HIV and the Church

By Pastor Bill Mugford

Why Don’t We Churches Start HIV&AIDS Ministries? Part 2A • Challenging Denial

Let’s face it.  Both people in our community and many Christians still live in denial about HIV&AIDS.  Our denial can be a killer, not only of a tremendous ministry obligation/opportunity but especially of relationships to people around us who survive and thrive with HIV&AIDS.  It is crucially important to inform denial with factual education and transform denial with theological wisdom.  There are at least ten ways we can be accurately educated and communicate truth to combat stigma and fear! 

Here are the first three:

1.  We live in denial when we don’t know “the facts” about HIV transmission and AIDS…

We have known HIV myths for a long time.  HIV is NOT “caught” by the normal kissing or hugging of; being stung by a mosquito after; sharing the cutlery or plates of; breathing the same or sneezed air as; or by coming into contact with bathroom fixtures used by an HIV+ person or one who has AIDS.  We also know that HIV and AIDS are not two diseases, but that untreated or badly-treated HIV infections progress to the development of AIDS.

The HIV truth is that we are most likely to become infected when we…

1. Have unprotected sex with an HIV+ (infected) person;

2. Share intravenous needles with an HIV+ person;

3. Are an HIV+ mother who does not take ARVs during pregnancy, have adequate medical care when delivering her child, and who breast-feeds or pre-chews food for her infant;

4. Are transfused with HIV+ blood; or…

5. Come into contact with HIV+ blood or sexual fluids in large volumes with skin that is compromised by rashes, tears, “sticks,” scratches or wounds and do not receive ARVs following such exposure.

In North America and worldwide, the exchange of sexual fluids and/or blood with a person who is HIV+ remains the major way we become HIV+ (numbers 1-2).  Other means of transmission  (numbers 3-5) contribute to relatively few infections. 

2.  We live in denial when we believe that HIV&AIDS is exclusively a “gay disease/plague…”

Though the initial name in North America in 1981-82 for HIV&AIDS was GRID (Gay Related Immune Deficiency/Disease), the acronym was replaced almost immediately with AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome), primarily due to the fact that identifiable patterns of transmission worldwide overwhelmingly involved heterosexual/”straight” behavior.  

Today, 97% of people living with HIV&AIDS worldwide self-identify as heterosexual, and Black and Hispanic women are currently experiencing disproportionately high rates of infection.

3. We live in denial when we believe that having HIV&AIDS is a “death sentence…”

Due to many therapeutic advances in ARVs (Antiretroviral drugs taken daily), nutrition and informed medical care, people living with HIV&AIDS are healthier and thriving longer than ever before.  At least one person is fully cured of HIV&AIDS, and very recent studies indicate that the earlier one is diagnosed and treated, the more opportunity one has to be “functionally cured,” living with virtually “undetectable” levels of HIV in the bloodstream.

There is still no vaccine for HIV.  In fact, the complex nature of the virus and its ability to mutate endlessly almost ensures a long, frustrating process of discovery to delivery.  And no one actually dies of either HIV and/or AIDS, but of complications due to HIV&AIDS and/or opportunistic infections which attack compromised immune systems.  People treated early and effectively often live normal lifespans, even with complications and occasional illness.

Join me in the next installment for two more of the ten ways we can avoid denial with accurate facts and good theology.

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