As the 2012 International AIDS Conference continues this week in Washington, D.C., Franklin Graham shared in a blog post his thoughts on how the Church should act toward those infected with the life-threatening disease.
According to Graham, who serves as the president and CEO of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and Samaritan's Purse, the Church should not condone premarital or extramarital sex, but it should show compassion toward victims of the disease.
In a blog written for The Washington Post on Monday, Graham says those who have contracted HIV or AIDS are often "shunned" and treated like those with leprosy were treated in Bible times.
"Yet, Jesus reached out to them, touched them, loved them, and healed them. This is the perfect representation of how the church should respond to people living with HIV/AIDS," Graham said, according to the blog.
Samaritan's Purse has been working with those affected by the disease since the 1980s, and Graham praised government officials who have recognized the church as a valuable resource in the fight against it. In particular Graham mentioned George W. Bush, whose President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief allowed faith-based organizations like Samaritan's Purse to participate in offering special health programs.
Beginning with PEPFAR, Graham said, Samaritan's Purse has provided 1.25 million people with information about preventing the spread of HIV and has also provided HIV testing and counseling to about 200,000 people.
The best way for a person to avoid contracting the disease, Graham says, is by not having sex outside the context of a monogamous marital relationship between a man and a woman. In addition, he says, sex outside of biblical marriage is contrary to "God's standards."
"I am not an advocate of passing out condoms to fight the spread of HIV/AIDS. We should not condone sex outside of marriage," said Graham. "When a crowd dragged the adulterous woman in front of Jesus and prepared to stone her, Jesus forgave her and said, 'Go and sin no more' (John 8:11). I cannot imagine Jesus giving her a condom and saying, 'Keep doing what you are doing and try to protect yourself.'"
According to Aids.gov, a website managed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, there are over one million people living with HIV in the U.S. today. One out of every five, however, is unaware that they have contracted the virus.
In 2009, men who have sex with men (MSM) accounted for 61 percent of new HIV infections in the U.S., as compared to those who received it through heterosexual contact (27 percent) and injection drug use (nine percent). Those most affected by the disease are young, black MSM.
In addition to preventing the spread of the virus, Graham says those infected by it should also be made aware of medications that can help them. Although there is no cure for the disease at this time, there are antiretroviral medications that can add to the lifespans of its victims.
On Wednesday, a group of faith-based organizations will host a separate event titled "The Summit on the Role of the Christian Faith in Community Health and HIV/AIDS" in Washington, D.C. The event is being sponsored by Saddleback Church, Food for the Hungry, World Vision and Catholic Relief Services and will be held at Georgetown University.
Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church, said in the title of a recent blog post on his church's HIV/AIDS Initiative website that the Church is the "world's most powerful weapon against AIDS." One reason this is true, he says, is because of the sheer size of the Church and its general willingness to volunteer to help.
"The church has the largest distribution network on the planet," wrote Warren. "There are more churches in the world than all the Wal-Marts, McDonald's and Starbucks combined. The church was global 200 years before anyone else thought of globalization. We could take you to thousands of villages around the world where the only institution to speak of is a church."
He later added, "These church members have a non-profit motivation to serve. We are commanded by Jesus Christ to 'love your neighbor as yourself.'"
Correction: July 26, 2012
An article published on July 24, 2012 about Franklin Graham's opinion on how the church should treat HIV and AIDS victims incorrectly stated that Samaritan's Purse has provided HIV testing and counseling to about 2,000 people, when in fact the organization has provided these services to about 200,000 people.