HIV and the Church

Excerpt from Why I Got Tested on  Washington Post,  Full Article Here

As I walked into the Whitman-Walker Clinic I thought, What will everyone in the waiting room think when I tell the receptionist why I’m here? Will they think I’m gay? Will they think I cheated on my wife? I wonder if any of them know I’m a pastor?

As I went into the back room to get my finger pricked, I began to worry about whether I would test positive. What would my wife think? What would my church think? Would I lose my job?  

While I know I would be loved by some, I also know I would probably feel judged by many. If one of my friends told me they were HIV positive I’m sad to admit that my first thought would be to wonder whether they were sleeping around.

I think it’s this fear of being judged that prevents so many of us from getting tested.

When Jesus interacted with the sick, he always treated people with dignity and focused on healing rather than judgment. When the disciples asked Jesus why a certain kid was born blind, he replied, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned…but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.” (John 9:3; NIV)

I got tested because I believe Jesus would get tested. I got tested because, if Jesus were walking the streets of D.C. today I’m convinced he would be hanging out with those who are positive. Sick people always seem to find friendship and healing by being with Jesus.

One of the hardest moments of my life in pastoral ministry was when I had to bury a mother of four who had died from AIDS. This is not just something that happens in Southern Africa.

As of 2008, D.C. has the highest HIV rate in the nation at 3 percent, and it actually rivals many West African countries. How can we allow this to continue? It’s obviously not enough to live in the capital of the richest country in human history or have access to some of the best hospitals in the world. It’s going to take changing the culture. 

Next month, our city has the honor of hosting the International AIDS Conference for the first time in the U.S. in over 20 years. I pray God would use this conference to help turn the tide on this epidemic locally by shining a spotlight on this injustice.

This is a preventable disease, but the first step to stopping the epidemic is for everyone to know their HIV status through testing. And the key to everyone getting tested is to remove the shame and stigma by modeling out a Jesus-like culture of grace.

June 27 is National HIV Testing Day. I hope you will go out and get tested. Let’s all lead by example and break the stigma.

For a list of free places to get tested, please visit DC’s Department of Health Web site.


The Rev. Aaron Graham is the lead pastor of The District Church and a graduate of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.


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