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Thursday
Aug262010

Christian and positive - when Christ's Body has HIV AIDS

Today my friend Grant Russell alerted me to an article posted in the Guardian Online Newspaper entitled Pastor's 'Jesus had HIV' sermon angers South African Christians by David Smith.

I can understand why the preacher in question, Xola Skosana, would preach such a sermon.  However, I can also understand why South African Christians may take offense to both the title of his message and the sermon's title.

First, let me say that I agree with Rev Skosana - the body of Christ does have AIDS!  

In an article that I have just published in the Epworth Review, Vol 32, No 2, 2010 (a theological journal that is published in England) I made exactly the same point.  You can read the article here: The Church has AIDS: Towards a positive theology for an HIV+ Church.

Here are two excerpts from my introduction to the article:

One of the most controversial statements in the contemporary Church is surely the assertion that ‘The Church has AIDS’! This statement challenges Christians to recognize that it is impossible to do theology and engage in Christian life and ministry without taking into account the impact of HIV and AIDS on the world...

Within the Church – the Body of Christ – there are many persons who are HIV+. This reality changes not only who we are as a Church, it also changes how we are the Church. In our creeds we affirm that the Church is ‘One’ – this unity is more than just a structural unity. Solidarity is central to the unity of the Church. It was out of this reality of true solidarity that the Methodist Church of Southern Africa adopted the following statement at its annual conference in 2005: ‘The Church has HIV/AIDS: We care. “When one part of the body is affected the whole body suffers” 1 Corinthians 12:26.’

This image is a photograph of a poster that was circulated in Methodist Churches in Southern Africa.  It bears the bold, and true, statement "The Church has HIV/AIDS - we care".

The point is this, Christians believe, according to Paul's theology, that the Church is the "body of Christ" (see for example 1 Corinthians 12:12, Colossians 1:18).  If there are members of the Church that are HIV positive then the Body of Christ is HIV positive.

That is controversial, but it is true.  If one part of the body suffers the whole body suffers 1 Corinthians 12:26.

In my article I argue something similar to what the Guardian reports on Rev Xola Skosana - we are responsible for one another, and as such the whole Church (all across the world) must consider itself HIV +.  The HI virus infects the whole of the body.  Unlike cancer one cannot remove the ailing part of the body.  The virus affects every part of the body.  

Here are some statistics about HIV from the article in the Epworth Review:

South Africa’s HIV/AIDS statistics are fairly well known.6 Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest precedence of HIV infection in the world. Where it is left completely unchecked the HIV infection rate has risen to as high as 1 in every 2 persons (50 per cent of some population groups in Botswana).7 Of the estimated 33.2 million persons living with AIDS globally, more than 22.5 million live in Sub-Saharan Africa – that amounts to 68 per cent of all HIV+ persons in less that 10 per cent of the world’s geographic land mass. Each day more than 1,600 persons are infected with the virus. In most government hospitals more than half of the patients are HIV+. By 2009 the life expectancy of a person living in Swaziland8 had declined from 60 years of age to just 32 years.9 Compare this to the United King- dom where the life expectancy of the average person born in 2009 is 79 years.10 Approximately 4,500 people in Sub-Saharan Africa die of HIV/ AIDS-related medical causes each day.

In a chapter that I wrote for a forthcoming book entitled Alienation and Connection: Suffering in a global age. (edited by Lisa Withrow and Joerg Rieger) I developed this argument in a slightly different way.  The chapter is entitled Empire, economics and apathy: A theological reflection on suffering as a result of HIV AIDS.

I introduced the concept with another rather controversial statement, saying that any Southern African Church that does not have an HIV AIDS ministry cannot be a Christian Church!  [yes, I know that I will get into trouble for this one!]

My contention is this - if 68% of all HIV+ persons in the world live in this region, then the Church has a massive responsibility to see that God's loving will is brought to bear on this situation.  God cares about every person!  The Church is God's instrument, the instrument of the mission Dei (the mission, or work, of God).

So, yes, I agree with Rev Skosana - the Body of Christ is HIV+.  Perhaps I would have titled the message slightly differently.  Instead of saying 'Jesus had HIV', I would say that 'The body of Christ is HIV+'.

As a result I can understand how Christians may respond with shock at the statement that Jesus HIV.  That statement is not accurate.  But, I do believe that the point is well made.  As Christians we need to understand that we have a critical role to play in ministering to God's World.  And since this world includes HIV positive persons it is not a matter of 'us' and 'them'.  Rather it is a matter of 'us'.

Here is a video reflection that offers some further thoughts on this very important issue!

The body of Christ has HIV AIDS from Dion Forster on Vimeo.

I'd love to hear your thoughts, reflections, and ideas!

You can find the Guardian article on Rev Skosana here.

Reader Comments (2)

Very thought-, and I should hope action-, provoking.

I now get what is being said, an incisive contextual interpretation of the 1 Cor passage. Even the most fundamentalist or literalist reading cannot escape its prophetic power.

But when I first saw the statement in question, I wondered if it could be read "The Body of Christ is immune deficient" meaning perhaps it is ill equipped to deal with the negative aspects of todays world - consumerism, the cult of celebrity, individualism, and the inability to respond authentically, locally, incarnationally, creatively and missionally?

August 27, 2010 | Unregistered Commenternic paton

I prefer your own title. But we (my urban Church) have been living with this for a long time. It's not an issue, it's just life as we know it. To my personal knowledge, some 5% of my congregation are HIV+, and surely many more I don't know of. Your post comes as a kind of surprise to me. Well of course there is HIV/AIDS in the Church. I can't reveal who, but it's included some of our most precious people.

August 28, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterThomas

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