Despite the widespread publicity surrounding AIDS, it has not become a major issue for most Protestant denominations. But when the Church of the Nazarene held its first conference on AIDS earlier this year in Taconic, New York, more than 110 pastors and laypersons assembled to consider ways the church can deal with the disease.

Michael Malloy, executive director of Nashville’s Nazarene-affiliated Christian Counseling Services (ccs) and one of the conference organizers, is pleased with his denomination’s role in studying how to help the victims of AIDS. “When we were planning the conference we were really concerned we would get sidetracked on the issue of homosexuality,” Malloy said. “We did address the subject, but we knew that AIDS was the issue. These people [AIDS victims] need the love of God through Jesus Christ, period. God had this on our hearts before the conference even began.”

At the national level, the Nazarenes are in the preliminary stages of creating policies advising their local churches on how to deal with AIDS victims in their congregations. The denomination functions as a network for local churches, as well as a source of funds, says Steve Weber, coordinator of Compassionate Ministries at the church’s Kansas City headquarters.

Education, according to Malloy, is one of the most significant responses to the epidemic the church can offer. Barry Brown, who pastors a Nazarene church in San Francisco, explained that because of widespread press coverage of the disease in his area, people are knowledgeable about the disease. He attributes the lack of AIDS phobia in his congregation to this educational exposure.

AIDS victim Keith Smith, who contracted the disease before he became a Christian, works with both the Nazarene Church and CCS. He says victims need encouragement from the church and feels his denomination has shown such support to him. “Everyone wants programs for everything, but you don’t need a program,” Smith said. “If you love someone you are going to meet his needs, and a program will develop from that.”

Smith says one of the most significant aspects of the Nazarene ministry is its “grassroots” nature. “They [laypeople] are saying, ‘We need to do something,’ ” said Smith.

Smith and Brown admit some may criticize the work of the Nazarenes for not being evangelistic enough. But they feel their AIDS ministry helps open the door to the gospel. Says Brown: “We enter the situation with love, and as questions arise we have an avenue to bring in the gospel.”

By Linda Brubaker.

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