News / USA

Conservative Christian Approach to AIDS Evolves Toward Compassion

WASHINGTON — Under a canopy of skylights in a modern church two blocks from the International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C., worshippers are dancing and singing an African American spiritual:  "We are Marching in the Light of God."
 
On the wall hangs parts of the quilt commemorating AIDS victims.  And Reverend David North preaches that the dead are not really gone. 
 
"You're still here!" he says, referring to the names on the colorful quilt.  "All the beauty and the wonder that you as an individual were, is still here.  It's still alive."
 
Metropolitan Community Churches is a Protestant organization that serves gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.  It was founded in the late-1960s, when other churches rejected homosexuality, and it now has several hundred places of worship across the country. 
 
  • Rev. David North (left), guest pastor, and Dwayne Johnson (right) in the sunlight at Tuesday morning's service at the Metropolitan Community Church in DC, July 24. (Alison Klein/VOA)
  • The MCC is a denomination that was formed in the 1960s, back when most churches rejected homosexuality. It still focuses its outreach on LGBT people. (Alison Klein/VOA)
  • Reverend North, who is HIV+, was a guest pastor at the DC MCC on Tuesday during the week of the International AIDS Conference. (Alison Klein/VOA)
  • A portion of the AIDS quilt lines the walls of the MCC. (Alison Klein/VOA)
  • Also along the walls are photos and information about congregation members whose lives were taken by AIDS. (Alison Klein/VOA)
  • (Alison Klein/VOA)
  • Rev. North's regular congregation is the Holy Redeemer MCC in College Park, MD. (Alison Klein/VOA)
  • (Alison Klein/VOA)
  • MCCDC is two blocks from the AIDS conference and held daily devotional services during the conference. (Alison Klein/VOA)
  • (Alison Klein/VOA)
North was a Baptist minister when he tested HIV positive in 1991.  He was kicked out of his church, and his wife refused to let him see his children because he is gay. 
 
"I lost everything - job, family, everything," he said in an interview after one of the daily devotional services that was held during the July 22-27 AIDS conference. 
 
AIDS has presented many Christians with a dilemma.  Should people with HIV be condemned for behavior that may have given them the virus?  Or should they be helped, in the name of compassion?
 
When the AIDS epidemic began in the 1980s, some Christian leaders chose the former.  “AIDS is not just God's punishment for homosexuals.  It is God's punishment for the society that tolerates homosexuals,” said televangelist Jerry Falwell.
 
But attitudes have evolved since then, in part, because of clergy who found themselves with the virus that causes AIDS. 
 
Christo Greyling is a Dutch Reformed pastor from South Africa.  He is also a hemophiliac.  His congregation took it in stride when he told them he contracted HIV from tainted blood.
 
"And then one person came after church to me, and he said, ‘You know, I’ve got sympathy with you because you contracted HIV in an innocent way.  But those people, those people who got it through sex, they brought it on themselves," Greyling recalled in an interview at the AIDS conference.  "And that’s for me where the penny dropped, that as people of faith, as church leaders, we cannot work with the concept of those and us."
 
In 2006, Greyling helped found INERELA+, an African-based organization for religious leaders with HIV.  It has 7,000 members worldwide from a variety of faiths.
 
Greyling is also HIV and infectious disease director for World Vision, one of the largest evangelical aid organizations, where he trains religious leaders to fight discrimination against people with HIV.  He says condoms must be part of the fight against the epidemic. 
 
"God’s will is that we live our lives according to his will - to be abstinent, to be faithful in our relationships," he says.  "But we realize that not everyone might be able to make those choices." 
 
During the conference, Greyling spoke at a summit of evangelical and other Christian leaders concerned about AIDS.  He praised them for a pragmatic approach that he says was in short supply back when he disclosed his diagnosis.  
 
"Since 1991 until now, I think we can celebrate that the church and the faith community has moved way out, further, in terms of our advances, from the way we were," he said. 
 
Their prodding led one evangelical Christian, former President George W. Bush, to start an AIDS initiative that is credited with saving many lives.  
 
As for Reverend North, his life has also changed.  He won a precedent-setting custody battle and reconciled with his biological family.  His HIV has been suppressed.  
 
"So all that I had lost," he says, "I've not only gained, but I've regained even more", including a gay-friendly church where he can serve God.
 

Jerome Socolovsky

Jerome Socolovsky is the award-winning religion correspondent for the Voice of America, based in Washington. He reports on the rapidly changing faith landscape of the United States, including interfaith issues, secularization and non-affiliation trends and the growth of immigrant congregations.

You May Like

Video Positive Messaging Helps Revamp Ethiopia's Image

In country once connected with war, poverty, famine, headlines now focus on fast-growing economy, diplomatic reputation More

Russian Activist Thinks Kremlin Ordered Nemtsov's Death

Alexei Navalny says comments of Russian liberals who think government wasn't involved are 'nonsense.' More

Video Land Disputes Rise Amid Uganda Oil Boom

Investors appear to be cashing in by selling parcels of land to multiple buyers More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: hdn from: Indonesia
July 27, 2012 12:39 AM
As far as I'm concerned, the use of the word victims (as in AIDS victims) is no longer appropriate because it is disempowering. AIDS community for a long time has been using the term 'people living with AIDS'.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Positive Messaging Transforms Ethiopia's Imagei
X
Marthe van der Wolf
March 03, 2015 9:03 PM
Ethiopia was once known for famine and droughts. Now, headlines more often point to its fast-growing economy and its emergence as a regional peacemaker. How has Addis Ababa changed the narrative? VOA's Marthe van der Wolf reports.
Video

Video Positive Messaging Transforms Ethiopia's Image

Ethiopia was once known for famine and droughts. Now, headlines more often point to its fast-growing economy and its emergence as a regional peacemaker. How has Addis Ababa changed the narrative? VOA's Marthe van der Wolf reports.
Video

Video Cyber War Rages Between Iran, US

A newly published report indicates Iran and the United States have increased their cyber attacks on each other, even as their top diplomats are working toward an agreement to guarantee Iran does not develop a nuclear weapon and to free Iran from international sanctions. The development is part of a growing global trend. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video Answers Elude Families of MH370 Passengers

For the families on board Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, an airline official’s statement nearly one year ago that the plane had lost contact with air traffic control at 2:40 AM is the only thing that remains confirmed. William Ide reports.
Video

Video Land Disputes Arise Amid Uganda Oil Boom

Ugandan police say there has been a sharp increase in land disputes, with 10 new cases being reported each day. The claims come amid an oil boom as investors appear to be cashing in by selling parcels of land to multiple buyers. Meanwhile, the people who have been living on the land for decades are chased away, sometimes with a heavy hand. VOA's Serginho Roosblad reports.
Video

Video In Russia, Many Doubt Opposition Leader's Killer Will Be Found

The funeral has been held in Moscow for Boris Nemtsov, the opposition leader who was assassinated late Friday just meters from the Kremlin. Nemtsov joins a growing list of outspoken critics of Russia under the leadership of President Vladimir Putin who are believed to have been murdered for their work. VOA’s Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video Simulated Astronauts Get Taste of Mars, in Hawaii

For generations, people have dreamed of traveling to Mars to explore Earth's closest planetary neighbor. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports that while space agencies like NASA are planning manned missions to the planet, some volunteers in Hawaii are learning how humans will cope with months in isolation on a Mars base.
Video

Video Destruction of Iraq Artifacts Shocks Archaeologists

The city of Mosul was once one of the most culturally rich and religiously diverse cities in Iraq. That tradition is under attack by members of the Islamic State who have made Mosul their capital city. The Mosul Museum is the latest target of the group’s campaign of terror and destruction, and is of grave concern to archaeologists around the world. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Smartphones May Help in Diagnosing HIV

Diagnosing infections such as HIV requires expensive clinical tests, making the procedure too costly for many poor patients or those living in remote areas. But a new technology called lab-on-a-chip may make the tests more accessible to many. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Refugees Complain of Harassment in Pakistan

Afghan officials have expressed concern over reports of a crackdown on Afghan refugees in Pakistan following the Peshawar school attack in December. Reports of mass arrests and police harassment coupled with fear of an uncertain future are making life difficult for a population that fled its homeland to escape war. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports from Islamabad.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Prepare to Defend Mariupol

Despite the ongoing ceasefire in Ukraine, soldiers in the city of Mariupol fear that pro-Russian separatists may be getting ready to attack. The separatists must take or encircle the city if they wish to gain land access to Crimea, which was annexed by Russia early last year. But Ukrainian forces, many of them volunteers, say they are determined to defend it. Patrick Wells reports from Mariupol.
Video

Video Moscow Restaurants Suffer in Bad Economy, Look for Opportunity

As low oil prices and Western sanctions force Russia's economy into recession, thousands of Moscow restaurants are expected to close their doors. Restaurant owners face rents tied to foreign currency, while rising food prices mean Russians are spending less when they dine out. One entrepreneur in Moscow has started a dinner kit delivery service for those who want to cook at home to save money but not skimp on quality. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Presidential Hopefuls Battle for Conservative Hearts and Minds

One after another, presumptive Republican presidential contenders auditioned for conservative support this week at the Conservative Political Action Conference held outside Washington. The rhetoric was tough as a large field of potential candidates tried to woo conservative support with red-meat attacks on President Barack Obama and Democrats in Congress. VOA Political Columnist Jim Malone takes a look.
Video

Video Southern US Cities Preserve Civil Rights Heritage to Boost Tourism

There has been a surge of interest in the American civil rights movement of the 1950s and '60s, thanks in part to the Hollywood motion picture "Selma." Five decades later, communities in the South are embracing the dark chapters of their past with hopes of luring tourism dollars. VOA's Chris Simkins reports.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More