News / USA

Conservative Christian Approach to AIDS Evolves Toward Compassion

Conservative Christian Approach to AIDS Evolves Toward Compassioni
|| 0:00:00
X
Jerome Socolovsky
July 27, 2012 1:05 AM
When the AIDS epidemic began in the 1980s, some Christian leaders saw it as God's punishment for homosexuality. But attitudes have evolved since then, in no small part because of clergy who found themselves with the virus that causes AIDS. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.

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 Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

There is growing uncertainty over whether West’s response to ISIS is adequate More

China Crackdown on Dual Citizens Causes Concern

New policy encourages reporting people who obtain citizenship in another country, but retain Chinese citizenship; move spurs sharp debate More

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

Losing ground to Islamic State fighters, Syria's government says it is ready to cooperate with international community 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.
Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?i
X
Henry Ridgwell
August 29, 2014 12:26 AM
U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Pachyderms Play Polo to Raise Money for Elephants

Polo, the ancient team competition typically played on horseback, is known as the “sport of kings.” However, the royal version for one annual event in Thailand swaps the horse for the kingdom’s national symbol - the elephant. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Samut Prakan reports that the King’s Cup Elephant Polo tournament is all for a good cause.
Video

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

The United States along with European and Mideast allies are considering a broader assault against Islamic State fighters who have spread from Syria into Iraq and risk further destabilizing an already troubled region. But as VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, confronting those militants could end up helping the embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Video

Video Made in America Socks Get Toehold in Online Fashion Market

Three young entrepreneurs are hoping to revolutionize the high-end sock industry by introducing all-American creations of their own. And they’re doing most of it the old-fashioned way. VOA’s Julie Taboh recently caught up with them to learn what goes into making their one-of-a-kind socks.
Video

Video Americans, Ex-Pats Send Relief Supplies to West Africa

Health organizations from around the world are sending supplies and specialists to the West African countries that are dealing with the worst Ebola outbreak in history. On a smaller scale, ordinary Americans and African expatriates living in the United States are doing the same. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
Video

Video America's Most Popular Artworks Displayed in Public Places

Public places in cities across America were turned into open-air art galleries in August. Pictures of the nation’s most popular artworks were displayed on billboards, bus shelters, subway platforms and more. The idea behind “Art Everywhere,” a collaborative campaign by five major museums is to allow more people to enjoy art and learn about the country’s culture and history. Faiza Elmasry has more.
Video

Video Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implant

A Chinese boy suffering from a debilitating bone disease has become the first patient with a part of his spine created in a three-dimensional printer. Doctors say he will soon regain normal mobility. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Uneasy Calm Settles Over Israel, Gaza Strip

Israel and the Gaza Strip have been calm since a cease-fire set in Tuesday evening, ending seven weeks of hostilities. Hamas, which controls Gaza, declared victory. Israelis were more wart. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jerusalem.
Video

Video India’s Leprosy Battle Stymied by Continuing Stigma

Medical advancements in the treatment of leprosy have greatly diminished its impact around the world, largely eliminating the disease from most countries. India made great strides in combating leprosy, but still accounts for a majority of the world’s new cases each year, and the number of newly infected Indians is rising - more than 130,000 recorded last year. Doctors there say the problem has more to do with society than science. Shaikh Azizur Rahman reports from Kolkata.
Video

Video Scientists Unlock Mystery of Bird Flocks

How can flocks of birds, schools of fish or herds of antelope suddenly change direction -- all the individuals adjusting their movement in concert, at seemingly the same time? British researchers now have some insights into this behavior, which has puzzled scientists for a long time. VOA's George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid