This article first appeared in Mission Herald, the denominational newspaper of the National Baptist Convention
What about AIDS has to do with being Christian? Much. Healing, sexual morality, and compassion, are but a few points of overlap. The other area appropriate for Christians trying to form a proper, personal and communal response to AIDS is the Christian obligation to have a wise and sound grasp of the relationship between religion and science. AIDS is a medical (i.e., scientific/biological) phenomenon on the one hand, and a personal-social-spiritual one on the other.
What is AIDS, how is it transmitted?
The fact is (and this may be alarming, even infuriating to some) we do not know.
There exist theories, even "prevailing theories," as to what causes AIDS, but nothing more than that. The only thing that is known for a fact is that in some people their immune system breaks down. That's the only thing we know. Once the body no longer can defend and protect itself from disease and infection, the slightest malady can be fatal. No one "dies from AIDS." People with AIDS die from diseases that healthy people, with in tact immune systems can easily withstand and recover from.
I am sure there must be some readers now who are reacting, perhaps vehemently, to what I just wrote. "What do you mean we don't know what causes AIDS?! We've known that for years. This essay must be a lot of bunk." My response to this is not only for Christian believers. It is for many in the modern world, including secular types without personal, religious belief. The impulse to regard scientific speculation as "true" is part of the secular and materialistic bias of our time, and even Christians and other people of faith are prone to be infected with this bias.
For all of us the short, simple and well-written essay "Do Science and Christianity Conflict?" by Kenneth A. Boyce could be very helpful. In it he says:
"Science is not a wholly objective enterprise. Scientific research is guided by theories, working hypotheses, operational frameworks, and the like. Scientists not only make observations to formulate theories, they also use theories to guide them in making observations and to interpret what they are seeing, and these theories and the manner in which they guide observations, reflect the biases of the scientific community at the time."
The same is true for AIDS. We have observations (the immune systems of some people break down - some irreversibly), and theories (it happens because of this reason or that).
Quite apart from all the theories (even the prevailing theories) as to what causes AIDS, we DO know at least one very important fact about causes of AIDS; a person can have AIDS as a result of his or her conscious decisions and actions, on the one hand (namely they bring it on themselves), or the person can have AIDS through absolutely NO fault of their own on the other.
Should we have different attitudes to these two different sorts of people?
No. As Christians we are called to genuine, full hearted compassion for all who suffer, (even those who bring avoidable suffering on themselves) [John 8:1 - 11]. Jesus could not be more clear about this.
But even those of us who cannot rise up to the radiant beauty of the compassion to which Lord Jesus calls us, should at the very least suspend disdain, judgment, and other non-Christian attitudes if for no other reason than the fact that there are AIDS sufferers afflicted with this horrifying, frightening, and despairing condition who did absolutely nothing to bring it on themselves.
This latter fact (of the innocent ones) should be seen as a blessing, a protection, a witness, and a teacher for "Christians" who choose for some reason to fill their faith with judgment and rejection of others. While we are so busy railing against this sin or that, this group or that, we wake up to find that we have lumped in with our little list of people we hope to send to Hell, an innocent 8 year old girl who needed a blood transfusion, or a soft, giggly baby who nursed at his mother's breast.
If for no reason than for the innocents, we should meet the AIDS pandemic of our time with the radiant beauty of compassion. "Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. 10Jesus stood up and said to her, "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?" 11She said, "No one, Lord." And Jesus said, (I) "Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on(J) sin no more."
The innocent ones can be seen as those who have given their lives to save US from OUR sins. [Matthew 25:35 - 40]. The tears we shed, the hospice and the prayers we offer are the gateway and the ladder to our spiritual growth and an emerging, respectable Christian character. The pain we feel for the innocents who suffer, helps us to awaken one day to find that our compassion has grown, that the arms of our embrace is wider, and that we can no longer turn our back on even one brother or sister who suffers.
If we can come to this point, with our hearts and our Christian compassion in tact, then we can address the many challenges to Christian faith that taint and defile our world.
What causes AIDS? We pray that scientific inquiry be true, sincere, not biased, not politically and ideologically driven, and that physicians and those devoted to healing come ever closer and closer to the truth, and to a cure.
Is AIDS caused by sexual promiscuity (either homosexual or heterosexual)? If so, then do not be sexually promiscuous. The answer is NOT, "wear a condom." The answer is do not be sexually promiscuous. But that advice is wise for 1,000's of reasons, not only as it pertains to dangers (some fatal) associated with sexually transmitted diseases. These issues of purity and sexual morality are unique, distinct (and important) for Christians. But it is myopic to think of these only in relation AIDS.
The Christian response to AIDS must be forged in the Christian traditions of healing, compassion, and moral purity.