World AIDS Day: Turning The World by Loving the “Other”

While reflecting on World AIDS day, the Advent season and Communion Sunday over the past few weeks, I remembered a college administrator’s awkward monologue, a touching story that helped me to know why my mentor is as passionate as he is about LGBTQ justice and HIV/AIDS awareness, and a quote that seems to tie the two stories together.

In August of 2003, I was in Washington, DC for freshman orientation at my university. Amongst all of the “to-do’s” and “to-don’t’s” told to the incoming class, one of the administrators shared what I later understood to be an intentionally fear-inducing fact: “DC ranks highest in the number of HIV/AIDS cases in America.” That fact would later be connected to the high “foreign” (read: African) population in the area. What may have been a statement from a well-intentioned heart (read: an effort to stop the freshmen from having sex all around town), reflected a pathology that is all too pervasive in our privileged context: demonizing the sexuality of the “other.” While this issue requires its own blog, it does bring up an important question: what important issues/who are we ignoring as we obsess about others’ sexuality? Are we solely focused on the sexuality of those with HIV/AIDS and forget that whole persons are suffering because of the disease’s affects and our stigmatizing? Are these actions helping anyone to know God better, grow in grace, or giving us an opportunity to witness to God’s love and goodness? Maybe we (the church) are a bit off-target.

Next, I remembered a story that my mentor shared with his Hebrew Bible class at our seminary. I was sitting in on the class since my day was free, and I had the opportunity to hear from this generally closed-book-of-a-man how deeply his work was influenced by his personal experience. He shared, regarding his brother who was gay and also had AIDS: “One of the hardest things I ever had to do is to try to convince my brother that God still loved him.” That gave me great pause, but I now wonder what doctrines of the church or actions of ours make the telling of the fact of God’s love so inconceivable? The church failed my mentor’s brother, and I wonder how many more with HIV/AIDS are like him: feeling alone, rejected by God and God’s people, suffering in body and spirit?

Finally, I share a quote from an article on Rahab (the woman with whom the Israelite spies stayed in Joshua 2) which views Rahab’s rope, or her red ribbon, as a sign of hope of salvation and preservation through chaos:

With a disease of such magnitude, those who are not infected are affected. The disease dehumanizes and impoverishes those who suffer from it, before they finally die. And, worse, the disease is accompanied by another epidemic; namely, HIV/AIDS stigma and discrimination. The latter is more rampant than the virus itself making the world unlivable for those who are infected. Stigma is manifested in silence and indifference.

– Musa W. Dube, New Testament scholar at the University of Botswana.

World AIDS Day, December 1st of each year, allows us the opportunity to remember those who have been “other-ed “by an illness the world over. As this day will also be on the first Sunday of the month, it literally gives us, the Church of the Village and many others in the faith, the opportunity to be intentional about re-membering them, making those in/affected by HIV/AIDS members of the body of Christ again as stigma and ignorance has estranged them, to welcome them and let them know that they belong to the family of God that truly needs them.

This year’s Advent theme at COTV is “The World is About to Turn,” which signifies God’s hand at work in turning both personal and social injustices around for peace and righteousness to reign in the world. But, honestly, I am not totally sure that the world is about to turn regarding the virus. Today, many people in the One-Thirds World live day-by-day, beating HIV/AIDS, taking their lives back and doing the amazing. I’m glad this isn’t One-Thirds World AIDS Day because the remembrance of the entire world that has persons attempting to endure through this disease reminds us that we don’t have much of a handle on AIDS in the Two-Thirds World at all. Yet, my hope in God enables me to believe that soon the world will turn regarding HIV/AIDS. And yet, every time we educate about HIV/AIDS and advocate for those it infects and affects around the world, doesn’t the world turn a bit? And when we comfort one another in love, regardless of how the disease was contracted, I believe the world turns a bit more. And each time, in expectant hope, we pray and act with and on behalf of persons who have HIV/AIDs, their friends and loved ones, those outside of the U.S., and those of different economic levels… when we hope against hope with the suffering, the survivors and the thrivers over HIV/AIDS, I’d say the world turns even more. We each get closer to the day when HIV/AIDS does not mean run away, but rather run toward and embrace your sisters and brothers. That type of love makes the world go ‘round. So, maybe it is about to turn.

HIV/AIDS is not a gay disease. It’s not an African disease. And, it’s not an insurmountable disease. In solidarity, it is our disease. Who among us are willing to, as Dube suggests, hang a red ribbon of hope, even in a time that may seem hopeless by continuing or starting to educate, advocate and act? Who among us will continue to welcome all persons into the fold no matter how often and no matter by whom they have been rejected? Who will not only await the birth of Christ this season, but reflect the Christ birthed in you by God’s spirit? Let this day, and each day, give us new hope that the world is about to turn, and indeed is turning if we, empowered by God’s Spirirt, let it.

P.S.: The UMC’s “Faith in Action” for World AIDS Day and beyond is linked here.
Musa W. Dube, “Rahab is Hanging Out a Red Ribbon: One African Woman’s Perspective on the Future of Feminist New Testament Scholarship,” in Feminist New Testament Studies: Global and Future Perspectives, edited by Kathleen O’ Brien Wicker, Musa W. Dube and Althea Spencer-Miller (New York: Palgrave Macmillan:2005), 177-202.