I remember when I first heard of AIDS in church. It may have been called GRID (Gay Related Immune Disorder) at the time, but I know for certain the speaker that day called it "the gay plague." The speaker was half right, but also completely wrong.
He was right that it is a plague-- 34 million people worldwide are infected with HIV and 2.7 million more are infected each year (See World Health Organization data here). Yet, he used his sermon that day to claim so many crazy facts about homosexuality and this disease. Many Christians, once again, reacted poorly at first. He was wrong in that he never mentioned caring for the hurting and ministering to the sick. That's something that Christians should always care about-- regardless of the stigma or source of a disease. And, at first, many churches did not.
Yet, that is not the end of the story. Christians did get involved and still are. Ministries such as Samaritan's Purse, Every Orphan's Hope, He Intends Victory, and World Vision are involved and serving. Lately, we hear less about AIDS, but days like this help to remind us how prevalent it is-- here and around the world.
AIDS is still a very real problem. About 1 out of every 300 people in the U.S. have AIDS, but in Botswana it's almost one out of 4 people. (See infection rates by country here.) But the good news is that both the number of new infections and number of people dying each year is decreasing. There are a number of reasons for this, but one widely acknowledged reason is that churches and Christians have become involved.
The Gospel Impacts AIDS Ministry
The fight against AIDS is more than an educational or moral issue. It's a Christian issue. Yet, since AIDS is primarily spread through sexual contact, it has led to awkward conversations-- or no conversation at all. That's a mistake.
We know that the ultimate remedy for the global HIV/AIDS pandemic is not a medicinal remedy, an educational remedy, or a moral remedy. It is a gospel remedy. Like Jesus, we can show the love of Christ to those hurting the most. And, here is a case where we can both show and share the love of Christ.
What You Can Do Today
1. Pray for those who are facing the disease. World Vision has a helpful page for a prayer emphasis on World AIDS Day.
2. Be aware. The Centers for Disease Control has a web page with lots of information. Yes, it's graphic since AIDS is primarily spread by sexual content, and I do wish that there was some mention of abstinence education, but many of the fact sheets provided by the CDC are enlightening. Facts are our friends and people need to know more, not less, about AIDS.
3. Give of your time and talents to those who are fighting the disease or ministering to its victims. You and your church can partner locally with health care ministries, pregnancy centers, and even hospice in your area and globally with other ministries to fight the spread of the disease in third world countries.
4. Show courage. Too many people have lacked courage to learn about the illness, to be around those who have the illness, or to care for those who do. If Christians had more courage and less fear, I would have heard something different that first time, and we'd hear more about the illness in our churches today.
At the end of the day today, many people will have talked about AIDS-- and I hope you will as well. Talk about how your church can be involved in AIDS ministry and engagement. I found it interesting that I could find few evangelical churches or denominations with ministry resources for ministering to and with people with AIDS. The Christian Reformed Church has one, Saddleback has one, Wheaton Bible Church has one, yet where are the rest?
Feel free to share some resources if you have some.
Ed Stetzer, Ph.D., is President of LifeWay Research and LifeWay’s Missiologist in Residence. Ed is a contributing editor for Christianity Today, a columnist for Outreach Magazine and Catalyst Monthly, serves on the advisory council of Sermon Central and Christianity Today's Building Church Leaders, and is frequently cited or interviewed in news outlets such as USA Today and CNN. Ed is Visiting Professor of Research and Missiology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois, and Visiting Research Professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. Ed blogs daily at EdStetzer.com.