How does the state of the global anti-aids effort compare to 15 years ago, when you first began working with HIV/AIDS?
AIDS shrunk our world. As a global community we are not only informed about AIDS but involved in addressing it. Sadly, it is also shrinking our families and societies, reducing vulnerable communities to skeletal units. Today, we would have to be still-sleeping Rip van Winkles not to be affected. Fifteen years ago Christians snored soundly. Today, many thousands are sleepless, engaged in aggressive campaigns for abstinence, frankly discussing biblical sexuality in churches, and walking kilometers to care for the sick and orphaned in their homes. Ironically, AIDS, an agent of death, is bringing life to the Body.
Which countries are best at dealing with HIV/AIDS?
Uganda is often cited for early commitment of leaders and emphasis on prevention of AIDS. America also had rapid, no-nonsense responses from high profile Christian leaders such as Surgeon General C. Everett Koop and Walter Reed Army Hospital researcher Dr. Robert Redfield. Church leaders in Rwanda changed from their stigmatizing attitudes to helping and blessing people with AIDS through church-based ministries. Cambodia turned the tide from being the country with the most rapidly growing AIDS infection in southeast Asia to a country controlling the crisis.
According to a recent report by the U.N., 4.8 million people became infected last year with HIV. That's the greatest increase in any year since the global outbreak began. Why does this happen now, when the world's wealthiest countries are committing significant resources to HIV/AIDS?
We're not doing enough. We have part of the solution, and we can save lives. But we are far from effectively dealing with the core problem. We need to continue to protect life and we need to turn twisted notions of love and sex back to the honor and sanctity of sex that God gave us.
Many public health officials are set against abstinence.
Abstinence is hardly popular. Public health officials need only cite rates of sexually transmitted disease and numerous studies on sexual practices of youth to prove that most unmarried persons in many countries do not practice abstinence. From a pragmatic point of view, then, why pour energy into something that doesn't appear to work?
But both science and faith admit that abstinence is the best way to avoid getting AIDS today. As Christians, we are not called to follow a popular way—but the right way. This is the message we are aggressive in promoting.
In a pluralistic society, we also must accept that many will not chose the right way, including many husbands of faithful women. It is right for us to protect one another—including those who do not make right choices in life—from death sentences and orphanhood. This involves understanding the benefits and risks of condom use.
What are the new frontiers—demographic groups or geographic regions—in this war?
Every group and every place. No group can claim unadulterated piety. All of us are vulnerable.
The U.N. report also indicated that the epidemic is moving from the realms of drug users, sex workers, and men who have sex with men into the general population.
It isn't a new demographic. It's just revealing our secrets. Men who have sex with men also have sex with their wives. Businessmen have sex with prostitutes who also have sex with drug addicts or who may be supporting their own drug problem. We must remember that for many, perhaps most people affected by AIDS today, the risk is being faithful to an unfaithful partner. And that's the message of Hosea—responding to God's faithfulness in redeeming a faithless culture.
While the sub-Saharan Africa is the hardest hit, epidemics are propping up in Asia and Eastern Europe. Why?
There are many reasons. AIDS is seething in fissures of many societies, erupting where there is a moral vacuum, exploitation of sex, girls, and women, illegal, injecting drugs, economic hardship, migration of people, long term unemployment, violence and war, shifting family and cultural values, and separated families due to economic or political reasons. These are global issues and few countries are spared. Those that are better at controlling AIDS act quickly and openly and often have resources to manage their responses.
When Bono of the rock band U2 toured evangelical institutions, he gave the impression that we, evangelicals, hadn't been very aware or supportive of the anti-AIDS programs. What has been your experience with evangelicals on this issue?
All along there have been pioneer Christians, wherever the church is in the world, casting shadows of hope in dark places where AIDS is stealing life. But it is an evangelical disgrace that we failed to fan those early flames—sometimes because we did not want to enter a dark place. That's exactly where our light has to be. It's my prayer that our candlepower becomes an Olympic torch.
A news reports say that progress on AIDS drugs has stalled. How crucial are these drugs?
Drugs are important in prolonging life and adding significant quality of physical well-being. This makes a huge difference, for example, for children who otherwise may prematurely lose an HIV-infected parent. However, drugs are not the long-term answer to the AIDS crisis. Behavior is. We must push for behavior that curbs the crisis—abstinence before marriage and mutual fidelity within marriage—as well as behavior that compassionately accepts and cares for all families and individuals affected by AIDS.
How can churches in the U.S. best help curb the spread of this disease?
Start at home—with your own sexuality, your marriage, your youth, your church, your community. Reinforce congressional positions that support global partnerships and spending in HIV/AIDS prevention and care. Partner with churches and Christian organizations on the front lines of hard-hit countries. Scan the globe for sustainable approaches that build godly responses from God's global family and give wisely. Commit to the long term. AIDS is not going away. Our generation of Christians will be marked by how we respond to this multigenerational crisis.
Copyright © 2004 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.
Other Christianity Today articles on AIDS include:
Cry, the Beloved Continent | Don't let AIDS steal African children's future. (March 04, 2004)
Confronting Moral Horror | It's a witness even the most jaded find impressive. (Feb. 04, 2004)
As Complicated as ABC | Condoms and abstinence can both play a role in AIDS prevention. (Feb. 04, 2004)
Beyond Condoms | To alleviate AIDS, we must sharpen our moral vision. (June 10, 2003)
A Strategy for Progress | Unless prevention of HIV/AIDS becomes a clear priority, things are only going to get worse. (May 2, 2003)
Civics for Gay Activists | We may see more die from HIV/AIDS because gay activists are intolerant. (April 10, 2003)
ABC vs. HIV | Christians back abstinence-fidelity plan against deadly virus. (March 10, 2003)
Jerry Thacker: Politics Muddies Fight Against AIDS | The politics of homosexuality has made it easier to battle the disease in foreign countries than domestically, says a former nominee to the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV and AIDS. (Feb. 07, 2003)
Bono's American Prayer | The world's biggest rock star tours the heartland, talking more openly about his faith as he recruits Christians in the fight against AIDS in Africa. (Feb. 21, 2003)
Killing a Pandemic | The church may be best equipped to deal HIV/AIDS a crippling blow. (Nov. 18, 2002)
AIDS 'Apathy' Campaign Debuts | Yet Christian leaders say stigma, not neglect, is the bigger problem. (Aug. 28, 2002)
U.S. Blacks Preach Abstinence Gospel | Mission workers testify that Christ helps control sexual urges. (March 27, 2002)
Mercy Impaired | Let's shock the world by reversing our apathy toward African sufferers. (September 27, 2001)
Kenyan President Suggests Hanging for 'Knowingly' Infecting Others with AIDS | Church organizations criticize use of capital punishment as solution to epidemic. (July 19, 2001)
Dying Alone | Baptist women seek out and care for ashamed, abandoned AIDS patients. (June 15, 2001)
Few to Receive Generic AIDS Medicines | Pharmaceutical companies drop suit against South Africa, but problems remain. (May 18, 2001)
Zambia's Churches Win Fight Against Anti-AIDS Ads | Church leaders are concerned that condom promotion encourages promiscuity. (Jan. 12, 2001)
Mandela, De Klerk, and Tutu Join to Fight AIDS | South Africa's men of peace call for end of silence and stigmatization. (Dec. 14, 2000)
Speaking with Action Against AIDS | A report from the Thirteenth International AIDS Conference. (July 19, 2000)
'Have We Become Too Busy With Death?' | As 4,900 people die each day from AIDS, African Christians are faced with the question. (Feb. 4, 2000)
'Sexual Revolution' Speeds Spread of HIV Among Africans | An interview with World Relief's Debbie Dortzbach. (Feb. 4, 2000)
Books & Culture Corner: An Open Letter to the U. S. Black Religious, Intellectual, and Political Leadership Regarding AIDS and the Sexual Holocaust in Africa (Jan. 24, 2000)
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