Statement from the HIV/AIDS Consultation
The Reverend Charles Carnahan, during the opening session, reminded the delegates from annual conferences in West Angola, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe that The United Methodist Church has an historic understanding of faith that links mind, body and spirit. As far back as John Wesley, United Methodists have been concerned about these links. We know that physical and mental health is inseparable from spiritual well-being.
On April 30, 1988 our United Methodist Council of Bishops, in a Statement on Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome stated
Humankind does, indeed, face a crisis in the wake of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome....
We speak with the hope that those who may not have taken seriously the impact and implications of AIDS will now do so....
While our brothers and sisters in Africa still face the grim reality of death due to hunger-related diseases and war, the escalation of deaths from diseases associated with HIV is perhaps the most threatening crisis we face today.
The World Health Organization estimates that by the year 2000, 10 million persons will die of HIV/AIDS in Africa. The social and economic costs to our nations will be staggering. It is estimated that Africa will have more than 10 million orphans by the year 2000.
Governments and private social service and health care institutions will face incredible, if not impossible, demands for the care of those suffering from HIV disease and their families.
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. In the panic which HIV disease provokes some are tempted to consider those affected by the disease as being punished by God. Our Council of Bishops in their 1988 Statement clearly reminds us that
... we in the religious community are certain that [the HIV disease] is not sent as a curse from God.... We do not believe that the God of love, revealed in Jesus Christ, wages germ warfare on the human family,... We reject unquestionably such propositions and preaching.
While AIDS is not curable, it is preventable.
The origins of HIV disease are unknown.
AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) is an infectious disease caused by a virus known as HIV (Human Immune Deficiency Virus).
Sexual Intercourse is the main means by which the HIV virus is transmitted, if either the male or female is already infected (either heterosexual or homosexual activities). The virus is also transmitted by transfusions of contaminated blood and through infected syringes and needles. Persons are also vulnerable from the use of contaminated razors and knives used by African healers and in the rituals of female and male circumcision. An infected mother can transmit the virus to her unborn child.
Women are the most vulnerable to HIV and to the economic and social problems associated with HIV. Because of economic pressures many men are forced to leave their families for work in the towns or neighboring country. This often leads men to develop sexual relations with other women; some of whom are infected with the HIV. When the men return home, their sexual partner is placed at increased risk for contraction of HIV. Married persons who indulge in extra-marital sex place their spouse at risk.
Peer pressure among youth encourages them to become sexually active at an early age. Many of them do not believe in their mortality and therefore fail to postpone their sexual activity or to utilize precautions which would reduce their risk for contracting HIV.
The virus is not spread through everyday social contact such as:
- * shaking hands
- * living together
- * playing together
- * eating together
- * food, utensils
- * water, communion cups, blankets, insects and toilet seats
As Christians we celebrate our sexuality as a gift from God. God created us male and female.
United Methodists affirm that the marriage relationship is the foundation for a strong family life and the foundation of our societies.
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 AIDS.
(Council of Bishop's Statement, April 30, 1988)
Allowing that not all persons in our society subscribe to our ethical standard, we urge people to heed the warning of the medical community and world health leaders by protecting oneself and partner by using a (condom) during (start to finish) sexual intercourse. And, to avoid sharing needles.
In John 15:12 we are called to love one another. The ministry of healing and compassion has always been an integral part of our Christian faith. Therefore, we are called to reach out to persons with HIV infection and AIDS as well as to their families and friends. The lack of knowledge within our societies about HIV/AIDS has created shame and fear within families. We would urge therefore that our annual conferences train persons who can counsel with HIV/AIDS persons and families.
Every effort should be made to work inter-denominationally and ecumenically; sharing personnel, material, and economic resources.
We commend our Ministries of Health for their efforts in trying to combat AIDS. And encourage our churches and other voluntary agencies to continue collaborating together.
HIV disease is not just a medical concern. It is a spiritual, social, cultural, economic and psychological problem.
We join with our Council of Bishops in expressing our Christian love
...for those who suffer with this deadly disease and to say 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.
(Council of Bishops Statement, 1988)
Our consultation developed plans of action which are suitable to each Annual Conference. We, therefore, appeal to our church leaders to enable their implementation if we are to succeed in the fight against this threat to human existence-- AIDS.
In order to guarantee follow-up of the proposals approved at this consultation, it is recommended that an inter-conference committee be established. This committee should have a representative from each annual conference. It should report to the Central Conference. In order to enable this committee to function, we appeal to the General Board of Global Ministries to provide the required support.