National and world church bodies have zeroed in on some of the countries hardest-hit by AIDS. In reaction to some of this year's alarming statistics on HIV/AIDS and the stigma that resides in churches, heads of the National Council and World Council of Churches recently discussed the critical matter at respective conferences.
The WCC observed World AIDS Day today through an ecumenical gathering held outside the Swiss parliament. Focused on Africa, which remains as the hardest-hit country with an estimated 25.8 million people living with AIDS, the event ran with the slogan "Africa needs medicines. Now!"
"The people who are living with or are affected by HIV/AIDS and the communities which are vulnerable to the disease are not and should not be perceived as passive recipients of handouts and help," said WCC General Secretary Samuel Kobia. "They are vibrant resource persons and co-workers with us in this struggle to overcome not only this epidemic, but also to overcome the fundamental flaws in our societies which make us all vulnerable to HIV & AIDS.
"This realization has motivated me to speak up and act on the issue, personally and in my official capacity."
Petitions numbering 25,000 are being presented to the Swiss government and business and church representatives for a far greater effort to ensure African populations access to anti-retroviral treatments.
Resonating the words that many faith-based organizations had emphasized to the Christian community, Kobia brought the attention first to the stigma in churches.
"First and foremost, I encourage churches and communities to correct the flawed theology and practices that equate sin with disease, put morality over compassion and judgment over love, while emphasizing the individual responsibility to own healing and salvation," he said.
Kobia suggested a more holistic approach to AIDS prevention and care in the church community.
"We have to deal with the issue in a holistic manner," he said. "The theology taught in the seminary, the sermon from the pulpit, the service the churches and hospitals provide and the way the congregation deals with people living with HIV/AIDS. All these need to reflect the all-embracing and the boundless love of God."
More and more churches have begun to move away from the stigma and enter into action. The Lutheran World Federation issued a 28-page document PositHIVe Church highlighting the global Lutheran communion's response to the pandemic.
Maintaining focus on HIV/AIDS remains a major challenge in the United States," wrote Josselyn Bennett, director for education and program resources of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America who was among the writers that contributed to the document.
Nevertheless, the ELCA "remains committed to supporting prevention education and care for those infected and affected by AIDS."
On the agenda for the National Council of Churches was a country where a significant proportion of new infections are occurring India. The HIV/AIDS Task force of NCC India met on Nov. 24 with a particular focus on children suffering from the effect of the epidemic.
"The challenge is to sharpen our faith perspective, our theological foundation for responding to the epidemic of HIV/AIDS," said the Rev. Enos Das Pradhan, chairperson of the Commission on Polity and National Governance.
An estimated 40.3 million people are living with HIV, up from an estimated 37.5 million two years ago, according to the United Nations 2005 report on the AIDS epidemic. This year, around 4.9 million people were newly infected with HIV and some 3.1 million people died of AIDS.
"On this day let us all pledge together to join hands to work towards and AIDS free world," stated the NCCI.