Missing an Opportunity

  Earlier this month, delegates from all over the world gathered at the fourteenth International AIDS Conference held in Barcelona, Spain. They learned about potential new treatments for the disease. They also heard about new drug-resistant strains of the disease and about the spread of AIDS into new areas. But there was one subject not discussed: the impact Christians, acting in accordance with a biblical worldview, can have on this crisis. Given the nature of the conference, I guess that's not surprising, but it's why Christians need to talk about what we can do, both among ourselves and with our neighbors. The scale of the AIDS epidemic boggles the mind. According to epidemiologists, fifteen thousand people are infected with the HIV virus every day, most of them in developing countries. In sub-Saharan Africa it's estimated that between 12 and 25 percent of the adult population is infected, with total infection rates as high as 39 percent. In parts of Africa, between half and three-quarters of all deaths are caused by AIDS. Sadder still, the orphans of AIDS victims are three times more likely to die before the age of five than non-orphans, often from starvation. And the impact of AIDS goes beyond personal tragedies. Its impact can be felt in the economic and political spheres as well. Delegates to the conference were told of AIDS's negative impact on the already depressed economies of sub-Saharan Africa. And if that wasn't bad enough, Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson warned delegates that communities ravaged by the disease would become fertile breeding grounds for terrorists. Given the scope of the problem, it would certainly be wise to consider every possible approach, including the involvement of the Christian church. The people of Uganda and other parts of East Africa learned recently how important that can be. Trans World Radio, a Christian broadcaster, aired a radio special called "The Honey That Kills." "Getting honey" is slang in East Africa for having sex. Instead of talking about condom use, the program told listeners about one sure way to avoid infection: biblical standards of chastity and fidelity. In addition, Trans World Radio enlisted local churches to minister to AIDS patients and spread the word about chastity. This program is part of the reason that Uganda, uniquely among African nations, has experienced what the United Nations characterizes as a major turnaround in the battle against AIDS. It makes perfect sense. Christianity strikes the ideal balance between compassion for the victims and honesty about the epidemic. As Eugene Rivers, a Boston pastor deeply involved in the issue, says, "Promiscuity, infidelity, [even] rape" are at the heart of the AIDS epidemic in the developing world. Therefore, a real solution to the AIDS problem must include a "biblical vision of human sexuality and behavior and responsibility." As he puts it, the AIDS pandemic cries out for a biblical answer. At a time when it's considered impolite, or even intolerant, to cite Christian arguments in public discourse, issues like AIDS are a reminder of what not citing these arguments can cost us: a chance at a real solution to the greatest health crisis of our time. For more information: Philip Jenkins, The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity (Oxford University Press, 2002). BreakPoint Commentary No. 020102, "The Honey That Kills: Combating AIDS with the Gospel." BreakPoint Commentary No. 011210, "Sins of the Father: AIDS Orphans and American Christians." BreakPoint Commentary No. 000501, "Africa's AIDS Orphans: What Can Christians Do?" Nyumbani Orphanage in Nairobi, Kenya, is a wonderful example of a Christian ministry meeting the needs of orphaned children with HIV/AIDS. Visit the AIDS 2002 website for information on the XIV International AIDS Conference. Also see the Daily Washington File coverage of the conference. The UNAIDS site ( has statistics and other information on the international AIDS crisis, and the White House Office of National AIDS Policy has a summary fact sheet on AIDS in the United States. Tommy G. Thompson, U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, "Fighting HIV/AIDS: An International Effort, A Global Priority," address given at the XIV International AIDS Conference, Barcelona, Spain, 9 July 2002. speech 7-02.doc Lawrence K. Altman, "By 2010, AIDS May Leave 20 Million African Orphans," The New York Times, 10 July 2002. (Free registration required.) Eva Thorne, "Silence is Death: An Interview with Reverend Eugene Rivers III," Boston Review, April/May 1999. Gayle White, "Author's 'Prayer' sends him to South Africa," The Washington Times, 15 July 2002.


Chuck Colson


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