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By Kathy Gilbert
Sex, drugs and AIDS make a lethal mix that doesn’t get much compassion, even from people of faith.
Scientific advances in prevention and life-extending drugs means those with the virus can live longer, healthier lives, but the stigma of how the disease is spread still is killing as effectively as the disease, said the Rev. Don Messer, a United Methodist pastor who believes faith communities can lead the way in ending discrimination associated with AIDS.
An interview with Messer will be part of a CBS interfaith special, “HIV & AIDS: Awareness & Compassion,” which will be broadcast beginning this coming Sunday, June 17. The documentary profiles the interfaith movement to assist those living with HIV/AIDS to live productive and healthy lives.
“I mean, religious people like to have sex, but they like to pretend they don’t,” he said. “It’s a tragedy that church people would seemingly rather let their children – their baptized members – get infected than to be open and candid about how the disease is spread.”
Messer, chair of the United Methodist Global AIDS Fund Committee and founder of the Center for the Church & Global AIDS, was part of “Lighten the Burden,” a United Methodist conference on HIV/AIDS on April 23 in Tampa, Fla.
Messer, as well as South African Bishop Ivan Abrahams, top executive of the World Methodist Council, spoke at the conference at Hyde Park United Methodist Church in Tampa the day before General Conference 2012, the denomination’s worldwide assembly, April 24–May 4.
The CBS documentary will include interviews with other religious and faith leaders as well as people living with AIDS. The special airs in advance of June 27, National HIV Testing Day, an effort coordinated by the National Association of People with AIDS, which is the oldest AIDS organization in the United States.
Abrahams said that after apartheid ended in South Africa, the government went through a period of “genocide by indifference” on the reality of AIDS.
“I believe in the same way that speaking about the abolition of slavery in the 18th and 19th century, so today – this is one of the main issues. It’s a biblical imperative for Christians in the 21st century. It’s about the preservation of the human species.
“I say with absolute sincerity that my mantra is no infections, no deaths by the year 2020. And in the same way that we’ve overcome measles and polio, so I believe we – we will overcome the HIV and AIDS virus. It just needs commitment – political commitment and the will of us all,” Abrahams said.
Our faith values can make a difference whether they are Christian, Jewish or Muslim, Messer said. “Part of the problem for the church is we haven’t listened to persons with HIV and AIDS,” he said.
“We have not understood what it’s like to be a young gay man in America. Much less do we understand what it’s like to be a gay man in Africa where you have utter brutality, and you have to stand up against the forces of society and religion.
“My goal is to move people from condemnation to compassion, from stigmatization to kind of a liberation, and to move them from apathy to action.”
Kathy Gilbert serves as a multimedia reporter for the young adult content team at United Methodist Communications in Nashville, Tenn.
Watch this CBS-TV Special “HIV & AIDS: Awareness & Compassion,” in Indiana:
After June 17, the program may be viewed at CBS News Religion and Culture.
Learn more about the United Methodist Global AIDS Fund. You can support this program by giving to UMCOR Advance #982345, United Methodist Global AIDS Fund.
The UMC resolution #3243 “The Church and the Global HIV & AIDS Pandemic” was readopted by the 2012 General Conference. The new version includes updated statistics as well as a statement endorsing needle exchange programs as a way of reducing the spread of AIDS. Click here for the updated resolution.