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The Church and HIV/AIDS

Martin Henry

THE RESIDENTS of Mandela Terrace, in Kingston, Jamaica, South African President Thabo Mbeki, and the Church came in for heavy flak at the XIII International AIDS Conference in Durban, South Africa.

Part of what I do for a living is to teach the rudiments of research methods and of critical thinking to university students. The attacks upon the residents of a poor inner-city community, upon the host President of the AIDS Conference, and upon the Church in Jamaica were based variously upon poor research, dogmatic arrogance among so-called scientific researchers, and sloppy thinking.

The residents of Mandela Terrace, backed up by Government data, have already roundly refuted the spurious 'research' of US Peace Corps volunteer Deanna Kepka ­ without the benefit of my classes.

Thabo Mbeki's sin is to cast doubt on the HIV theory and to accommodate AIDS dissidents in his Advisory Committee on the disease in South Africa. The dogma of the scientific establishment, paying lip service to openness and truth, is that the HIV virus is the cause of AIDS. There are some who disagree. The extraordinary incidence of the disease in Africa itself is a stark challenge to the dominant theory calling out for credible explanation.

Mbeki, against world opinion, is giving alternative views a serious and polite hearing. As a permanent minority man myself, I deeply admire and congratulate Thabo Mbeki for accommodating the voices of dissidents.

How often have dissidents and minorities not been right and the majority wrong? How often have dissidents and minorities not changed the world?

The AIDS industry itself has commandeered vast resources, status and prestige, like no other disease in the history of the world, including cancer. It is not about to accommodate dissent.

A major part of the reason for the power of the AIDS industry, I submit, is the fact that the disease is such a deadly challenge to the ideas and ideals of Secular Humanism which are reaching maturity with such calamitous consequences. The vision of science as saviour, in the midst of The Troubles, is under stress.

So we come to Mr. Marvin Gunter's Conference paper "Jamaica's Religious Culture and its role in the Acceleration of HIV". Quite apart from its spurious cause-effect relationship between the Church and AIDS, the paper, as reported by The Sunday Gleaner at length (July 16), is filled with misunderstandings, half-truths and plain lies.

First of all, Jamaica does not have a uniform 'religious culture' coterminous with a homogenous 'Church'. There is a riot of religious cultures without and within the borders of the Christian Church, loosely defined. The conventional modesty and focus of scientific research on a small set of variables ­ normally only two ­ should have led Mr. Gunter to investigate some clearly defined, particular aspect of the religious culture and its relationship to AIDS.

Mr. Gunter's many positions should provide him access to the fact that large elements of the Church are in the forefront of delivering compassion and care to people living with HIV and AIDS (PLHWAs). No honest person can discount the evidence of this engagement.

The paper is riddled with logical fallacies, from the hasty and the sweeping generalisations to the unproven cause-effect relationship. Then there are the plain untruths: "church members perceive themselves as having a holy calling and in this light are immune to such kinds of infectious diseases ­ they have little feeling for HIV issues or people living with AIDS".

But Mr. Gunter's greatest problem is apparently with the doctrines of the Church. (Although again these are hardly uniform across the many churches). "The behaviour of the Church shows disregard for the saving of lives while holding doctrines and dogma in higher esteem, remaining loyal to their inherited interpretations of the Bible."

And the Church promotes the spread of HIV through its exclusion of condom use in its teachings and its refusal to accept the existence of same-sex relationship and infidelity.

Many people like Mr. Gunter in his paper want the Church to be a moral authority without having moral standards ­ a foolish contradiction of terms if ever there was one. There is an inescapable tension between the Church (ever a minority movement) and the world on fundamental matters of principle and practice as the Lord and Master of the Church and His Holy Apostles so clearly understood and articulated. The Church cannot be the Church nor remain the Church if it jettisons its moral precepts, including precepts regulating human sexuality. Imperfection of practice within the Church itself is no sound argument against its ideals.

Moral authority

A fundamental point of difference between the Church and the world is the matter of people being free to do what they want. The Church, in the ideal, has voluntarily chosen to be bound and restricted ­ yet liberated ­ by the law of God. Others may choose to do as they please. But there are consequences to all choices. Undoubtedly there are large numbers of innocents in the AIDS pandemic. But from all accounts the pandemic is driven by anti-Christian lifestyle choices.

The Church has no legitimate authority beyond the authority of persuasion over those who have not voluntarily chosen to submit to its authority and to the lordship of Christ. The Church is not and was never intended by its founder to be a theocracy, despite its mediaeval and later pretensions. Strangely enough, many of the very ones who want the moral authority of the Church to be forcefully exercised in society are at the same time hostile to the idea of a theocracy.

The proper response of the Church to any dilemma of the society in which it lives is to show compassion and render assistance without compromise, calling people to the righteousness and wisdom which bring life, peace and prosperity. The life of Jesus perfectly exemplifies this.

The Church has unfortunately too often compromised its moral strength and authority by presuming to run things in the world and by adjusting divine law to human demands ­ a process which Mr. Gunter seems to be vociferously advocating.

The cold truth which the AIDS industry, Marvin Gunter, and the rest of us must soberly confront is that, barring a scientific or divine miracle, this most dreadful pandemic is set to run its devastating epidemiological course, which has been already determined by past human choices. If not divine judgement, AIDS certainly is largely a consequence of anti-Christian sexual behaviour ­ if the HIV theory is correct.

The surest protection for the uninfected individual is chastity and fidelity. Whatever else it may do by way of response to the crisis, the Church, in the teeth of antagonism sharpened by desperation, must preach this loudly and clearly without compromise but with the spirit of compassion and practical care for those already fallen ­ in the manner of Jesus her Head and Exemplar.

Martin Henry is a communications consultant.

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