HIV and the Church

By Bill Mugford

Pastor • Local HIV&AIDS Initiative

Saddleback Church 

When the world gets together every two years to consider the global realities of HIV&AIDS, participants at the International Conference on AIDS often author a highly contextualized statement regarding the pandemic and their vision for the present and future of people living with HIV&AIDS.  This year is no exception, and the Melbourne Declaration for 20th International Conference on AIDS, July 20th-25th, 2014, entitled “Nobody Left Behind,” may be read at

The HIV&AIDS Initiative of Saddleback Church is going to AIDS 2014 with a team of 18 people.  We’ll participate in the conference by attending sessions; hosting a booth; advocating that all Christians should have compassion for, build community with and provide real solutions for people living with HIV&AIDS; and demonstrating at least 16 concrete ways that every church can build effective ministry. 

As I was reading the Melbourne Declaration and following a conversation with a dear friend, I began to ponder, “What would Jesus declare at AIDS 2014?”  Based on Jesus’ recorded ministry in the Gospels and that of His disciples in the New Testament, I imagine Jesus might declare at least the following (written in the first person)…

•  I AM HERE! 

I promise to be with you always, whether by my immediate presence, my Spirit or through the ministry of followers who truly and lovingly represent me and serve others in self-sacrificial ministry as I directed they should (John 14; Matthew 28:19-20).  You will see and hear me whenever there is a call for a cure and a cry for ministrations of compassionate care without partiality, stigmatization, discrimination, marginalization, limits to access, violence, harm, threat and criminalization for all human beings living with HIV and/or AIDS and their friends and families.

•  I ask you to follow my example of compassion for everyone. 

I hang out with people whose lives are suspect (Matthew 9:10-13); dialogue with those whose behavior is outside social norms (John 4); touch the “untouchables” (Luke 17:11-19); heal those wrongly scandalized (John 9); and show compassion to those whom others would stone to death (John 8:1-11).  To me, people ARE KNOWN for their intrinsic value as those whom I made and love.  They ARE NOT IDENTIFIED by a virus!  And if you ever feel crucified for who you are, remember, I’ve been there!

•  My brothers and sisters are, and should be, here! 

I tell them to love, to befriend, to give their lives (literally “be martyrs”) for people most like them (“Jerusalem”), people a little unlike them (“Judea”), people that some despise (“Samaria”), and people they cannot imagine (“the ends of the earth,” see Acts 1:8).  They are pioneers beyond geography and landscapes, practitioners of Good News and fearlessly so in the moralscape. 

FEARLESS LOVE KNOWS PEOPLE AND DESTROYS PHOBIAS!  May I remind you that, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear... The one who fears is not made perfect in love,” (1 John 4:18).

•  I love every participant at AIDS 2014! 

Remember, I love the “world” and choose that term deliberately to embrace every human being (John 3:16-17)!  I also invite followers to love me with their whole being and in everything they do, which includes a command to love everyone who lives and breathes with my very same compassion (Luke 10:27).  In case I need to remind you, I alone know every person’s heart (I Samuel 16:7).  And please don’t feel you need to be judgmental toward anyone for me (Matthew 7:1-3).  Just love as I love.

•  I support every effort by every discipline to address, defeat and eradicate HIV!  

I have given you the timeless, transcultural story of the Good Samaritan, reminding everyone that compassion, community and real solutions extend to all in need (Luke 10:25-37), because we – together – have the resources necessary to meet the need.  In that story, you will discover that your gifts as a first-responder, social worker, scientist, medical practitioner, therapist, pharmacist, caregiver, philanthropist, financier and person of faith are complementary and conjoined to revive the dying and cause them to thrive.  In fact, you will hear me say that your rescue of a wounded co-traveler has implications for your life, here on earth and for the eternal hereafter.

• I ask everyone who is involved with the HIV&AIDS pandemic to live and act responsibly.

If you are a policy maker, legislator, program leader, executive or officer, a healthcare provider, a biotech or pharmaceutical company, a scientist or researcher, a community advocate, a therapist or an educator, clergy or pastoral caregiver in a faith group, I call you to use every resource and do everything in your power to discover a cure; to develop new treatments, ministries and conduct educational programs necessary to eradicate this virus and empower those infected whom I love; and to act with transparency and integrity, applying and exercising the highest moral imperative to guide you in your daily quest.

If you are HIV+, I do not condemn you nor do I stigmatize you for having this virus.  But please, for the sake of yourself and others – both now and in the future, commit yourself to make every effort and take every precaution to not pass this virus on. 

Thank you all for, “Being responsible to and for others AS YOU WOULD HAVE THEM BE RESPONSIBLE to and for you,” (Matthew 7:12).  And when you do not know what to do, ask for wisdom and help (James 1:5).

•  I invite anyone who will to join me as a friend in my work. 

I know the challenges of living with hatred, stigma, oppression, lies and the fear of others projected on you.  That’s why I invite you away from work and weariness and to rest, reflect, refresh and learn (Matthew 11:27-29).  Then, I call you to serve, because 35.3 million people around my globe need you (Romans 12; Luke 10:25-37). 

What Jesus would declare at AIDS 2014…? 

The foregoing is not speculation, i.e. “What Would Jesus Do?” 

Each point is a declaration of “What Jesus Did!” in his time, and what I believe he calls us to do in ours!

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