By Pastor Bill Mugford
In previous parts of this blog series, we stated that both people in our community and many Christians still live in denial about HIV&AIDS, and it is crucially important to inform denial with factual education and transform denial with theological wisdom. Nine of ten ways we are in denial have been covered in Parts 2a-e. In the remaining parts of this section on denial, all of us in faith communities are asked to consider how our misapprehension of the Gospel contributes to denial and what understanding a Biblical Gospel can do to help us care for people living with HIV&AIDS and their families and friends.
10. We live in denial when we think people living with HIV&AIDS and their families and friends would not be interested in ministries in the local church…
It is an acknowledged fact that it took an incredible effort to get the human community as a whole to begin helping people living with HIV&AIDS and their friends and families. Dedicated activism by groups like ACT-UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) and continuing advocacy by organizations such as PLWHA (People Living with HIV and AIDS), promoted community awareness, prompted governmental action, powerfully advocated for scientific discoveries and pushed the world to deal with its worst pandemic. Though politics and tactics were controversial in their times, these cohorts undoubtedly saved – and continue to redeem and give hope to - countless millions of lives.
More importantly however, ACT-UP and PLWHA filled a void… a black hole left by the one phenomenon which “coulda, shoulda, woulda” been there in bigger ways if a completely orthodox and integrated, Biblical theology of compassion was in effect. That phenomenon is the local church.
You may never have thought about the incredible importance of your singular congregation and its larger network of compassionate Christians, but the Church is likely the only organism capable of tackling a problem the magnitude of HIV&AIDS. I think you will be convinced if you take a serious, summary look at the Seven Advantages of the Local Church:
1. Largest Participation: With over 2.1 billion members, the church has the largest volunteer labor force on the planet. Doctors, nurses, lawyers, educators and social workers are often in short supply, but there is an enormous, untapped pool of talent, brains, energy, and relationships sitting unused in churches every week that can be mobilized for the kingdom of God and the benefit of people.
2. Widest Distribution: There may not be a post office, hospital or school, but there is a church in almost every city, town and village in the world. And in many places, the church is the only social structure. The church is a singular global organism. If you have an idea, a product, or medication that needs to get to local people, the most efficient way is through the church’s distribution channels.
3. Simplest Administration: Local churches are grassroots networks, and networks are proven to be more effective and move faster than centralized bureaucracies.
4. Fastest Proliferation: To beat a rapidly expanding pandemic, you need a solution that grows faster than the problem. While the HIV&AIDS pandemic grows at a rate of about 11,000 new infections every day, the church adds 60,000 new members and adherents every day.
5. Longest Continuation: The church has existed for more than 2,000 years. Empires, cultures, governments, organizations and corporations come and go, but the church lasts into eternity.
6. Highest Motivation: The church finds its highest motivation in the words of Jesus Christ and the Great Commandment, “’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” Personal, political and altruistic motivation is seen throughout history, but after a while, it tends to wear down and give out because the work is wearying. However, truly devoted followers of Jesus Christ are motivated by the love of and for our Savior, and grace that is renewed everyday in the power of the Holy Spirit. Because of these, the church can contribute on a global scale to global issues: HIV&AIDS, orphans, poverty, disease, economic reform and sexual trafficking, to name a few.
7. Strongest Authorization: The witness of the Early Church reminds us that Jesus was not only “preaching the Kingdom…” but that, “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and… he went around doing good and healing…” The Church is given authority by Jesus to do as He did in the world, preach and practice. He authorized his followers, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you,” in the Great Commission. Disciples say everything He said and do everything He did!
Stop and think about what you have just read. Are these Seven Advantages being worked out in your church’s ministries? Why wouldn’t people gravitate to and be interested in a church that takes seriously its opportunities as the “soul and serving center” of a community? What would initiating and developing a ministry to people living with HIV&AIDS and their families and friends look like if its goals were, “Compassion • Community • Real Solutions?”
Join me for the next, very practical installment, which describes 13 ways you can defeat denial in our faith communities with a little more Gospel truth, practical ministry and facts about HIV&AIDS.