Those Who are Stigmatized | Pastor Bill Mugford
Stigma is a Greek word with a nasty history. It means a “brand” or “mark,” usually inflicted with a hot iron. Stigma is also a mark of disgrace or infamy—a sign of stain or reproach. Stigma is not limited to physical injury, but wounds, inflicts pain, and causes scars on the hearts and minds of its victims. Stigma is why many people living with HIV&AIDS form their own communities and fear engaging the larger culture and church.
Jesus confronted stigma with the disciples early on, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth,” Acts 1:8 (NIV84). Geography carries stigma in Jesus’ day, and we could well-interpret this passage as an anti-stigma message to the church, “You will be my witnesses to people exactly like you, people a little unlike you, people you love to hate and people unthinkable to you.”
Dr. David Barstow, a researcher on stigma related to HIV&AIDS has developed a list of ten marks of stigma-free people and their faith communities. A Stigma-Free Faith Community...
• Talks openly about HIV&AIDS, as well as related issues such as sexual behavior… ;
• Describes HIV&AIDS as medical conditions, not punishment for immoral behavior;
• Provides basic factual information about HIV&AIDS, including methods of transmission, treatment and prevention, to those who are uninformed;
• Encourages members to participate in all-faith community activities, regardless of HIV status;
• Repeatedly and consistently gives messages of compassion, not judgment, toward people living with HIV;
• Focuses on providing care and support to people living with HIV, rather than on how they became infected;
• Encourages positive living through education and support groups for people living with HIV;
• Actively encourages testing for all members and provides facilities for voluntary counseling and testing;
• Affirms the individual responsibility of all members to know their HIV status and to refrain from behavior that risks transmission of HIV; and …
• Works proactively with other organizations to address HIV&AIDS issues in the wider community.
So, how did you and your faith community do? Are you stigma-free, or do you still have work to do? Why not pray, “Father. Help me to love everyone you call into my life and community of faith, whether they be people exactly like me, people a little unlike me, people I have loved to hate or of whom I have been afraid, and people unthinkable to me. Especially, do not let me stigmatize people living with HIV&AIDS and their families and friends through fear, anger or prejudice, for Your honor and glory.”