A Statement on Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome
We, the Council of Bishops of The United Methodist Church, join our voices and concern with those of other religious and community leaders in the face of what is proving to be a global concern-- the existence and spread of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. Perhaps, no disease in recent memory threatens the human family in such proportions as does this phenomenon.
When we contemplate the potential effects of such a disease, we are overwhelmed, and we fear for the lives and well-being of brothers and sisters everywhere and even the yet unborn. The impact of this virus is horrific. The Surgeon General of the United States reports in that country alone,
"By the end of 1991, an estimated 270,000 cases of AIDS will have occurred with 179,000 deaths within the decade since the disease was first recognized. In the year 1991, an estimated 145,000 patients with AIDS will need health and supportive services at a total cost of between eight and sixteen billion dollars." (Surgeon General's Report on Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, p. 6)
Humankind does, indeed, face a crisis in the wake of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. We are concerned that the general populace and even world leaders have not yet addressed this monumental task with the full force of their influence or resources.
Today, we address not only our brothers and sisters in The United Methodist Church but people of all faith communities and those who claim no religious affiliation. We speak now not only to head but to heart. Our concern like AIDS itself transcends faith, culture, race, class, nation and sexual orientation. Like AIDS, we do not discriminate in our appeal for concern and action.
Our hearts ache for those who suffer with this deadly disease and we share the pain of their families and loved ones. We are forever reminded in our Christian community that when one suffers we all suffer. When one is estranged we are all made the less whole.
We speak with the hope that those who may not have taken seriously the impact and implications of AIDS will now do so-- that those leaders in the medical, religious, educational and governmental communities will intensify their efforts to address, arrest and hopefully someday soon find a cure for this now incurable disease.
We feel compelled to make clear to the members of our congregations not only the threat the disease poses but also the need for responsible action and behavior in the face of such threat. While there is currently no known cure for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, its spread can be controlled. Thus, we are not totally hopeless and helpless victims to this devastating phenomenon. It is not true that we can do nothing!
In light of much that has been said and written by so many, it is important that misinformation be counteracted and that the church and, specifically, we of The United Methodist Church share our perspective on this important matter. While we do not propose to speak for the church. we are challenged to speak to it.
We, the Council of Bishops, say as clearly as we can to our brothers and sisters that Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome is not a sin, as many claim. It is a virus! That virus, when it enters the blood stream, has predictable consequences. The highly regarded Surgeon General's Surgeon General's Report on Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome reports:
"The AIDS virus attacks a person's immune system and damages his/her ability to fight other diseases. Without a functioning immune system to ward off other germs, he/she now become vulnerable to becoming infected by bacteria, protozoa, fungi, and other viruses and malignancies, which may cause life-threatening illness, such as pneumonia, meningitis and cancer." (Surgeon General's Report on Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, p. 10)
While the origin of the virus is still in question in the medical community, we in the religious community are certain that it is not sent as a curse from God upon those whose life style is called into question. We do not believe that the God of love, revealed in Jesus Christ, wages germ warfare on the human family, including the unborn and new born. We reject unquestionably such propositions and preaching.
Although the origin of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome is not altogether clear, there is general consensus in the medical community about its nature, scope and how it is contracted. Again we quote from the report of the Surgeon General of the United States of America,
"AIDS is an infectious disease. It is contagious, but it cannot be spread in the same manner as a common cold or measles or chicken pox. It is contagious in the same way that sexually transmitted diseases, such as syphilis and gonorrhea are contagious. AIDS can also be spread through the sharing of intravenous drug needles and syringes used for injecting illicit drugs." (Surgeon General's Report on Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, p. 5)
The impact of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome is far reaching. It is global in scope. Those who have the disease are heterosexual, as well as homosexual. The disease is found in racial and ethnic groups. It crosses class and economic lines, religious and faith communities. There is almost no category of the human family where the deadly virus does or has not appeared. Therefore, it is the better part of wisdom not to categorize the disease as only that of a certain element or group in the society. To do so will only delude us into believing that it is "their" problem not ours. Nothing could be further from the truth and nothing will more hamper responsible efforts to arrest and hopefully one day control this disease. It is our problem! Together all of us must join hands and forces to attack and solve it.
It is important that we know SPECIFICALLY how the disease is spread through sexual contact. Much erroneous or incomplete information has left many and especially our young vulnerable.
The report of the Surgeon General of the United States indicates, that
"The virus is passed on sexually through penis-vagina, penis-rectum, mouth-rectum, mouth vagina, mouth-penis contact."
". . . . a person acquires the virus during sexual contact with an infected person's blood or semen and possible vaginal secretions. The virus then enters a person's blood stream through rectum, vagina or penis.
"Small tears in the surface lining of the vagina or rectum may occur during insertion of the penis, fingers, or other objects, thus opening an avenue for entrance of the virus directly into the blood stream; therefore, the AIDS virus can be passed from penis to rectum and vagina and vice versa without a visible tear in the tissue or the presence of blood." (Surgeon General's Report on Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, p. 16)
AIDS is also contracted by the transfusion of contaminated blood into a healthy blood system. Unfortunately an unknown number of persons have contracted AIDS through such transfusions.
At this time, AIDS is not curable, but it is preventable! Thus, we call upon all people and, especially, United Methodists everywhere to engage in behavior that can prevent and/or minimize the spread of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome.
In so doing, we affirm the standard of The United Methodist Church as the basis for such behavior.
". . . . Although men and women are sexual beings, whether or not they are married, sex between a man and a woman is only to be affirmed in the marriage bond . . . . We reject all sexual expressions which damage or destroy the humanity God has given us as our birthright and we affirm only that expression which enhances that same humanity . . . ."
". . . . homosexual persons, no less than heterosexual persons, are individuals of sacred worth, who need the ministry and guidance of the church in their struggles for human fulfillment, as well as the spiritual and emotional care of a fellowship which enables reconciling relationships with God, with others, and self. Further, we insist that all persons are entitled to have their human and civil rights ensured, though we do not condone the practice of homosexuality and consider this practice incompatible with Christian teaching." (The Book of Discipline, ¶ 71(f))
"We . . . . recommend abstinence from the use of . . . . any illegal drugs . . . ." (The Book of Discipline, ¶ 72(1))
Monogamous, sexual fidelity within the bond of holy matrimony is the standard behavior expected of United Methodists and recommended to all others as behavior that comes close to assuring the prevention of the spread of AIDS.
We recognize that our ethical standard may not be subscribed to nor followed by all in the general population. For those who choose other than this standard, we beg that they heed the health warning of the medical community and world governmental leaders, including the Surgeon General of the United States of America who emphasizes:
" . . . . you must protect your partner by always using a . . . . (condom) during (start to finish) sexual intercourse (vagina or rectum)." (Surgeon General's Report on Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, p. 17)
" . . . . avoid the use of illicit intravenous drugs and needle sharing." (Surgeon General's Report on Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, p. 14)
We, the Council of Bishops, now call upon Annual Conferences, congregations, pastors, and United Methodist related agencies and institutions to consider at least the following as a Christian response to the problems of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome.
1. Reach out compassionately as congregations to AIDS sufferers and their families. Pastors should become equipped to counsel persons with AIDS and their families. Congregations must be educated and sensitized to then determine specific ways in which compassion can be demonstrated individually as well as corporately. Above all, we expect United Methodists to be kindly, understanding and loving in their relationships. As has been recently stated, "It is not our job as Christians to make dying people feel worse. It is our job to give them hope and healing in the name of Christ." (Christianity Today Editorial, March 20, 1987.)
2. Reiterate clearly and strongly our United Methodist position on drug abuse and human sexuality.
3. Determine as Annual Conferences what educational efforts are needed, as well as ministry opportunities, for AIDS sufferers and their families.
4. Oppose state, as well as national, legislation that is of a punitive nature or which seeks to undermine due process of those who have AIDs and all other citizens.
5. Encourage and support medical and scientific research that will accelerate the discovery of a cure for AIDS and improved medical treatment and facilities for AIDS patients.
6. Encourage United Methodist institutions and agencies to develop a clear and fair policy concerning members, employees, clients and/or students who may contract AIDS. (It is far better to develop such policies before one is met with the situation, thereby allowing the best thinking and dialogue without undue pressure or the consideration of particular personalities.)
7. Encourage education about AIDS within the congregations, public schools and the general community.
Finally as members of the Christian community our attitudes and actions must always seek to reflect the spirit of Jesus in our response to the weak, fallen, despised, rejected, ill and infirmed. We now have an opportunity and responsibility to share the love and care of Christ through our love and care of those with Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, their families and loved ones.
We call upon United Methodists everywhere to share Christ in the spirit of Christ.
The Council of Bishops, The United Methodist Church