Beatitudes Society, and Office of Public Witness Fellow, Matthew Dimick, examines the implications of the overtures concerning HIV/AIDS passed by the 219th General Assembly, how they fit into the history of the church, and where we stand today in the face of an epidemic (with special attention to the changing face of HIV/AIDS in the USA). Below are his reflections on this presentation.
June marked the thirtieth year of HIV/AIDS in this country. For thirty years, the U.S. and the Global community have groaned under the weight of this disease. In thirty years, HIV and AIDS showed the world the harms of poverty, gender inequality, violence, homophobia, and inequity. HIV has never simply been a body illness, it has been an indicator of social illness--social inequality.
The first cases of HIV preceded my birth by five years. It is odd to think that this epidemic is older than me, and yet affects so many people in my own personal life. I started doing HIV work because of a sense of Christian charity--I saw my role in addressing HIV/AIDS as something a good Christian should do, as fitting into my role in the history of my community. But as I have worked and researched, my charity has turned to a passion for justice. Those affected are no longer simply numbers to me but rather names of neighbors, children, brothers and sisters in Christ.
I gave the above presentation during the "Second Tuesday,” a monthly briefing held at the office. As I prepared this presentation and reflected on the thirty years of the epidemic, it also meant looking at the last thirty years of commitment from the Presbyterian Church which began with a statement from the 195th General Assembly calling the church to “become an advocate of God’s justice by expressing the concern of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) at the immensity and complexity of this escalating epidemic.”
In addition to reminding those who attended about the PCUSA’s continued commitment to the ailing needs of those suffering from HIV/AIDS, I argued that we are called to look at systemic causes as well.
I drew particular attention to two communities: the incarcerated and older adults. (See above slides for some statistics on these two groups.)
Already, the Presbyterian Church has ministries serving the spiritual needs of the incarcerated. As we learn more about the needs of those in our criminal justice system, how do we advocate for their health needs?
Intentionally, I drew attention to the needs of older adults in the church. Many older adults lack information on HIV and the need for safe-sex practices. To quote a recent AARP article, “We need to move beyond the late-night jokes on Viagra and recognize that sexuality and intimacy continue to be an important part of everyone’s lives, even after someone turns 60.”
The challenge I issued to those in attendance and now issue to those reading this blog is to get tested for HIV. Regardless of your risk, or if you are married—experiencing testing, being opening about it, and knowing your status are steps in reducing stigma. (Visit http://www.hivtest.org/ to find a free testing site near you.)
The global church has yet a role to play in ending this pandemic. There is such a need for the global church! I am convicted and compelled by the words of Donald E. Messer from Breaking the Conspiracy of Silence:
"The Church of Jesus Christ is called to be in the very heart of this global pandemic of pain and suffering. We have no choice; there is no escape; the body of Christ has AIDS."
*note: the Presbyterian HIV/AIDS Awareness Day is now also on December 1st (World AIDS Day)