|November 30, 2004||
Vol. 2, No. 31
Donald E. Messer is the author of Breaking The Conspiracy of Silence: Christian Churches and the Global AIDS Crisis (Fortress, 2004). He is Warren Professor of Practical Theology at The Iliff School of Theology, Denver, Colo., where he directs the Center for the Church and Global AIDS. firstname.lastname@example.org
"I hope for a day when every church engages in an open dialogue on issues of sexuality and gender difference. I hope for a day when every synagogue will mobilize as advocates for a global response to find AIDS, when every temple will fully welcome people living with HIV, where every mosque is a place where young people will learn about the facts of HIV and AIDS."
Dr. Peter Piot, executive director of UNAIDS,
Global AIDS and 'The Theology Of A Few'
By Donald E. Messer
When the son of a former United States President, Ron Reagan, contended at the Democratic National Convention in Boston that "the theology of a few is harming the health of the many," he could have been speaking about global AIDS rather than stem cell research.
Theological Taboos Contributing To Death, Not Life
"The theology of a few" has unfortunately long influenced many religious responses to the world's worst health crisis in 700 years. Patriarchal religious assumptions have made women incredibly vulnerable. Endless controversies over the value and efficacy of condoms have helped deny people the least expensive "weapon of mass protection" available. In many countries married women and young girls are endangered species since they lack education and empowerment to control their own lives.
Religious ideology too often has triumphed over science, as people have been given false promises of miraculous healing, in a time when no cures or vaccines exist. Fearful of funding abortions and alienating the Religious Right in America, the Bush administration repeatedly was accused in Bangkok of eliminating networks of crucial health care centers for women.
Some religious communities have done pioneering work in the battle against HIV and AIDS, but often their sacrificial service has been obscured by the publicity given to the religious right's twisted theology claiming, "AIDS is the punishment of God." This has prompted people to embrace a theology of condemnation rather than compassion, indifference rather than involvement. Instead of offering a theology of hope and health, faith-based groups sometimes have become missionaries of death, not life.
A Vision of Hope
Never before had people of faith from the world's major religions met together to face the world escalation of the AIDS pandemic. When Muslims, Christians, Jews, Buddhists, and Hindus gathered for the first time in Bangkok, Peter Piot, a physician and UNAIDS executive director, sketched a vision of his hopes.
Piot declared, "I hope for a day when every church engages in an open dialogue on issues of sexuality and gender difference. I hope for a day when every synagogue will mobilize as advocates for a global response to find AIDS, when every temple will fully welcome people living with HIV, where every mosque is a place where young people will learn about the facts of HIV and AIDS."
Breaking The Conspiracy of Silence
Just as attitudinal and behavioral change are essential steps in AIDS prevention for individuals, it is imperative that faith-based groups change certain beliefs and behavior so they can provide a message of hope, services of loving care, and a theology of life. In the words of a Muslim leader in Bangkok, "Combating global HIV/AIDS is our common calling in this millennium. We must all join hands . . . sharing mercy and compassion."
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