The Common Good

AIDS: A crisis of biblical proportions

Sojomail - December 3, 2003

Quote of the Week Bono on AIDS and the church
Hearts & Minds Jim Wallis: A crisis of biblical proportions
Funny Business A slight correction
By the Numbers Iraq body count
On the Ground A pilgrimage of hope and life along the U.S.-Mexico border
Media Watch Fair and balanced - or faux news?
Soul Works The Eye of Chaos
Building a Movement They're making their lists, checking them twice
On the Wire Miami Roundup: What you may not have read about the FTAA protests
Boomerang Readers write

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"Christ's example is being demeaned by the church if they ignore the new leprosy, which is AIDS. The church is the sleeping giant here. If it wakes up to what's really going on in the rest of the world, it has a real role to play. If it doesn't, it will be irrelevant."

- Bono, quoted in The Chicago Sun-Times

A crisis of biblical proportions
by Jim Wallis

No Sweat
Jim WallisI've always loved basketball. And my favorite basketball player of all time was Magic - Earvin "Magic" Johnson of the Los Angeles Lakers. I loved the way he understood the game and what it meant to be a team. The way he played made everybody else better. When it was announced that Magic had contracted HIV, I was brokenhearted. I would no longer see him take a rebound and lead the patented Laker "Showtime" fast break.

Much worse, I was sure Magic would die - soon. But while HIV eventually ended his basketball career, Magic hasn't died. Through antiretroviral drugs he has gone on to live - and a rather full life.

But today, 9,000 people will die of HIV/AIDS. And almost all of them will be poor - they simply can't afford the drug treatments that prolong life. World Vision says it well: "For the majority of patients in poor countries, AIDS is a death sentence - not a chronic, manageable condition."

Today, 14,000 new people will be infected with the disease, most of them in poor countries. Forty-two million already have it, 22 million have already died, and the World Health Organization puts the number of new infections at 5 million. The world has never seen a public health crisis like this. Given the numbers, one could say it is a crisis of "biblical proportions."

Last week, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan said prophetically: "For me it's not just statistics. ...I've seen the human suffering and the pain, and what is even more difficult is when you see somebody lying there dying who knows that there is medication and medicine somewhere else in the world that can save her. But she can't have it, because she is poor and lives in a poor country. Where is our common humanity? How do you explain it to her, that in certain parts of the world AIDS is a disease that can be treated and one can live with and function? But in her particular situation, it's a death sentence."

People dying of AIDS - who know that elsewhere medication is saving the lives of people - know that they are dying because they are poor. That, indeed, is a biblical matter.

The only good news is that the churches are changing. We must admit that the churches have been slow to respond. AIDS has carried a sexual stigma for the churches, and we didn't want to deal with it. And the early perceptions of the disease were mostly associated with homosexuality - and the church didn't want to deal with that either.

But most victims of HIV/AIDS today are women and children - infected by the promiscuity of men, and exacerbated by their poverty. An entire generation of children - 13 million worldwide - have been orphaned by AIDS and face a bleak future without our immediate support.

We are finally seeing new church leadership and, perhaps most significantly, new Evangelical leadership. On this World AIDS Day I can point to the strong and unequivocal statements of commitment from groups like World Vision, World Relief, and the National Association of Evangelicals, along with the Catholic Bishops and the mainline Protestant Church World Service. HIV/AIDS is awakening the conscience of the churches.

Some have likened AIDS to a modern-day leprosy - the terrible scourge of Jesus' day. The gospels note that Jesus went out of his way to embrace the lepers who were isolated and abandoned by the society and the religious people of his day. He instructed his followers to heed his example. Today, Christians are starting to follow Jesus, who said: "I was sick and you took care of me."

We in the faith community must raise up a prophetic voice and undertake a new faith-based initiative on HIV/AIDS.

We must call on our leaders in Congress to act. We must call on President George W. Bush to take a faith-based initiative in fully funding his own HIV/AIDS initiative, which many of us applauded at the time, but have watched in dismay as promises were broken. A commitment of $15 billion over 5 years means $3 billion this year, yet Congress only appropriated $2.4 billion.

To fund an initiative that will help in both the prevention and treatment of AIDS is now quite simply a matter of good faith - of making good on faith. There can be no excuses. It is a moral imperative, as well as a political necessity. For all of us, it is a matter of faith.

These remarks were delivered at a press conference held by religious leaders outside the U.S. Treasury Department on World AIDS Day, Monday, December 1.

Monday was Global AIDS Day, but you can still take action! Go to our action alert page and tell President Bush to fully fund global anti-AIDS initiatives: >>Click here to get the facts and take action!

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A slight correction

From the corrections column of the Cleveland Plain Dealer:

"Because of an editing error, a story on the front page yesterday misattributed a quote from the speaker on an audiotape purportedly of Saddam Hussein as coming from Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota. It was the speaker on the tape, not Daschle, who said, 'The evil ones now find themselves in crisis, and this is God's will for them.'"


Iraq body count

Number of soldiers in crowd President Bush addressed on Thanksgiving: about 600
Number of U.S. soldiers killed so far during the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq: 437
Number of funerals for U.S. soldiers that Bush has personally attended: 0
Number of Iraqi civilians killed so far during the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq: more than 3,240
(or at least 7,918 according to the Iraq Body Count:

Source: Associated Press, CNN:


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A pilgrimage of hope and life along the U.S.-Mexico border
by Judy Coode

If it's Tuesday, this must be Agua Prieta, Mexico, just over the border from Douglas, Arizona.

The community at the Sagrada Familia Catholic church has just serenaded us, and now they insist that we, their visitors from the U.S., sing one of our songs. Our little group of 10, participants in the first Border Pilgrimage for Hope and Life Along the U.S.-Mexico Border, glance frantically at one another. We are at a loss, but then agree on Woody Guthrie's "This Land is Your Land." Sadly, not one of us can remember anything other than the first stanza: "This land is your land, this land is my land, from California, to the New York Island / From the redwood forest, to the gulf stream waters, this land was made for you and me."

Men, women, and children from all over Mexico, and sometimes El Salvador, show up at the church every day for assistance. They have either borrowed money, sold all of their possessions, or received funds from a relative already in the U.S. to risk the journey in order to have the chance to make a few more dollars a day. They say they have no choice, either because their farms have been wiped out or because their factory has shut down and moved to a country with even fewer employee safeguards. These are the people who are directly affected by economic policies such as the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

Read more at:


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For more information visit our homepage, or contact Ulla Vinterhav at Application deadline: January 16, 2004.

Fair and balanced - or faux news?

Fox News' claims to be "fair and balanced" became even more questionable when it was revealed that Fox News staff contributed to the orchestration of the Republican-led 39-hour Senate talk-a-thon intended to counter the Democrat filibuster against four of President Bush's most radically conservative judicial nominees. The idea for the food-and-cot spectacle originated on the editorial pages of the Rupert Murdoch-owned Weekly Standard. Fox News anchors Brit Hume and Tony Snow then pitched the idea outright to Senator Majority Leader Bill Frist on a broadcast of Fox News Sunday. Two weeks after Frist appeared on the show, the two-day marathon was announced.

A memo to Senate staffers leaked from Frist's office reads: "It is important to double efforts to get your boss to S-230 on time.... Fox News Channel is really excited about this marathon and Brit Hume at 6 would love to open with all our 51 senators walking onto the floor - the producer wants to know will we walk in exactly at 6:02 when the show starts so they get it live to open Brit Hume's show? Or if not, can we give them an exact time for the walk-in start?"

Read about more of Fox's faux pas at:


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The Eye of Chaos
by Einar Mar Gudmundsson

Do not talk about
large nations and small nations,
outposts, corners and peripheries.

This is a globe; its centre
rests beneath your feet
and shifts its ground and follows
you wherever you go.

From Fire and Ice: Nine Poets from Scandinavia and the North.

They're making their lists, checking them twice

When the National Rifle Association came out with a list citing more than 500 "anti-gun" organizations, individuals, and every major media outlet (except, ahem, Fox) for attacking Second Amendment rights, critics called it a "blacklist" and urged thousands more to put their names alongside those of such radical individuals as Jimmy Carter, Mary Lou Retton, and Bruce Springsteen at . In the meantime, the NRA for its part responded with an invitation to join its "Good Guys" list at: .

See the original list, which includes more than 20 religious groups and many clergy, at:


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Miami Roundup: What you may not have read about the FTAA protests

Amnesty International has called for an investigation into police tactics during last week's Free Trade Area of the Americas meetings here, joining a swelling chorus of complaints that the police used unwarranted violence to stifle mostly peaceful demonstrators.
Read more:

"Until Thursday, I respected the badge," says a 71-year-old retired airline pilot and police officer's son - now outraged after seeing Miami police shoot seniors with rubber bullets, harrass young people who were doing nothing illegal, and pepper spray peaceful demonstrators. He was in Miami to protest the FTAA with other members of the Alliance for Retired Americans.
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Readers write

Kate Weber writes from University Heights, Ohio:

I have become aware of the annual protest against the School of the Americas in the last several years. Recent discussion among friends, however, has left me wondering whether well-meaning Christians, including Jesse Holcomb, are blinding themselves to the possibility that SOA is doing good. The government claims that what used to go on at SOA (training soldiers in methods of torture and so on) has been halted. I would like to see Christians engage in a dialogue about this, giving both sides fair play. It is our responsibility to seek what is good in all things; if there is no good to be found in SOA now, let it be said and made known to all, not simply as a proclamation of the violent past but of current facts! But if there is some good in it, perhaps we should direct our energies not to one-sided protests, but to level-headed discussions with political and military leaders in order to identify the SOA's positive components and see also how it might be improved to help our world.


James Ferguson writes from Sydney, Australia:

I've just been reading one of Jim's old books, The New Radical, and it's great to see that 20 years later he's still willing to cop it from both sides of the political spectrum regarding gay marriage. Great to see you attacking the false dichotomies encouraged by a divisive media. I agree that there's no other way to balance compassion (1 Corintians 13:2, Matthew 7:1) with faithfulness (1 Corinthians 5), to balance a willingness to engage the world with the faith to believe you have a message for it.


Kim Broers writes from Kansas City, Missouri:

I have read with great interest both Jim's editorial and the responses it evoked. I, too, found it lukewarm and had expected a more vigorous, less tentative viewpoint. Still, paradigm shifts are difficult, and they take time. The issue of homosexual marriage is a prickly one, even for homosexuals. In response to Ruth Hollands of El Paso, I would say this: Although she clearly is a woman of compassion, she makes that error that never ceases to offend: That homosexuals are inherently "sinners." Given the anguish in this world, I may need to be healed, but certainly not because I am gay. It is God who created me, God who created me as I AM. Why does Ruth think homosexuals are lost sheep who have rejected God? She might as well say that God has made a huge error in creating so many men and women whose hearts are drawn to those of the same sex. Loving another is not a CHOICE, but a natural movement from the heart, and body, and mind.


Jan Roddy writes from St. Louis, Missouri:

Tradition as an argument just shouldn't be enough for a magazine of Sojourners' intellectual caliber. As you know we can find all sorts of examples in the gospels and recent civil rights history where the opposition to justice for all stood simply on the grounds of tradition that we recognize now as soundly wrong. A critical, theological look at why heterosexual Christians fear that gay and lesbian partners having access to marriage to strengthen their loving relationships and families somehow sullies their marriage, may be as important a spiritual, theological question. Please think and look more deeply into the topic and encourage your writers to do the same.


Steve Goering writes from Evanston, Illinois:

In the Boomerang discussion of gay marriages, one responder writes: "This is not about theology or the Bible." The next writes: "At one time, Biblical family values sanctioned polygamy as the 'norm.' Things change." In response after response, I saw a lack of Christ-centered reasoning by people arguing both sides of the issue. But our thinking should be about theology and the Bible. Things change, but God never changes. We must not be "blown about by every wind of doctrine." What is it about this issue that draws our argumentation from culture rather than from the gospel?


Rev. Emilee Whitehurst writes from Lawrence, Kansas:

I admire Jim's attempt to chart a middle ground that honors both the sanctity of marriage and the human rights of gay folks, but I have to admit, I find myself cheering on conservative New York Times columnist who insists that those who truly want to honor the covenant of marriage should in fact be the most outspoken advocates of gay marriage. Whereas Jim Wallis argues that marriage should remain exclusive to a man and a woman, David Brooks, citing the Book of Ruth, insists otherwise. He writes: "The conservative course is not to banish gay people from making such commitments. It is to expect that they make such commitments. We shouldn't just allow gay marriage. We should insist on gay marriage. We should regard it as scandalous that two people could claim to love each other and not want to sanctify their love with marriage and fidelity. When liberals argue for gay marriage, they make it sound like a really good employee benefits plan. Or they frame it as a civil rights issue, like extending the right to vote. Marriage is not voting. It's going to be up to conservatives to make the important, moral case for marriage, including gay marriage."

Wouldn't it be wonderful if conservatives committed to upholding the sanctity of marriage could also take the lead on opening up that ennobling institution to gays and lesbians? If so, Jim's middle ground doesn't give conservatives nearly enough credit.


Boomerang is an open forum for all kinds of views. The views expressed are not necessarily those of Sojourners. We reserve the right to edit for length and clarity. Want to make your voice heard? Send e-mails to:

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