I have never forgotten the first time had a strong reaction to the reality of AIDS. In 2008, I was reading Bryce Courtenay's book, April Fool's Day, about his son's struggle with HIV/AIDS. His son was a hemophiliac and contracted the disease through blood transfusions. Bryce detailed the frustration of dealing with politicians who wanted to stop research into what became identified as AIDS as a way to punish homosexuals, who were presumed to be the only sufferers of the disease. Courtenay lays bare his own struggles, confusion and fear about his son's struggles, as well as tangentially touching on the political issues around the diagnosis and the way his son, Damon, is treated in hospitals because of prejudices and misunderstandings about AIDS.
It's easy to roll your eyes at World AIDS Day or even to toss off a prayer, but to keep on thinking it doesn't affect you personally.
But if you take seriously, at all, the truth that we are all the body of Christ, then you must truly absorb the fact that some of the members are dying. That there is dis-ease in the body caused, in part, by AIDS.
It's true that the spread of the disease is, in some cases, caused by sexual contact. But that sexual contact has innocent victims. Wives from husbands and husbands from wives. Mothers to children. Hemophiliacs and others receiving transfusions. Uninfected children who are orphaned by infected parents. The list goes on.
If we allow "condoms" to be the last word on AIDS prevention, we do a disservice to all people and to the body of Christ. We allow the disease, rampant and painful, to be cast into a sexual ghetto, wherein sufferers are "getting what they deserve". On World AIDS Day, we are called to shine the light of Christ's love into the reality of suffering due to this pandemic, to ponder our own reactions and to seek to support those missions and research facilities that are genuinely attempting to alleviate the suffering and stem the tide of this pandemic.
George W. Bush, former U.S. president, had a profound editorial in the Washington Post today. Among other comments, he urges current politicians to take the fight against AIDS to heart:
We still hope for an AIDS vaccine. In the meantime, there are millions on treatment who cannot be abandoned. And the progress in many African nations depends on the realistic hope of new patients gaining access to treatment. Why get tested if AIDS drugs are restricted to current patients? On AIDS, to stand still is to lose ground.
I am happily out of the political business. But I can offer some friendly advice to members of Congress, new and old. A thousand pressing issues come with each day. But there are only a few that you will want to talk about in retirement with your children. The continuing fight against global AIDS is something for which America will be remembered. And you will never regret the part you take.
Indeed, that message goes to all of us who follow Christ. We are called to prayerful action today (and all days). Today, let us pray for those who are suffering and for those who have yet to be diagnosed, for those who have been orphaned, widowed or lost friends and family, for those who are researching and for those who are on the frontlines of treatment, for those who wish to stop the research and for those who wish to hide from the truth. Let us pray that we, who are not suffering, will have the courage and the wisdom to bring awareness to the fight against AIDS and to use all the tools we have been given to bring a measure of healing to Christ's own body. Amen.