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Leaders dismiss HIV/AIDS blame against churches

PRESIDENT OF the Jamaica Council of Churches Reverend Dr. Howard Gregory last week dismissed as unpatriotic statements that the church was facilitating the spread of HIV/AIDS.

In a letter to the editor, Dr. Gregory said the article which appeared in The Sunday Gleaner, July 16, 2000, was merely reported "on a most unpatriotic display by a private citizen who chooses to undict and malign a national institution...in an international forum in a way which is lacking in support and credibility".

Dr. Gregory said the statements made by Marvin Gunter, chairman of the Caribbean Regional AIDS Network are "lacking in substance and reveals a lack of understanding or failure to appreciate the nature of the institutions which he has set out to discredit". He questioned the motives of Mr. Gunter stating that he could not be seeking dialogue with the churches in Jamaica.

"If this were the case, the dialogue would have been initiated right here at home and not in an international arena," Dr. Gregory noted.

He said perhaps Mr. Gunter initiated the discussion overseas in order that "the Jamaican churches would be so embarrassed that they would quickly fall in line and quickly make the adjustments acceptable to our external masses".

Dr. Gregory said that despite the statements made by Mr. Gunter, churches have been involved in HIV/AIDS programmes. These include a three-week course on "Coun-selling Persons Affected by HIV/AIDS", put on by the Caribbean Conference of Churches and the United Theological College of the West Indies that is currently on. Anglican young people at the Anglican Congress 2000 also had a session devoted to AIDS education.

He also said that in April this year at the Anglican Synod, a special session was devoted to AIDS education. In addition, students at the United Theological College of the West Indies have been pursuing work with persons infected with HIV in hospitals and the hospice.

Dr. Gregory said too that churches in Half-Way Tree pay someone who works in one of the institutions in the forefront of the work with persons infected with HIV or living with AIDS.

"What I believe is most disconcerting for Mr. Gunter is the failure of the churches to give endorsement to what Mr. Gunter regards as sex education...It is clear that Mr. Gunter has a specific agenda which is not being endorsed by the church and which is the source of his irritation," Dr. Gregory stated.

President of the Overcomers Christian International Rev-erend Joseph Ade-Gold also noted that the assertions made by Mr. Gunter were misleading.

Impression

Reverend Ade-Gold said Mr. Gunter gives the impression that "the current policy and programme strategies at the state and NGO levels are not partly responsible for the spread of HIV/AIDS". Or that "the deteriorating moral environment is not partly to blame for the spread of HIV/AIDS".

"We run a great risk of marginalising the greatest agent of change in the society, one that has helped reform sexual behaviour and poured out mercy and compassion on the PLWHAs," Rev. Ade-Gold noted.

He said the churches' approach to HIV/AIDS is powerful because it is grounded in the word of God and in the character of the Lord.

"This approach may not fit the sex education mould now on display, however the results have gone farther than increasing contraceptive prevalence," he said.

Rev. Ade-Gold explained that sex is a beautiful thing created by God for man and woman in marriage. He said he acknowledges the existence of same sex relationships and infidelity, but cannot and will not accept it as the norm.

"We will not and cannot relax our scriptural views on sex before marriage and among our young people. We will not and cannot go against what our Lord has instructed us," he said.

Rev. Ade-Gold, like Dr. Gregory, noted that "if we really care about stopping the epidemic and if we really care about those who have been affected, there would be more focus on meaningfully engaging those churches which are ready to help instead of blowing out of proportion, the accounts of those churches which are not."

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