Monday, December 01, 2008

World AIDS Day

Today is World AIDS Day, a day devoted to bringing attention to the worldwide epidemic of HIV/AIDS. For those of us in the United States we may be relatively unaffected by this disease although it is hard to find anyone that hasn't had a friend or relative stricken with HIV/AIDS. In other parts of the world, AIDS is a serious crisis where whole families and villages are being wiped out by this crisis.

Here is an article entitled "The 51%" that I wrote about AIDS in the black community for the website, an evangelistic website designed by The Impact Movement that speaks to African American young people.

The 51%

It was a moment that I will never forget. I was a freshman in college and was returning from an evening biology class on a cold November evening when I ran into a friend. He told me that Magic Johnson was just about to begin a press conference in which he would reveal that he had HIV and would be retiring from the NBA. I initially thought he was joking, but then he asked me why he would make something like that up. I then knew we wasn’t kidding. To say I was in shock would be an understatement.

Magic Johnson – a heterosexual, black man – revealing that he was HIV+ opened up a lot of our eyes. Up until that point, many Americans (me included) looked upon HIV/AIDS as more of a problem for gay white men. But if Magic could get it, what did that mean for the rest of us? Unfortunately, after the initial shock of Magic’s announcement wore off we all returned to our lives and our normal behaviors. People that were freaks before began gettin’ their freak on again and it was business as usual. That was 1991 and the spread of HIV/AIDS has continued. Though black folk comprise only 13% of the general population, African Americans make up 51% of newly reported HIV cases. Black men are seven times more likely to be HIV+ than their white counterparts and black women are 20 times as likely as white women. It’s time for a wake up call, y’all!

Why has something that started as a disease among gay white men now viciously spread through the black community? There are several reasons why this has happened. First, the high rate of poverty in many black neighborhoods has resulted in substandard health care opportunities. Second, the lack of quality training regarding sex education – in our homes, schools, and churches – has contributed to the spread of many myths concerning the spread of HIV/AIDS. Third, the use of IV drugs and the sharing of needles has moved the spread of HIV/AIDS beyond just the sexually active into the lives of drug users. Fourth, the high rate of promiscuity among our youth has caused this disease to spread rapidly as young people are having sex (many times unprotected) with multiple partners. Fifth, the unusually high rate of imprisonment for young black males has led many of these young men to engage in high risk sex while in prison and then take whatever they caught with them when they are released into society.

As sad as the realities of HIV/AIDS is in the United States, it is even worse in Africa. The poverty, lack of education and poor health care is not as good as it is in the U.S. and this has led to the HIV/AIDS crisis of epidemic proportions in the Motherland. In South Africa alone, at least 1 in 9 people are HIV+. I have spent some time there and I learned that one of the myths regarding HIV is that if a man is HIV+ and has sex with a virgin, then he will be cleansed of the disease. This has resulted in increased rapes, particularly among young girls since their likelihood of being a virgin is increased.

However, we can look to the country of Uganda as an example of how to stem the tide of the spread of HIV/AIDS. The approach taken in Uganda is referred to as the ABC approach. First, sexual Abstinence until marriage is encouraged as the most effective method to not obtaining the virus. Second, sexually active individuals are advised to Be faithful to a single partner or reduce their number of partners. Third, people are asked to always use a Condom, especially if they have more than one sexual partner. This approach has helped bring the rate of HIV+ adults down from 15% to 6% at present.

As good as the Ugandan government’s approach is, I think the stance that the Bible takes would serve us even better. When talking about the problem of HIV/AIDS, other sexually transmitted diseases (STD’s), unwanted pregnancies, etc. with others, I have often posed the following solution – what would happen if each of us followed the Bible’s guidelines for sex and how we treated our bodies? What are those guidelines, you ask? Here’s what I suggest:

1. Wait until marriage to have sex
2. Only have sex with your spouse
3. Treat your body as a temple

Now I know this is an ideal and may not seem realistic, but think about it. If we all followed these guidelines we would eventually eliminate HIV/AIDS and all other STD’s, all rape, all extramarital affairs, virtually eliminate any reasons for abortion, and we would all live much longer since we weren’t putting junk into our bodies. As much as some of us may feel that God has created certain rules to take away our fun, I think if we are honest we will find that this is not the case. Any “thou shalt not’s” that are in the Bible are not there arbitrarily. There is a reason for it. God wants to protect and provide for us. So when God tells us to remain sexually pure outside of marriage and remain faithful to our spouse once in marriage, he knows what he is talking about.

The harsh reality is that HIV/AIDS can not be considered a “gay disease.” Too many lives are being affected and we must take away the stigma that is attached to AIDS and the homophobia that comes with it. Too many brothas are living on the “down low” where they have a boyfriend on the side and then go home to their wife. We need to be able to have honest conversations about sex and HIV/AIDS. While most cases of HIV/AIDS come as a result of our own bad choices (blood transfusions and those unknowingly affected by their spouses notwithstanding), part of the blame lies with my brethren who are fellow ministers. By not talking about sex and its consequences with our congregations, we unwittingly contribute to widespread ignorance. Knowing that close to 70% of African American children are born out of wedlock should clue us in that many of our faithful church members are not following the Bible’s instructions when it comes to sex.

As good as it is to know different practical steps to avoid contracting HIV/AIDS, we must understand how God has designed us. As human beings we have a sexual nature with God-given needs and desires. This is not a bad thing or something that we should be scared to discuss in appropriate settings. The problem arises when we seek to meet these legitimate needs in illegitimate ways. All of us long to love and be loved and this can contribute to irresponsible and even sinful behavior with our bodies. We must realize that we cannot change our own hearts, but God can do this for us. He wants us to know the truth not about only HIV/AIDS, but most importantly about his son, Jesus. If you would like to find out more about the truth that Jesus offers please click here."

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