There is a kind of behaviour among Christians that makes the sick — particularly those living with HIV and AIDS — feel judged, condemned, cursed, unloved, dirty and unacceptable. This kind of behaviour fuels stigmatisation and discrimination.
Such uncharitable behaviour (which assumes, for example that everyone who is HIV positive has acquired the infection as divine punishment for living an adulterous, loose and immoral lifestyle) is wrong. This negative, judgemental, accusing and condemning attitude lacks the essential characteristic of Christ’s message – love.
Love accepts one another and leaves judgement to God. What is needed in our modern Christian community that is sick or infected and affected with HIV and AIDS is a positive gospel of love and acceptance.
When Jesus Christ came across a man who was born blind (John 9), the immediate reaction by his disciples was that this was divine punishment for a sin committed either by him or by his parents. In a tone of rebuke, Jesus told them that neither him nor his parents had sinned; He drew their attention to the need for compassion, telling them the man’s predicament was for God’s glory to be manifested. Filled with compassion, He healed the man.
There is also the parable of the Good Samaritan; he was commended by Jesus for showing love to a dying stranger, without questioning the origin of his plight. The rabbi and the levite had passed this dying man by, probably out of condemnation that he had been deservedly punished by the Almighty, and so they had no business ameliorating his suffering.
It is in this spirit of fostering love, unity and good fellowship among Christians that African Evangelistic Enterprise Zimbabwe (AEEZ) has partnered Zimbabwe Network of People Living Positively with HIV/AIDS (ZNPP+) in Chitungwiza district (ca 30 kilometres south of Harare).
Reverend Guide Makore said, “Our evangelism is two-fold: putting the God factor in the equation of people living with HIV and AIDS so they may know that there is hope for them in God and educating the Church on the need to stop behaving in ways that fuel stigmatisation and discrimination against those living positively with HIV and AIDS.”
He pointed out that those who have opened up that they are living positively with HIV and AIDS are not allowed to share the same vessels and utensils with others in the Holy Communion service. He also said these same brethren are not allowed to participate in church programmes and activities like preaching, choirs, ushering and praying for others.
Also, they are not given leadership positions in the church because they are perceived as not good examples. In some churches, those who have declared publicly that they are positive are not allowed to wed because their marriages are deemed not holy.
Pastor Kaseke, the chairperson of District AIDS and Action Committee in Harare’s Zengeza and St Mary’s, had this to say, “Close fellowship between pastors and ladies especially widows who are known to be HIV positive is not allowed for fear that the pastor may be infected. And it is a cause for concern that there are no support groups in churches. Support groups offer the platform to share information on adherence to drugs, nutrition and experiences.”
Pastor Kaseke is of the opinion that it is high time the church, which is the house of mercy and compassion, started to include in her budgets the needs of those living with HIV and AIDS.
An Old Testament prophet once asked, “Is there no balm in Gilead?” He meant that there is healing in the church. The church is the custodian of the divine healing power. Showing no partiality or respect of persons has a healing effect. Healing is not just physical but can also be emotional, mental, spiritual and relational. An atmosphere of love and acceptance will bring the healing power of God in a way that loveless prayer will not do.
While it is highly plausible that most big churches now have a health department in their churches, stigmatisation and discrimination against people living positively with HIV/AIDS will be effectively fought if the church leadership develops a right attitude of love and acceptance.
Let us stop treating HIV as a demon that needs to be cast out and instructing people to stop using Antiretroviral drugs after prayer without doctors’ confirmation.
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