It was history’s great abolitionist, William Wilberforce, who once said, “you may choose to look the other way, but you can never say again that you did not know.”
Those words somehow mean more to me tonight than they did just one week ago when I arrived at the International AIDS Conference.
HIV and AIDS were off into some other corner of my world, far away from my quiet little town, and my sometimes-sheltered evangelical culture. It’s not that I didn’t care. It’s just that I didn’t know.
Now, I know, and now I can’t help but do something about it.
I believe Jesus would have his church, and his people, at the heart of stamping out this debilitating disease. It has claimed the lives of tens-of-millions, all of them “made in the image of God,” many of them women and children, and now is the moment where God’s people oughta say “enough is enough.”
There should no longer be a lonely, sick person hidden in the shadows, sheltered from the kindness and love of the people whose God “has loved the entire world.” He has called us to go out into the “highways and byways” and “compel them to come in.”
Over the last week, I found myself immersed in a global crisis that I knew embarrassingly little about. HIV and AIDS were turned like a crystal against every kind of light, and with each turn of the dial, a million new bits of information was unveiled.
I saw how the disease is intertwined with families all across Africa, now claiming the unenvied title as the “largest cause of death on the continent,” and I was shell-shocked to discover that in our nation’s capital, Washington, D.C., we have an infection rate that rivals more-than-one of the world’s poorest nations.
It was at Georgetown University in a private meeting of D.C. pastors, gathered by Rick and Kay Warren, that I heard one of those local pastors say, “we don’t have the luxury to wait for others to join us. We must respond now.”
And “now” it is.
I’ve thought of that sentence a thousand times since that auspicious moment, “we don’t have the luxury …”
A shot was fired there, and a whole slew of God’s people crouched down and took off towards a finish line. The goal is – of course –the healing of their community from an epidemic that is threatening future generations. This goal is just like any other goal of a good pastor, to care for those who need it in Jesus’ name. That’s why we’re here, to care.
Like lots of people, I grew up hearing only the occasional and passing word about this “AIDS thing.” There were bits and pieces of misinformation that floated through the gossip circuit, or the occasional news report, but this disease was the farthest thing from my everyday life, from my normal world.
And, for sure, there’s a difference between coincidental and willful ignorance.
My ignorance then was coincidental, and based almost entirely on my own fortune to grow up as I did in the place I did. It wasn’t volitional; it was mainly accidental. I just happened to grow up with a chasm between my everyday life, and the lives of those who hadn’t been so fortunate - those who have died now, or who are dying.
If Jesus were walking today, in our century, at this particular point in history, then he would still be healing and helping those who needed it the most.
Some of those who need it the most are those whose lives are being drained from them by this terrible illness. Jesus would have cared about people with HIV and Aids more than we do.
Maybe, in our generation, we can send AIDS the way of Leprosy, we can let new life spring from this nearly, inevitable death, and – in so doing – we can introduce the world to a modern day Jesus whose followers let their love speak louder than their words.
Johnnie Moore is a campus pastor at Liberty University, which is – with over 92,000 students - the world’s largest Christian university. He is the author of “Honestly: Really Living What We Say We Believe.”