How should Christians respond to AIDS? I will never forget the first person I met with AIDS: a young student desperately ill in a side-room. He was anxious, sweaty panting for breath, and gripped with fear. He was alone and about to die. From that moment on I found I was involved. Here was a human being made in God’s image, in great need. How could I respond other than to care and help, laying aside any personal feelings I might have had about lifestyles, and the means by which he had become infected? So often as Christians reacting to AIDS we do nothing or find ourselves rushing to open our bibles, to declare to ourselves and to others that something is wrong. Yet in our sudden response we can loose sight of God’s mercy, love and forgiveness – and the reality that many have been infected through the actions of others rather than through their own behaviour. It is possible as to be technically correct in interpreting God’s standards for human behaviour yet terribly wrong and un Christian in our own attitudes.
Christian response to AIDS must be guided by example of Jesus
Take the example of Jesus with the woman caught in the act of adultery – really the story of the missing man (1). Here are a bunch of angry men, looking for an excuse to lynch a woman, yet it takes two to and the man is nowhere to be seen. In Jesus’ day there was a hierarchy of sin: woman sex sin punished by death, other sin was more or less acceptable, while man sex sin was hardly worth fussing about.Jesus loathed their double standards and self-opinionated hypocrisy. He cut right through them with just one sentence: “If any one of you is without sin let him be the first to throw a stone at her” (2). No one moved. Jesus stared them all out until they all left one by one – the oldest first. In one sentence Jesus had totally destroyed any possibility of judging others according to a ranking of sin. All of us have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory (3), all are utterly dead outside of God’s grace (4). When it comes to pointing the finger, Jesus forbids the Christian community to put ourselves on a pedestal when it comes to HIV / AIDS. He was the only person on this earth who had the right to condemn yet he says to the woman “neither do I condemn you”. He also adds “go now and leave your life of sin” (5) .As Christians we get confused between the two things Jesus said: either we rush to make a moral statement, tripping up over judgmental attitudes along the way, or we rush to express God’s mercy and love, falling into a deep hole where there is no longer a clear moral framework for living. The Jesus way is to hold infinite love and perfect standards in tension together – something we need his help to do. This is the Christian way.Let us be absolutely clear that the teaching of scripture from Genesis to Revelation is constant regarding the wonderful gift of sex union, as a celebration of love and friendship between a man and woman committed together for life. The Bible is far more daring and explicit than our sermons on sex, making clear that all sex union outside marriage is wrong.So how do we live with these tensions ? The way of Jesus is clear: a Christian response to AIDS means we are called to express the unconditional love of God to all in need regardless of how they come to be so. This is fundamental to the call of the church to serve the world.If someone is seriously hurt in a car crash just outside my house I rush out to help. I don’t walk away just because I find out he’s drunk and that is why there was an accident. Nor do I start preaching an anti-drunkenness sermon in the ambulance or on the ward. I do however talk about the story widely wherever I go, pointing out the dangers of drinking and driving.With those affected by HIV/AIDS we are called to be helpful, to care and express love. The church has to act, seeking always to serve others.We are there as servants to help as the person wishes and it is a privilege to do so. Many are shocked to find Christians involved who care deeply while unable to endorse certain lifestyles. I often think about the story Jesus told of the prodigal son (7). What would have happened if he had become infected with HIV while away and had died before having had time to think again? I imagine his dad reading the newspaper over breakfast one day and seeing the death notice of his own son. I imagine him breaking down in tears as he calls his wife: “He never phoned, he never wrote, and in ten years we had no news except through friends”.
I often think of people with AIDS today, many dying without hope and without God, and I think of our heavenly father, with tears pouring down his face, not wanting any to perish (8), or to be separated one day more, yet with sadness releasing people to go their own way.
Those with AIDS are the lepers of today. When Jesus touched the leper he made history – still talked about 2000 years later. It was the most powerful demonstration of the love of God that he could possibly have shown other than his own sacrificial death.
When a volunteer from a local church goes into a home that person carries the presence of Christ. Jesus has no body of his own: we the church are his body. We are his hands, his feet, his smile, his voice, his heart, his touch.
The only part of God that people see could be the life of Jesus in you or me.
How to help: People with AIDS can be very sensitive to reactions: will this new person accept or reject? As with cancer a person can swing rapidly from anger, to denial, sadness, despair, hope, optimism, questioning, resignation, fighting, giving up, wanting active treatment, or even wanting to die.
Be sensitive to where the person is today, helping the person understand that in the midst of great uncertainties about the future, your own constant support and friendship is not in doubt, just as God’s faithfulness and love is not in doubt.
There may be deep wounds from the past, and feelings of worthlessness. Guilt over unintentional passing of infection on to others, guilt over surviving when so many others have already died, and guilt about lifestyles may all be present. Feelings of isolation and loneliness may be intense. Fear of the process of dying is often far greater than the fear of death itself.
The greatest need is often for simple practical help rather than just for comforting words or a listening ear. Wiping someone’s bottom can say more about your care for the person than six hours of sitting in an armchair. Many want to counsel someone with AIDS – but who is really prepared to go the extra mile?
(1) John 8v1-11 (2) John 8v7 (3) Rom 3v23 (4) Eph 2v1 (5) John 8v11 (6) Gen 2v24, Matt 19v5, 1 Cor 6v16 (7) Luke 15v11-31 (8) 2 Pet 3v9
Dr. Patrick Dixon is the author of The Truth about AIDS and also founder of ACET (AIDS Care Education and Training) Courtesy: Article on a Christian response to AIDS published in Tear Times 1997