Sins of the Father

    "Sub-Saharan Africa." To those who understand something about African affairs, that phrase is synonymous with "tragedy." Since these countries gained their independence in the early sixties, they've experienced civil war, famine, genocide. But now, the saddest news of all may be the impact of AIDS on that part of the world -- a tragedy compounded by the seeming indifference of American Christians. The scope of AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa boggles the mind. In 1998, 2.2 million people in the region died from AIDS. It's estimated that between 12 and 25 percent of all people between the ages of 15 and 49 are HIV-positive. Even sadder is the impact of the epidemic on what are known as "AIDS orphans." An estimated 13 million African children have lost both parents to AIDS. That's nearly the population of metropolitan Los Angeles! And that number is expected to double or triple by 2010. When their parents die, the fortunate ones get to live in orphanages like the Salvation Army's Ethembeni House in Johannesburg, South Africa. The rest end up living on the streets. This kind of suffering demands a response on the part of Christians worldwide. But a study by Barna Research commissioned by Word Vision, found that born-again Christians in America were less likely than non-Christians to support children orphaned by AIDS. These statistics are remarkable when you consider that Christians are "twice as likely as adults overall to support disadvantaged children overseas." That this compassion doesn't extend to AIDS orphans is both puzzling and disturbing. What's the reason? I'm afraid the answer is prejudice. If these children's parents had been killed in a bar fight, we would be willing to give to them. But since they died of AIDS, we don't. We claim to hate the sin and love the sinner, but we don't show that. And we're willing to visit the sins of the fathers upon the children. Ironically, most HIV infection in Africa comes, not from homosexual, but from heterosexual sex. Now, nobody is more adamant than I am about the gravity of sexual sin in general, and the sin of homosexuality in particular. But refusing to help these children is like refusing to help the children of inmates because their parents are in prison. AIDS orphans are precisely the people we ought to be helping. I recently attended a meeting where one of the participants suggested that, in addition to the classic "marks" of the true Church -- that is, gospel preaching, the sacraments, and church discipline -- we ought to add caring for the poor and needy. It's a good point. Matthew 25, after all, tells us that caring for the poor and needy is exactly what Christ expects of his Church. Turning our backs on these kids is the same as turning our backs on him. The crisis of AIDS orphans cries out for the kind of response only Christians can deliver: one that combines compassion with a respect for truth. That would be good news, the kind sub-Saharan Africa rarely gets. But it will only happen if Christians refuse to let prejudice get in the way of their biblical mandate. When World Vision or other relief agencies ask you to help these orphans, I hope you'll do so. For more information: "Are Christians more likely to step in to help those left behind by AIDS?" World Vision press release, 24 April 2001. To learn more about the AIDS crisis and possible responses, visit World Vision's website and search "AIDS."


Chuck Colson


  • Facebook Icon in Gold
  • Twitter Icon in Gold
  • LinkedIn Icon in Gold

Sign up for the Daily Commentary