

We have an opportunity to say to the world, “United Methodists care about more than maintaining our institutional structure. We care about justice for the whole world.”

At the 2012 General Conference, the body of delegates voted to not fully divest from corporations benefitting from this occupation. As the Interim Executive Director of the Methodist Federation for Social Action, I lament this decision, and yet respect our denominational polity. At the same time, the world has changed since General Conference. Just last week the United Nation’s General Assembly voted to recognize Palestine as a non-voting, observer state; an important step in seizing self-determination for the Palestinian people. [cite]

Recent events in Gaza have filled our newsfeeds and televisions. While we abhor the use of violence by both states in this conflict, the lopsided response of the Israeli military with blistering air strikes and the total destruction of entire neighborhoods in Gaza call to question the just use of proportional means by Israel. 

Obviously, there are no easy answers to this difficult situation, yet we can take steps to promote greater understanding of the complexity of the conflict. We can also reclaim our Biblical values of justice and jubilee by choosing to stand with the oppressed even as we pray for peace.

Today, as a representative of the Methodist Federation for Social Action, I ask you to consider the creation of a divested pension option for our clergy, missionaries, and lay professionals who are enrolled in the denomination’s pension plan.  A divested option allows participants freedom in their own financial planning. If, as public theologian Jim Wallis says, “Budgets are moral documents,” then a divested option allows leaders of our Church the ability to create moral documents in their own lives.

Divestment is consistent with our Social Principles. Violence, whether physical or psychological, is not. War, according to our Social Principles, is “incompatible with Christian teaching;” [The United Methodist Book of Discipline, 2012. Paragraph 165C] violence and oppression are anathema to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. 

Without a divested option, clergy and lay professionals become complicit in the oppression of other clergy and lay people half a world away.

Without a divested option, The United Methodist Church runs the risk of being wedded to the powers of this world instead of making the prayer of “thy Kingdom come” a reality.

Without a divested option, our own United Methodist missionaries in Palestine are forced to profit from their own oppression. What sort of logic is that? 

In the Fourth Chapter of Luke, we hear Jesus recall the words of the prophet Isaiah, in which he is anointed to “proclaim freedom for the prisoners” and “to release the oppressed.” [Luke 4:14] If Jesus calls us to greater freedom through liberation, we must take bold action, not only for ourselves, but all humanity.  

Siblings in the human race have asked for our solidarity. 

Christian siblings have asked for us to use our privilege to end oppression and to seek peace with justice. 

Today, we have an opportunity just like those students did almost 20 years ago – an opportunity to engage in civil discourse, to stand in solidarity with others, and to be global citizens – or more aptly citizens of a Kingdom that is filled with grace, and peace, and justice.

When each of us remember our baptismal vows, we are reminded that we are called to resist evil and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves.

In whatever forms they present themselves. 

That is why today, I ask you, members and staff of the General Board of Pensions and Health Benefits to take seriously the call to create a pension option that is divested from the occupation of Palestine.  I offer the resources of the Methodist Federation for Social Action, our 27 Chapters, and thousands of constituents. Together, we can advance the cause peace WITH justice and be a balm of healing and hope in a world marked by war and violence. 

Thank you for this opportunity. My prayers are with you as you continue your meeting and for the ministry you provide to The United Methodist Church.

 

 

The Ostrich and the Red Bench

Tuesday, December 4th, 2012

What do an ostrich and a red bench have in common?

Nothing, of course.

Let me explain.

Personally, I was ecstatic to learn that a course in world religions was required for me to graduate with my Master of Divinity. Others in my cohort, to put it delicately, were less so.

I should not have been surprised, then, at what happened in my world religions class a few weeks ago. We had just begun our unit on Buddhism and visited a Buddhist temple and were reflecting on the experience in small groups in class. A women in my group—who is a friend of mine but whose understanding of faith is quite different from my own—finally gave up and said dismissively that Buddhism just seemed “idealistic and unrealistic.” I find Buddhism fascinating and was feeling particularly snarky that night, so I had to literally bite my tongue to keep myself from retorting, “Well, sweetheart, there are a whole lot of people who would say the same thing about Christianity!” What I did allow myself was an under-the-table text message to a group-mate that just said, “She is such an…ostrich!”

While that might not have been the kindest, heat-of-the-moment, behind-the-back reaction, I think the metaphor stands—and not just for her. I think too many of us, when it comes to thinking about other faiths, just want to bury our heads in the sand. I’m not sure whether it comes from fear of having our own faith somehow contaminated or a more basic fear of what we just do not understand; maybe it’s both. Rather than approaching other faiths as resources we can draw from on our own faith journey or as partners for conversation about the things that matter most to us as human beings, we balk at the mention of anything that might challenge our embedded theology. We would rather hide out in our little self-contained Christian ecosystem than go out into the world and connect with other people for fear that we might be changed by the encounter—heaven forbid!

For me, the image that stands as counterpoint to the ostrich is, as you might have guessed from the title of this blog, the red bench. The Red Bench is an interfaith conversation group that meets in my home church in Austin, Texas. The name comes from the ideas of Dr. Betty Sue Flowers, who proposed that red benches be placed in public spaces and that it be known that anyone who sat there was signaling to others that they were open to a conversation about something that really mattered. Conversations there would be spaces of shared passion and mutual vulnerability. Completely contrary to burying our heads in the sand, to sit at the red bench is to make ourselves open to those we might see as other. It is to say, “I care about my faith deeply, and I recognize that you do as well. I believe we can learn about and from one another while maintaining or even strengthening our own beliefs.”

To be open to people of other faiths is not to change, suppress, or give up your own beliefs; it is to simply be open to other people, to recognize them as well as yourself as differently devoted but equally beloved children of God, and to celebrate the beautiful diversity of ways of approaching the transcendent. To sit at the red bench requires some courage, it’s true. Yet, perhaps you will be rewarded with a glimpse of the divine you never expected.

Namaste

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Heather Kramer is an intern with MFSA. She is a third year student at Wesley Theological Seminary working toward a Master of Divinity degree. Originally from Houston, TX, she is excited to be a part of such an active and passionate social justice movement. In her spare time she is also the youth minster at Dumbarton United Methodist Church.

CHURCH: A Response to HIV/AIDS

Saturday, December 1st, 2012

  Every discussion of HIV and AIDS focuses our attention on the deeper dimensions of our human existence. Sex and death, suffering and healing, with the human responses they demand and receive, challenge us through this crisis to reflect on the morality, meaning and mystery of our human existence. Ethical and theological questions, spoken and unspoken, are unavoidable in dealing with and reflecting on this issue.

For some time, HIV/AIDS has been talked about as a pandemic (which is where an infectious disease spreads across a whole continent or even around the world. HIV/AIDS certainly fits that description). The scale of the pandemic is overwhelming and its magnitude leaves us feeling totally powerless. It’s estimated that HIV/AIDS is currently responsible for around 9,000 deaths every day worldwide (or 2.9million every year).
 
Added to this, there are about 11,000 new HIV infections every day, Globally, there are 39.5 million people now living with AIDS, and worst hit is Sub-Saharan Africa with 60% of that total.
 
From the time the AIDS pandemic was first identified, during the early 1980s, the immediate engagement of various religious orders, denominations, para-church organizations and other faith-based institutions in response to the health, social, and pastoral needs of the people living and dying with AIDS-related illnesses, has been widely known and documented.

The United Methodist Church has been responding to the HIV/AIDS crisis since the early 1980s.  I quote, “The United Methodist Church will work cooperatively with colleague churches in every region. The Bible is replete with calls to nations, religious leaders, and faithful people to address the needs of those who are suffering, ill, and in distress. Jesus Christ reached out and healed those who came to him, including people who were despised and rejected because of their illnesses and afflictions. His identification with suffering people was made clear when he said that “whatsoever you do to the least of these, you also do to me” (Matthew 25:40, paraphrased). His commandment to “do to others as you would have them do to you” (Matthew 7:12) is a basis for the church for full involvement and compassionate response.”[1]

The Church’s response must go beyond giving NGO’s a platform for HIV/AIDS awareness campaign. The needs of the hour are identifying strategic plans and goals and implementing them in ways that can transform the community and the church as a whole.  I have found the following acrostic of CHURCH as important reminders of the actions needed for the global church to take in the fight against HIV/AIDS:

CARE
: This is the first step necessary for responding to the plight of those living with the virus. It is proper for someone who wants to follow Jesus’ example. Many Bible verses recorded that Jesus was filled with compassion when he met someone who was sick. He never asked, “How did you get it?” In tangible ways, therefore, the Church must demonstrate and show love[2] and probably adopt the slogan: “Love the infected, and Hate the Virus.”

H
ANDLE TESTING AND COUNSELING
:  If possible, churches could be permitted to administer HIV tests themselves. A Church might host medical professionals to administer the test while church members volunteer to counsel or pray with people being tested. By getting involved in HIV testing, the Church lets the world know that it is not afraid. And when a Pastor is tested, people recognize the Church as a safe place of hope for those who are HIV positive; a place where people can come and meet Jesus.

UNLEASH A VOLUNTEER FORCE OF COMPASSION: Christians must fight HIV because it is an evil virus that destroys individuals and families. It’s not a battle against people, It’s a battle against Evil, the enemy of our souls. The Church needs to get involved because it’s the only group that will last forever. “It’s the Church of Jesus Christ that will outlast every government and business”, to care and exhibit this compassion, churches should be involved in HIV prevention, treatment, care, and support.

REMOVE THE STIGMA
: Stigmatization (even in the Church) is one aspect that has led to the death (psychologically) of people living with HIV/AIDS. It has been said, “A lot of us from the Church are rejected, despised, frustrated by the very Church where we are expected to love and be loved.” I think the first question a church should ask of someone who is HIV positive is “How can we help?”, and not “How did you get it?”

CHAMPION HEALTHY BEHAVIOR: The Church is called to champion healthy sexual behavior. It should also promote people getting tested to know their HIV status for healthy choices. This can only be achievable through constant information dissemination. Pastors should talk with their congregations about engaging themselves in relationships that are life-giving and mutual and letting people know that God has a plan for sexuality that can be learned and lived out within and outside the Church.

HELP WITH NUTRITION AND MEDICATION: If the Church is to be a nurturing community, then it has an obligation to preserve life by assisting people to get the food and medicine they need. When food needs are not met, those who are HIV-positive get sick more quickly. And though most of the world has no access to antiretroviral medications, those with medications often fail to take them because of the difficult side effects. To take the medications, they need a community of supportive people around them.[3]

People with HIV/AIDS are often seen as the lepers of the modern society. In some contexts, they are looked upon with horror, revulsion, and fear. There is fear about any form contact, from eating together to sharing a communion cup to offering an embrace or a kiss of peace and welcome. Like the lepers in the medieval times, people with HIV and AIDS face not only physical exclusion but also moral disapproval, the attitude that their condition is a punishment for sin or that they have brought it upon themselves through sexual activity or drug abuse that is feared and condemned by the majority. Their human dignity is undervalued and undermined, not least by the church.

Jesus Christ identified himself with the outcast of the society. The church is presented the opportunity to see the full humanity of those who battle with illness. It is also an opportunity reopen ourselves to those infected with and affected by the virus-  to their love and dignity as well as their suffering and fear, their sexuality and mortality- in short, their humanity and our own. If the incarnation is about solidarity of God with humankind, then practical identification with people with AIDS brings us closer to the gospel message.

The pandemic presents us with a cluster of issues that are not just a question of epidemiology but are a prism through which a whole range of social issues come into sharp focus. Through the lens of HIV/AIDS, we have opened the way to address many other issues such as the role of women, the rights of minorities and food security.

The Church has a tremendous influence on peoples’ thinking, their world view, attitudes and actions. It may not be too far off the mark to say that the church influences the consciousness of the community. In a world threatened by multiple issues and the scourge of HIV/AIDS, it becomes crucial for the church to develop effective responses to the issues and to get actively involved in social action through collaboration with government and non-government agencies to address the problem at hand which promotes fear and judgmental attitudes that often stop Christians from responding to HIV/AIDS.

[1] Book of Resolutions of The United Methodist Church 2008, Resolution 3243.
[2] John 13:35
[3] www.nairalan.com retrieved on 7/10/2012

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Mercy Rehema is a student in the Faculty of Theology at Africa University in Mutare, Zimbabwe. Mercy served as an Intern with the Methodist Federation for Social Action during the summer of 2012 thanks to the Ethnic Young Adult Internship program of the General Board of Church and Society.

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