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AIDS and the Healing Ministry of the Church

I. AIDS and the Gospel of Wholeness

As United Methodists we confess that the God known in Jesus Christ is the One who "makes all things new," who promises to redeem past failures and sends an empowering Spirit to support us when we seek to enact the divine will.

According to the Gospel of Luke (4:16-21), Jesus identified himself and his ministry with that of the servant Lord: the one who Isaiah tells us was sent to bring good tidings to the afflicted; to bring hope to the brokenhearted; to proclaim liberty to the captives; to comfort all who mourn; to give them the oil of gladness, and the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit (Isaiah 61:1-3).

There is no doubt that the Gospel entrusted to the church as the body of Christ is a Gospel of wholeness that calls us to a ministry of healing: a ministry which understands healing not only in physiological terms but as wholeness of mental physical, spiritual, relational and social being.

Diseases spring from complex conditions, factors, and choices. It is not helpful to speak of diseases in inflammatory terms like "punishment for sin." The Gospel challenges us to respond with compassion that seeks to enable the physical and spiritual wholeness God intends in the lives of all persons affected by Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS).

With the Apostle Paul, we assert that "neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:38-39).

In the spirit of the One who makes all things new, who empowers the people of God for ministries of healing and hope even in the midst of a frightening epidemic, The United Methodist Church and its members are called to respond to the epidemic of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome by engaging in ministry, healing, and social responsibility consistent with the Church's understanding of the Gospel imperatives.

II. AIDS and the Church as a Healing Community

The Church as a healing community, empowered by the Holy Spirit, is called to confession, celebration and action.

  1. As a Church we confess: That until now our response to AIDS has been tardy and inadequate; that we have failed to call political leaders to account for their slowness and lack of compassion; and that when challenged by the assertion that AIDS is God's punishment, we have failed to offer a grace-filled alternative, consistent with an understanding of the whole Gospel of Jesus Christ.
  2. As a Church we celebrate and offer thanksgiving: For the pioneering and self-sacrificial work of persons who have developed volunteer ministries of service to persons with AIDS (PWA's), and for the disease prevention education work which has reduced both the sexual transmission and blood transfusion associated transmission of AIDS. We celebrate the leadership of local churches and annual conferences which have begun ministries in response to AIDS; the guidance provided during the 1984-88 quadrennium by the General Boards of Global Ministries, Church and Society, and Discipleship.
  3. As a Church we resolve that:

    1. Churches should be places of openness and caring for persons with AIDS and their loved ones. The church should work to overcome attitudinal and behavioral barriers in church and community that prohibit the acceptance of persons who have AIDS and their loved ones.
    2. Ministries in response to AIDS will be developed, whenever possible, in consultation and collaboration with local departments of public health and community based groups that have already identified priorities for action, and will be supportive of ecumenical and interfaith efforts.
    3. Educational efforts must include reliable medical and scientific information and theological and biblical components that enable participants to address issues related to death and dying, human sexuality, and recognition of people's lack of knowledge and fear. Such educational efforts can prepare congregations to respond appropriately when they learn that a member has been infected by the HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) or diagnosed with AIDS, and can lead to the development of compassionate rational policies, educational materials and procedures related to the church school, nurseries, and other issues of institutional participation.
    4. Pastors, paid workers and other volunteer Church workers should prepare themselves to provide appropriate pastoral care and counseling to persons living with AIDS or AIDS Related Complex (ARC) and the loved ones of these persons.
    5. Liturgical and worship life should provide opportunities for educational as well as an expression of pastoral care. Worship provides a time for celebration and the lifting up of special concerns.
    6. Congregations should organize to provide emotional, physical and/or financial support to those in their community who are caring at home or elsewhere for a person who has AIDS. Local churches should use their resources to respond to the AIDS crisis. These may include support groups, counseling, grants, providing a location for recreational activities for persons with AIDS, and recruiting volunteers or offering office or meeting space for community based organizations.
  4. As a Church we call upon our general agencies, annual conferences, local churches, and members to:

    1. Work for public policies and the allocation of resources to ensure the availability of appropriate medical, psychological and support services for all persons infected by the HIV. These programs should afford the greatest amount of independence and self- determination possible for persons with AIDS within the framework of their individual circumstances.
    2. Advocate that children infected by the HIV be permitted to attend regular school so long as they are able and wish to do so and while their presence does not constitute a threat to their own health or the health of others.
    3. Advocate for the development of accurate testing procedures which are voluntary and which guarantee confidentiality including counseling services. The ability to test for antibodies to the AIDS virus is a useful AIDS prevention strategy in some instances. However, even voluntary use of antibody testing as a preventive effort will require the assurance of levels of confidentiality and anonymity.
    4. Support AIDS prevention education in church and society that provides both the information and motivation required for persons to change their behavior so as to reduce or eliminate the risk of infection. Because sexual and intravenous drug using activities can begin at a very young age, we encourage school boards to initiate AIDS education activities at the elementary school level. We affirm the necessity for comprehensive health education including human sexuality and drug abuse prevention designed for children and youth. We call for the development of adequate numbers of drug treatment programs to care for persons who are dependent on the use of illicit drugs. We support the provision of detailed information and other resources that will prevent intravenous drug users from sharing needles as a part of the larger effort to prevent the further spread of AIDS.
    5. Urge implementation and enforcement of policies and, if necessary, legislation to protect the human and civil rights of persons infected by the HIV, persons perceived to be at risk for such infection, and persons with AIDS or AIDS Related conditions. We urge efforts to investigate thoroughly, document, and prevent prejudice and violence against all persons who have AIDS or are perceived as being at risk for AIDS.
    6. Support the development of workplace policies that permit all persons with AIDS/ARC to work as long as they are able and wish to do so, with medical assurance that their presence in the workplace does not constitute a threat to co-workers or others.
    7. Encourage health care providers to regard persons with AIDS as the appropriate decision makers about their care, to respect their wishes to seek or refuse specific treatments, and to honor their determination about persons who will make decisions on their behalf should they become unable to decide themselves.
    8. Request the health-related and health-care institutions of The United Methodist Church to provide leadership in the creation of services including hospices and home health-care facilities for patients with AIDS and HIV patients, and to publicize their services to these patients in beneficial ways; and to further request that wherever possible these institutions join with other agencies in research activities.
    9. Work for public policies and the allocation of public resources for research and prevention, treatment and elimination of AIDS related diseases. Monitor private insurance company policies related to coverage and benefits for persons with AIDS and HIV related diseases.
    10. Encourage worldwide cooperation by all countries in sharing research facilities and findings in battling this disease, mindful that governments, churches, families, and persons in every region of the world are affected by the AIDS epidemic.
    11. We commend the interagency efforts by: The General Boards of Discipleship, Church and Society, and Global Ministries to address the AIDS crisis and urge the continuation and growth of this work to envision, create and help facilitate a plan for AIDS ministry and education within The United Methodist Church. We urge these boards immediately to inform and enlist the annual conferences in the work of this ministry and to continue to report their action to the General Conference. The global AIDS pandemic provides a nearly unparalleled opportunity for witness to the Gospel and service to human need among persons, many of whom would otherwise be alone and alienated from themselves, other people and from God. The Christian gospel of wholeness calls us to a complete and full dedication of our bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit. We are called, also, to a ministry with and among all persons, including those whose lives are touched by AIDS. As members of The United Methodist Church we covenant together to assure ministries and other services to persons with AIDS, based on the reality of meaning and hope in and for their lives, whatever duration they may have. We acknowledge the spiritual and personal growth that can be experienced by persons facing AIDS in their own life or the life of a loved one, and we give thanks for the witness to God's empowering love contained in that growth. We ask for God's guidance that we might respond in ways that bear witness always to Jesus' own compassionate ministry of healing and reconciliation; and that to this end we might love one another and care for one another with the same unmeasured and unconditional love that Jesus embodied.

Note: This document was adopted in 1988; therefore some of the language, such as the reference to ARC (AIDS Related Complex) has become dated.

From The Book of Resolutions, 1992. Copyright © by the United Methodist Publishing House. Used by permission.