AIDS

Covenant Living

Covenants order our lives, our faith communities, and, in the best of times, our nations. The promises and agreements God makes to us, and that we make to one another, are sometimes made binding by oaths or rituals. Sometimes God simply sends someone down from the mountain with a covenant fully formed and sealed.

The covenants of marriage, baptism, ordination, and church membership echo the great historic covenants, such as God’s agreement with Noah after the flood and Moses’ receiving of the Ten Commandments. The biblical covenants are relevant to our lives today because their wisdom—and power to order societies—has much to teach us about a covenantal way of relating to God, to others, and to the created order.

The divine-human covenants highlighted in this month’s readings offer a “two-way street” of rights, responsibilities, and relationships. Indeed, watch Jesus turn the tables when they are violated! God’s promises and future-oriented commitments surprise us. In Genesis 9, God says creation will never again be destroyed by God’s action. In Genesis 17, God pledges an everlasting involvement with, and blessing of, Abraham and Sarah’s descendants.

Over time, biblical covenants were replaced by the laws of feudal societies, kingdoms, and nation-states. Nonetheless, our fragmented, anxious times cry out for the justice, security, and compassion of covenantal living. From secular international treaties to church polity, we see the desire of peoples to have what a community bound by covenant provides.

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


March 5

Sealed with Rainbows

Genesis 9:8-17; Psalm 25:1-10; 1 Peter 3:18-22; Mark 1:9-15

Consider the magnitude of the announcement God makes to Noah: “I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants....[N]ever again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth” (Genesis 9:9-11).

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Sojourners Magazine March 2006
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I Hope You Never Forget

Precious memories, unseen angels sent from somewhere to my soul,
How they linger ever near me and the sacred past unfold.
— J.B.F. Wright

When Joshua and the Israelites were nearing the end of their long journey to the Promised Land, the whole caravan stopped next to the Jordan River for the ancient equivalent of a “Kodak moment.” Per God’s command, 12 men, each representing a tribe of Israel, took 12 stones from the middle of the river. Joshua placed the stones at Gilgal, saying, “When your children ask their parents in time to come, ‘What do these stones mean?’ then you shall let your children know, ‘Israel crossed over the Jordan here on dry ground.’ For the Lord your God dried up the waters of the Jordan for you...” (Joshua 4:21-23).

With the right technology, a group photographer might have arranged the Israelites in front of the stones, those in the back row with their arms around each other, their sweaty clothes and weary smiles conveying to future generations the exhilaration of the moment. Lacking photo albums, the Israelites instead relied on the 12 stones to help them remember this direct experience of God’s deliverance. The stones prompted the sharing of memories that in turn became a source of identity for those coming after them.

Although our modern-day versions of memorial “stones” come in more creative, and portable, forms—journals, videos, time capsules, audio recordings—we seem partial to scrapbooks and photo albums. The nearly $3 billion “scrapbooking” industry is ample evidence of our desire to remember and be remembered (that, and the power of marketing): A small empire of product suppliers, Web sites, magazines, “scrapper” forums, and even a television show (Scrapbooking, which airs on the DIY network) produces a constant stream of tips, ideas, and materials for preserving—and “enhancing,” as one retailer describes it—our memories.

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Sojourners Magazine February 2006
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The HIV Trade-Off

Karl Barth’s prescription for an engaged Christian is often quoted: Keep in one hand the Bible and in the other hand the daily newspaper. I tweak the advice of the famed Swiss theologian for my own discipline and keep in my newspaper hand copies of two highly regarded dailies: The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. Most folks read the news that reinforces their own point of view. Absorbing a steady diet of adversarial positions and the statistics that accompany them helps us to identify those idols closest to home.

That’s also why I keep up a subscription to Forbes, the magazine that proudly touts itself as a publication for “the world’s business leaders.” I was leafing through a copy of Forbes recently, and an article caught my eye: “Treating HIV Doesn’t Pay.” The tagline was equally jarring: “It is humane to pay for AIDS drugs in Africa, but it isn’t economical. The same dollars spent on prevention would save more lives.”

The piece penned by Emily Oster, a graduate student of economics at Harvard, applies an economic cost-benefit analysis to a serious social crisis. She pits pouring resources into antiretroviral therapy that may save individual lives against a preventative strategy that would arrest the spread of the epidemic.

Oster does a yeoman’s service by dispelling a widely held myth that AIDS has spread in Africa primarily due to the undisciplined exercise of libido—in simple terms, the idea that Africans have more sex and more sexual partners. While sexual behavior certainly plays into the AIDS epidemic in Africa (as it does everywhere), Oster points out that its transmission can be traced in large part to untreated infections such as gonorrhea and syphilis that create open sores and serve as a hotbed for HIV.

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Sojourners Magazine February 2006
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The Other Disaster

Tsunamis, hurricanes, earthquakes, and floods provide dramatic footage for captivated American television viewers. But other disasters are less telegenic. HIV/AIDS steals lives one by one, often in the dark and dingy corners of the world where no camera is waiting to record the end of a struggle against a brutal killer.

Although it is rarely found on the front pages of newspapers, it continues to sweep away nearly 8,000 lives each and every day. Even more distressing, another 13,000 individuals are infected daily.

Why does it get so little attention? Partially because it lacks the drama we seem to crave in our media-bite-driven world. But another reason is that myths about HIV/AIDS continue to flourish, confusing and dissipating our response to those in need.

As people of faith stand on the front line of this disaster, we must educate each other about the facts so that we can respond out of concern and knowledge. Some of the most common myths about HIV/AIDS include:

Myth 1: HIV/AIDS occurs mostly in men. Sadly, as many women as men are now infected with HIV worldwide, and the trends are alarming. In sub-Saharan Africa, nearly two-thirds of those infected are women, with women ages 15 to 24 being three times more likely to contract HIV. Even in countries where the rates are still higher among men, the rate among women is increasing steadily.

The reasons for this are biological, economic, and cultural. A double standard continues to thrive: An infected man will go on to infect between two and 20 women (or girls) during a decade of latent infection, before he even shows symptoms. And women are more economically vulnerable, especially when they have children and must find a way to provide for them.

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Sojourners Magazine December 2005
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Best Practices

Approximately 11 million children in sub-

Approximately 11 million children in sub-Saharan Africa are orphaned because of AIDS; it kills 6,000 Africans each day. More than 23 million people are infected.

Dale Hanson Bourke, founder of the AIDS Orphan Bracelet Project, decided to do what she could to help. "Each bracelet is a tangible link to an orphan or a woman supporting an AIDS orphan," Bourke told Sojourners. "If each of us contributes a donation and then wears the bracelet and tells one other person, we can, together, have a huge impact on the problem."

The AIDS Orphan Bracelet Project is a Christian grassroots effort to increase financial support and awareness about AIDS orphans. Churches, schools, and other groups offer these African bracelets for a $20 donation. They are made by women in Uganda, Kenya, and Mozambique in micro-enterprise groups who are supporting AIDS orphans. The funds support four faith-based organizations - Compassion International, International Justice Mission, Opportunity International, and World Vision - working directly on the issue.

Click here to learn more

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Sojourners Magazine November 2004
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Do You Believe in Magic?

When Magic Johnson,

When Magic Johnson, that talented and affable basketball player, announced in 1991 that he was HIV-positive, most of us reacted with a combination of sadness and horror. It all seemed a little too close to home. Given the dire headlines and horrendous statistics at that time, most people assumed Johnson would be dead in a few years. And if Magic Johnson could be infected, wasn’t it possible that the rest of us were in danger?

Thirteen years later, Magic Johnson is alive and well. He has traded in a basketball uniform for a suit and amassed a fortune as a savvy businessman. He does not appear to be unhealthy and has been quoted as saying that his infection level is actually lower than it was when he was first diagnosed. Johnson has become the most visible symbol of why Americans no longer worry about AIDS.

Meanwhile, more than 10 million people who were infected around the same time as Johnson or more recently have died, according to United Nations statistics. Most have died never knowing they were HIV-positive. Many have gone on to infect their spouses and then their children. And only a very small percentage even knew that their death was not inevitable.

Nowhere is the chasm between the haves and have-nots in the world wider and deeper than in the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

Johnson, a healthy and wealthy man, had access to the latest drug therapies of the time, was well-nourished, and had the best doctors money could buy. By 1994, anti-retroviral drugs were available to most AIDS patients in the United States. Treatment with these drugs was so effective that the "Lazarus Effect" is now used as a description of what happens to AIDS patients who receive drug therapy.

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Sojourners Magazine October 2004
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Cradle of Life

With 35,

With 35,000 churches and monasteries and 500,000 clergy in Ethiopia, the Orthodox Church is poised to send messages into the most remote parts of that country to prevent HIV and to fund ministries to treat the infected. The International Orthodox Christian Charities, the humanitarian aid agency of Orthodox Christians, and the U.S. Agency for International Development have committed to a $6 million campaign to fight AIDS in Ethiopia, the cradle of African Christianity and home to the third-highest HIV-positive population in the world.

"Our job is really to save a generation," said Tedla Teshome of the Development and Inter-Church Aid Commission. "The very existence of the nation is at stake." The goal of the three-year project is to offer faith-based community care to 9,000 orphans and vulnerable children, through "hope centers." Trained counselors will also promote abstinence and monogamy among a target audience of youth ages 15 to 24.

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Sojourners Magazine May 2004
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Children Against AIDS

A Jesuit priest in southern India, along with local Jesuit school students, has launched an AIDS-awareness campaign conducted mostly by children orphaned by the disease. A 16-member theater group is traveling with a play promoting prevention as the only cure for AIDS. "People in this area commit suicide when they get to know they have contracted AIDS," said theater group member Kunda Deepthi, age 10. "I plead with all so that such people may live."

The program is a joint venture by the students of the local Jesuit school and two Hindu doctors. "The future of the church lies in collaborating with lay people, and the present program is one such ‘stepping stone' for lay, intercultural, and interdenominational collaboration," says Jesuit Arulanandam Elango.

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Sojourners Magazine July-August 2003
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Women Empowered to Fight AIDS

The San Francisco-based Global AIDS Interfaith Alliance received a $1 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to fight HIV/AIDS in Malawi, Africa. The grant enables GAIA to launch the Malawi Women's Empowerment Project to train a network of women in rural Malawi villages in AIDS prevention and care. These women will then be deployed throughout southern Malawi to provide counseling and medical referrals to those living with HIV/AIDS. Rev. William Rankin founded GAIA in June 2000 to train health and religious leaders of all faiths for AIDS prevention and care, primarily in Africa.

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Sojourners Magazine May-June 2003
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The Devil's in the Details

Proverbs tells us that where there lacks vision, the people perish. The United States has lacked vision in the fight against global HIV/AIDS, the greatest health crisis in human history. For the majority of the 42 million people infected in the world, AIDS still represents a death sentence. More than 12 million orphaned children in Africa alone interrogate our response and demand that we do more.

In his State of the Union address this winter, President Bush outlined a bold role for the United States by pledging $15 billion over five years to fight HIV/AIDS in Africa and the Caribbean. The initiative promises to provide life-prolonging treatment to 2 million people and to prevent 7 million new infections. In addition to this desperately needed new money, the president stated a principle that activists and people of faith have embraced in the fight against HIV/AIDS. "In an age of miraculous medicines," Bush said, "no person should have to hear" the words, "‘You've got AIDS. We can't help you. Go home and die.'"

With Bush's plan the devil lies in the details. The political landscape around HIV/AIDS will be defined by how this new commitment is implemented. The advocacy battle must turn to getting the details right. While the details may not generate the same degree of outrage, they will determine how many lives are lost or saved.

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Sojourners Magazine May-June 2003
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