Third-generation Baptist minister Scott Allen learned that his wife and children were infected with the AIDS virus in 1985 when he was on the associate staff of a Disciples of Christ church in Colorado Springs, Colorado. When he told his pastor, he was asked to resign. Stunned by the response, Allen left Colorado in search of a more accepting church. He says he never found one.

While in some cases his family found acceptance among individuals, they were frequently shunned by pastors or larger groups within churches. “There were many individuals who helped and supported us,” Allen told Christianity Today. One church even adopted an AIDS policy for its daycare program. “But it was the church as a larger institution that failed us,” he said.

“His situation is not unusual,” says Shepherd Smith, president of the Americans for a Sound AIDS/HIV Policy (ASAP). “It’s happening in a lot of churches.”

And Allen’s experience highlights what some evangelical experts say may be one of the primary weaknesses in the church’s response to the AIDS crisis: Individuals and congregations are often willing to address the issue, but lack institutional guidance—whether from pastors, denominational officials, or other church leaders—to form a ready response.

Allen’s wife, Lydia, became infected through a blood transfusion in 1982. Both her sons, Bryan and Matthew, were infected in their mother’s womb. When the family left Colorado in 1985, they moved to Texas where they sought fellowship in several different churches, five of which were Baptist. (Allen’s father, Jimmie Allen, was the president of the Southern Baptist Convention in the late seventies.) But ...

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