African Pastors Lead Crusade for Circumcision
In Kenya, a nation of 43 million, 1.5 million people live with HIV. That's the fourth largest case load among all nations. By comparison, the United States, a nation of 311 million, has 1.2 million people with HIV.
Church leaders teach those who are already infected how to live with their situation. When pastors preach sexual abstinence, that message may work for some but not for others. Karambuka believes such individuals should be told how to protect themselves. He said that even as the church discourages promiscuity, it should be practical. "We should remember that before the kingdom of God finally comes, we are still living in this world," he said.
As a result of efforts in his own church, which include drugs and basic health care, some people with HIV have regained their health, married, and even given birth to virus-free children.
But he says that one of the most significant changes has been that the church has accepted those living with HIV, and their families. "They have cared and shown them love without judging them," he said.
More Harm than Good?
Amid the enthusiasm for circumcision, some Bible scholars and church leaders think these programs do more harm than good.
Matthew Okeyo of the African Inland Church and the chief executive of AIC Child Care Kenya said the campaign's intention is good, but the implementation is not helping. "Male circumcision as a means to fight HIV is, to me, practically a fallacy, and it is just a matter of time before we see the side effects of it," Okeyo said.
He added, "Sex is a powerful thing because it is not just a good feeling, but it involves the mind, soul, and body. So the fact that people are told that circumcision will reduce the infection and enhance performance has done disservice to the campaign." He said he knows men who changed their behavior before they were circumcised. "But now they are back to their careless lifestyle because they feel safe. They say that they have now sharpened themselves."
Okeyo said he feels the campaign's supporters did not take into consideration all of the social forces at work in the persistent spread of HIV. He said the church should focus on what the Bible teaches and not offer alternatives.
"We need to teach the truth about sexuality and its beauty," he said. "The problem we have is that we tend to believe that people cannot change, so we go for the easy option."
Martin Wesonga, academic dean at the Bishop Hannington Institute of Theology and Development in Mombasa, Kenya, agrees with Okeyo. Drawing from the New Testament, he said that Paul argues that people need to "circumcise" their hearts.
"Christianity does not condemn the uncircumcised since it is about the heart, not works. Salvation is by faith. To my understanding, circumcision does not stop the spread of HIV. It is morality of the heart, which is brought out by Jesus Christ, that can help stop the spread of HIV/AIDS."
Time Is Short
Kenya is among a handful of nations with a generalized HIV epidemic. This means the virus, predominantly spread in Africa through heterosexual contact, is well established in all sectors of society.
New field research reveals that members of Kenya's Christian community may be responding to HIV/AIDS prevention programs better than the general population. According to a 2007 survey, religious men and women have lower rates of infection. Among Roman Catholics, the prevalence rate was 5.4 percent; among Protestants, 5.7 percent; and among other Christian groups, 5.5 percent.