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The Church and the Global AIDS Epidemic

The United Methodist Church will work cooperatively with colleague churches in every region in response to the global HIV/AIDS epidemic which is affecting the health and wellbeing of individuals and communities worldwide. The Old Testament is replete with calls to the nations and religious leaders to address the needs of the people who are in distress; who are suffering and ill. The New Testament presents a Jesus who reached out and healed those who came to him, including those who were despised and rejected because of their illnesses and afflictions. Jesus' identification with those who suffer was made clear in his admonition to his disciples that whatsoever you do to the least of these you do also unto me. (Matthew 25:40) His great commission to his followers to go and do as he has done is a mandate to the church for full involvement and compassionate response.

The Geneva-based World Health Organization estimates that by the year 2000, the number of people infected with the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) which causes HIV related illnesses including AIDS will reach 40 million. The suffering being borne by individuals, families, and entire communities, and the strain being placed on health facilities and national economies calls for intensified cooperative efforts by every sector of society to slow and prevent the spread of infection, to provide appropriate care for those already infected and ill, to speed the development of effective affordable treatments and vaccines to be available in all countries, and to provide support to care providers, communities, health care workers, health facilities and programs. The presence of HIV infection has been found in all five geographical regions and HIV illnesses have been reported to the World Health Organization by nearly 200 countries.

Worldwide, HIV infection has been transmitted primarily through heterosexual intercourse with infected persons, as well as in some regions through homosexual/bisexual sexual contact with infected persons, through blood to blood contact including the transfusion of infected blood and blood products, through infected transplanted organs and donated semen, through the use of infected instruments as well as skin piercing objects associated with ceremonial or traditional healing practices, through sharing of infected needles and equipment by injection drug users, from an infected woman to her fetus/infant before or during childbirth and in some instances after delivery through infected breast milk.

The economic, social, demographic, political and health system impact of HIV infection and related illnesses is being felt in innumerable ways. Worldwide, women and children increasingly are being affected by the spread of HIV infection. As larger numbers of women of child bearing age are infected and give birth, larger numbers of infants are born with HIV infection. As larger numbers of parents are infected and die, larger numbers of children are orphaned and extended families are called upon to provide care for greater numbers of family members.

Population growth rates, age structures, labor supply, and agricultural productivity will suffer negative effects as younger age group members and women are infected and become ill. The ramification of HIV infection and illness will be particularly grave on families and societies where the extended family is the main or only system of social security and care for family members who are aged or ill and for the nurture of orphaned children.

Gross national products may decrease in areas with high rates of HIV infection, morbidity and mortality. Crimes of hate and instances of neglect and rejection may increase against gay and bisexual men, injection drug users, prostitutes and others who are assumed to be carriers of HIV. Available health dollars and resources will be affected in the process of caring for larger numbers of persons with HIV illnesses and owing to the costs of securing, distributing, administering and monitoring the effects of new treatments and drug therapies as they become more readily available. The advances of the Child Survival Revolution may be offset as the health of greater numbers of children are infected. It is not known how health systems in any region will be able to manage the additional case loads in a world in which as many as 40 million people may be infected with HIV by the year 2000. The potential to reject and refuse care to persons with HIV is likely to increase until such time as low cost effective vaccines and therapeutic agents are produced and readily available to all.

In its 1988 resolution on "AIDS and the Healing Ministry of the Church," General Conference affirmed that "the global AIDS pandemic provides a nearly unparalleled opportunity for witness to the Gospel and service to human need among persons." Across the world, United Methodist-related public health specialists, health workers, social workers, teachers, missionaries, clergy and laity are living and working in cities, towns and villages where HIV infection and illness are endemic. In all regions churches, congregations, health facilities, schools, men's, women's and youth groups exist which can provide support, nurture and education in the midst of the HIV epidemic.

The United Methodist Church Urges:

Local Congregations Worldwide to:
  1. Be places of openness where persons whose lives have been touched by HIV infection and illness can name their pain and reach out for compassion, understanding, and acceptance in the presence of persons who bear Christ's name;
  2. Provide care and support to individuals and families whose lives have been touched by HIV infection and illness;
  3. Be centers of education and to provide group support and encouragement to help men, women and youth refrain from activities and behaviors associated with transmission of HIV infection;
General Program Agencies to:
  1. Assist related health institutions to obtain supplies and equipment to screen donated blood and provide voluntary HIV testing;
  2. Support efforts by projects and mission personnel within regions to promote disease prevention and to respond to the needs of family care providers and extended families;
  3. Facilitate partnership relationships between institutions and personnel from region to region, as appropriate, to share models and effective approaches regarding prevention, education, care and support for individuals and families with HIV infection and illness;
  4. Assist health workers to obtain regional specific timely updates on the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of HIV infection and illness;
  5. Facilitate the sharing of pastoral care resources and materials dedicated to the care of persons and families whose lives have been touched by HIV;
  6. Respond to requests from the regions to develop training seminars and workshops for church related personnel in cooperation with ecumenical efforts, private voluntary organizations and programs already existing in the regions;
  7. Advocate for national, regional and international cooperation in the development, availability and transport of appropriate/relevant equipment and supplies for infection control, disease prevention and treatment.
Annual Conferences to:
  1. Explore HIV prevention and care needs within their areas and to develop conference wide plans for appropriate effective responses;
  2. Promote pastoral responses to persons with HIV infection and related illnesses which affirm the presence of God's love, grace and healing mercies;
  3. Encourage every local church to reach out through proclamation and education to help prevent the spread of HIV infection and to utilize and strengthen the efforts and leadership potential of men's, women's and youth groups.

Episcopal Leadership in Every Region to:

  1. To issue pastoral letters to the churches calling for compassionate ministries and the development of educational programs which recognize the HIV/AIDS epidemic as a public health threat of major global and regional significance;
  2. Provide a level of leadership equal to the suffering and desperation being experienced by individuals, families and the communities in which they live.

The unconditional love of God, witnessed to and manifest through Christ's healing ministry provides an ever present sign and call to the church and all persons of faith to be involved in efforts to prevent the spread of HIV infection, to provide care and treatment to those who are already infected and ill, to uphold the preciousness of God's creation through proclamation and affirmation, and to be a harbinger of hope, mercy, goodness, forgiveness and reconciliation within the world. The United Methodist Church unequivocally condemns the rejection and neglect of persons with HIV infection and illness and all crimes of hate aimed at persons with HIV infection or who are presumed to be carriers of the virus. The United Methodist Church advocates the full involvement of the church at all levels to be in ministry with and to respond fully to the needs of persons, families and communities whose lives have been affected by HIV infection and illness. In keeping with our faith in the risen Christ we confess our belief that God has received those who have died, that the wounds of living loved ones will be healed, and that Christ, through the Holy Spirit, is present among us as we strive to exemplify what it means to be bearers of Christ's name in the midst of the global HIV/AIDS epidemic.

From The Book of Resolutions, 1996. Copyright © by the United Methodist Publishing House. Used by permission.