AIDS

Engaging AIDS

In "With Eyes to See" (by Bob Smietana, April 2007), megachurch leaders Kay Warren and Lynne Hybels appear to have discovered the devastating AIDS epidemic that has been raging in Africa for more than two decades. Although it can be argued that anything that raises awareness of AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa should be welcome, the photo-ops of the pair visiting Africa are both manipulative and self-serving. Further, the description of their misguided attitude toward people with AIDS, at least prior to their conversion, is chilling.

As a Christian community we have been guilty of willful ignorance, indifference, intolerance, and racism in the face of this horrible epidemic. I look to Sojourners to raise the consciousness of Christians toward AIDS through informed and Christ-centered discussion. This effort falls far short on so many levels.

Mark Tyndall
Vancouver, British Columbia

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Sojourners Magazine August 2007
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With Eyes to See

Kay Warren has a confession to make. For a long time she thought AIDS was somebody else's problem. "It didn't have anything to do with me because it was a 'gay disease,' and I didn't have to care," says Warren, who co-founded Saddleback Church in Orange County, California, with her husband, Rick, in the early 1980s. That attitude is "not something I'm proud of," she admits.

Then, in 2003, Warren met Joana, an HIV-positive woman in Mozambique who was near death. Suddenly AIDS had a face and name. And Warren knew she couldn't pretend it was none of her business anymore. After returning from Africa, she set up an AIDS office at Saddleback and began running informational forums for church members. She also started attending AIDS conferences to find out how her church could best help people with AIDS.

Warren spied a familiar face at one of those conferences—her friend Lynne Hybels, co-founder (with husband Bill) of Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Illinois. As Warren and Hybels talked, they realized they were involved in the same fight. Both were convinced the evangelical church had to respond—in a public and powerful way—to the AIDS pandemic. And both were committed to making it happen.

Since then, Warren and Hybels have become two of the most influential evangelicals in America. With their husbands (and a rock star named Bono), they've put AIDS and poverty at the top of American evangelicals' public agenda.

When it comes to U.S. megachurches, Willow Creek and Saddleback belong to the jumbo variety. They are two of the three largest churches in the United States, according to the Hartford Institute for Religious Research, with weekly attendances of 20,000 and 22,000, respectively. First is Joel Olsteen's Lakewood Church, which draws 30,000 people each week.

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Sojourners Magazine April 2007
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Christians and Muslims Fight AIDS

Three hundred Christian and Muslim religious leaders from 20 Arab countries met in Cairo to launch the region's first faith-based network focused on HIV/AIDS. The Arab states have some of the fastest-growing HIV infection rates in the world; women make up half the infection rate, according to the United Nations. The network will promote chastity and dignity; provide support, spiritual counseling, and care for people living with HIV and their families; highlight the links between HIV/AIDS and development, governance, gender, and human rights; and address the root causes of HIV/AIDS, including poverty, at both the national and regional levels. "We have developed a plan of action to urgently respond to what is amounting to a region living on the brink of an epidemic," said Hady Aya, a Maronite Christian priest from Lebanon, in a press release.

In May 2006, the first HIV/AIDS training for female religious leaders in the Arab region was held in Tripoli, Libya. Eighty women leaders signed a declaration focusing, from a religious perspective, on the rights of women and children to protect themselves from HIV infection.

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Sojourners Magazine March 2007
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A Personal Pandemic

The problem with a disease defined by an extraordinary number of dead, infected, and orphaned is that it is all too easy to lose sight of the individual. HIV/AIDS is most often spoken of in millions, but the makers of the documentary A Closer Walk wanted to show people, one at a time, who were infected and affected by HIV/AIDS.

And so filmmaker Robert Bilheimer introduces us to a child, ironically named Lucky, languishing in a hospital ward; a clergyman named Gideon with HIV/AIDS ministering to others who have the disease; a Russian IV drug user named Ruslan; a widow named Octavia who discovers her husband has died of AIDS; and a whimsical farmer in Kansas by the name of Roger. Beautifully photographed and artfully edited, the film simply lets us know these people—who they are, where they live, and who loves them. It is a deceptively simple technique to introduce an often overwhelmingly complex issue.

Woven into their stories are reflections by AIDS activists such as Bono, as well as doctors, researchers, and philanthropists, all attempting to make sense of the modern-day plague that is reshaping our world. Testimonials by the Dalai Lama and Kofi Annan are mixed with the observations of a Kansas mayor and other less-famous individuals, reminding us that everyone has a role to play. Narrated by actors Glenn Close and Will Smith, the film presents both the faces and the facts of the AIDS crisis in understandable terms.

The camera records the horror of a funeral, the tears of a professional, the feeble attempts of a sick child to smile and give a “thumbs up.” It shows AIDS in all its tragedy, person by person. It follows some individuals long enough that we grow fond of them, such as a young Ugandan orphan named Olivia who tells the story of caring for her mother as she died of AIDS. Later we learn that Olivia herself has been sexually abused—an all-too common situation with orphaned girls—and is now infected herself.

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Sojourners Magazine February 2007
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A Human Spirit

Each day, 6,600 Africans die of AIDS. By 2005, Ethiopia alone had hundreds of thousands of orphans who had lost their parents to AIDS.

The raw numbers don’t convey the unfathomable suffering captured in Melissa Fay Greene’s arresting new book, There Is No Me Without You, the story of an Ethiopian woman who began caring for orphans after the deaths of her husband and a daughter.

Haregewoin Teferra was paralyzed with grief when she agreed in 1999 to take in a 15-year-old girl who was living on the streets. Haregewoin quickly became known as a caring soul who would house desperate orphans, including those who were HIV-positive. Friends told her she was crazy.

In taut prose that reads like fiction, Greene describes the flood of children who show up on Haregewoin’s doorstep in Addis Adaba, a city with “orphans as numerous … as pigeons.” One day, a skeletal woman comes to the gate, gives over her baby, and keels over, dead. More children continue to arrive. Haregewoin converts a rusty boxcar into a combination dining hall and classroom. Older children help care for younger ones. Haregewoin loses count of how many orphans she houses.

Greene’s richly detailed, mesmerizing prose sings on every page. Regarding Haregewoin’s bonding with an HIV-positive girl named Nardos, Greene writes, “Suddenly, in the mitosis of love, Haregewoin’s heart subdivided and a new chamber beat within it, this one labeled Nardos.”

Greene set out to write “a hagiography, a chapter for Lives of the Saints” until she discovered that Haregewoin, like any saint, was human. The result is a nuanced, and believable, portrait.

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Sojourners Magazine January 2007
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Why I was Tested for HIV

Taking the test was the easy part. A simple swab of my gums (just like on CSI, I thought) and it was done. But it wasn’t my DNA that was tested. This swab was searching for antibodies my body would produce if it was fighting HIV.

The nurse who took my swab away didn’t know my name. She handed me a number and said she would call it in 20 minutes. I smiled and thanked her. After all, I was sure of the results.

And so I sat on a folding chair for the next minutes, watching the clock and pretending to read the newspaper. I wasn’t in any of the risk categories for HIV. I’m a 50-something suburban mom who doesn’t shoot drugs or have multiple sex partners. I’ve never had a blood transfusion. I was simply attending an AIDS conference where the rapid testing was available for anyone who was interested.

Like most Americans, I felt fairly sure that I was not at risk for HIV. But also like most Americans, I was only guessing about my HIV status. Unfortunately, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that of the million Americans who are HIV-positive, a quarter don’t know it and go on to infect others.

In September, the CDC issued a notice urging regular HIV testing of all Americans between the ages of 13 and 64 as part of any routine medical exam. With drugs now available to treat HIV and AIDS, finding out you are HIV-positive is not a death sentence. But not knowing in time could be.

SO WHY WOULD I get tested if I wasn’t at risk? First, I did it because I wanted to be able to tell others how simple and confidential the new tests really are. No blood work or days waiting for results. I can say with confidence that it is painless in every way.

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Sojourners Magazine December 2006
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Integral Faith

A ship’s hull that holds together when the great storms roll through is said to have integrity. In the life of faith, integrity means living out of consistent moral and ethical principles as integralparts of a greater whole. In the end, that greater whole is the rule of God in history. The body of Christ, the church, is only as healthy and world-changing as its integrity allows.

Patiently heeding the voice of God in the whirlwind, a world-weary Job manifests integrity. Experiencing bouts of despair as his troubles mount, Job still evinces a sturdy trust. It is the kind of reliance on God that the letter to the Hebrews wishes to rouse in sleepy-eyed Christians who need to be prodded into a more vital, integrated reliance on God.

In this month’s readings, we explore a faith that is communal, childlike, and willing to challenge blindness and complacency. The psalmist remarks on one possible destination: “But as for me, I walk in my integrity; redeem me, and be gracious to me” (Psalm 26:11).

Robert Roth is a writer and social activist in East Lansing, Michigan.

October 1

In Community

Esther 7:1-6, 9-10; 9:20-22; Psalm 124; James 5:13-20; Mark 9:38-50

These passages envision coherent communities of faith in which the lives and challenges of believers are integrated into the vision and purposes of the community. Esther appeals to the Persian king that both “my life be given me” and “the lives of my people.” The psalmist sings about how “our help is in the name of the Lord,” while James 5 calls the early church to communal prayer, praises, and healing as effective responses to suffering or good fortune.

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Sojourners Magazine September/October 2006
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Prophetic Politics in the New South Africa

The world watched the 1994 elections in South Africa with high hopes as apartheid gave way to a multiracial, democratic government. While the majority of white Dutch Reformed churches had provided a theological justification for apartheid, many other churches and religious leaders—Desmond Tutu, Frank Chikane, and Allan Boesak, among others—played a decisive role in resisting an ideology and government based on racial oppression. Like the black church during the U.S. civil rights movement, these South African churches lent moral credibility and infrastructure to a movement that challenged and ultimately transformed this repressive system.

Since 1994, South Africa has embraced a courageous model of national reconciliation through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), which helped shed light on atrocities committed during the apartheid era. The public hearings of the TRC were based on the belief that unearthing the truth would

liberate the country from its haunted past. But for most of the black underclass, the prerequisites for achieving real reconciliation include reparations and social justice. Entrenched poverty and the lack of progress in achieving economic justice constitute the Achilles’ heel of the new South Africa.

I recently attended a three-day conference in Cape Town in which more than 50 leaders from South African and American civil society discussed racial reconciliation, HIV/AIDS, and community philanthropy. I talked with a range of religious leaders to explore how the prophetic role of the South African church has changed since the fall of apartheid, with a particular focus on the dual crises of HIV/AIDS and poverty that will profoundly determine South Africa’s future.

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Sojourners Magazine July 2006
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Treat Everyone

The trade-off outlined in David Batstone’s “The HIV Trade-Off” (February 2006) doesn’t have to be made. While it is true that antiretroviral treatment of AIDS is expensive, it need not be. The reason it is expensive is because the drug companies charge a lot for the drugs.

Brazil has figured out a way to provide treatment and do preventive work. Written off 15 years ago because of the burgeoning HIV/AIDS epidemic and the perceived lack of options, Brazil fought back. Today, the country has contained the spread of the disease; those infected are getting antiretroviral treatment. Public health messages are frequent, visible, and effective. Brazilian leaders even addressed the problem of illiteracy that made compliance with complex drug instructions difficult.

They refused to abandon those already infected; they didn’t accept that they would have to choose the infected over the uninfected. They did both. How? They started manufacturing their own antiretrovirals.

Each country, as each person, must develop its own moral sense. Is it acceptable to ignore patent laws, or should they condemn generations to death?

Susan Oatis
Seattle, Washington

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Sojourners Magazine April 2006
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New and Noteworthy

Communities at Risk

“AIDS is born in the house of poverty,” an Indian health worker says on Making Ends Meet: AIDS and Poverty, a new resource from the Mennonite Central Committee. The 18-minute DVD looks at communities in India and South Africa and how AIDS is impacting the economies of each. The DVD includes additional interviews, a 25-minute story on church workers in Zimbabwe and Mozambique, and other features. Excellent for Sunday school or study groups. www.mcc.org/aids

Poisonous Plunder

If you encounter folks who question the growing economic divide in the United States, have them check out Inequality Matters, edited by James Lardner and David Smith. Writers, activists, economists, and religious leaders—such as Barbara Ehrenreich, Theda Skocpol, Jim Wallis, and William Greider, with an introductory salvo by Bill Moyers—contribute essays that illuminate every facet of this toxic state of affairs. The New Press

Powerful Action

Engage: Exploring Nonviolent Living, produced by Pace e Bene Nonviolence Service, is a 12-part study and action program that covers all aspects of living nonviolently. Each session contains directions for guiding conversation, readings on nonviolence, exercises and role-plays, and suggestions for discussion and action. A practical and helpful manual, especially the chapter on books, videos, and other nonviolence resources. www.paceebene.org

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Sojourners Magazine March 2006
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