Four years ago on December 1st, I was asked to speak at the World AIDS Day Memorial at the Krannert Center for Performing Arts. The local Greater Community AIDS Project (GCAP) had asked me to speak at it based on a recommendation from the former director of the U of I LGBT Resource Center, Curt McKay and a grad student named Erica Brauer. It was an honor and intimidating at the same time knowing it would be the first time I’d be speaking outside of a church setting in years…and in front of a crowd that could be potentially hostile towards my faith in Christ. There was a lot of great food, and over 300 people…GULP.
Sandwiched in between other campus and community leaders, I took the stage…
“It’s a privilege to be here today to recognize the 20th Anniversary of World AIDS Day. The very reason we’re gathering is found in the original purpose: To remember those who have lost the fight and to call others to support, be aware, and encourage others who are still waging the battle.
Currently, 33 million live with HIV. Half of worldwide infections are young people 25 and under. One of 20 adults are infected. There is one new infection every 15 seconds; in the same 15 seconds AIDS claims another life. By 2020, 12% of Africa’s workforce could die of AIDS (58million people). And let’s not forget the collateral victims of AIDS in Africa: 20 million orphans. More than 25 million people have died of AIDS since 1981.
I can’t speak about AIDS without thinking of Princess Diana who was willing to reach out with compassion despite heavy international criticism. Her efforts raised awareness of AIDS and helped demystify and remove the stigma of the dreaded disease. “HIV does not make people dangerous… so you can shake their hands and give them a hug.”
Ironically, the events surrounding her death prompted the passage of “Good Samaritan” laws requiring bystanders to give assistance when possible. I think of they story of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10 about a young Jewish man who was attacked on the way to Jericho. I see three different responses to our neighbors.
Thieves are the people who always take, they never give. They don’t care about the needs of other people and would just as soon take what others have. Thieves are prideful, overbearing, selfish, self-involved, and self-seeking. They gain at others’ expense.
The priest and Levite represent the apathetic, lazy, and also self-involved people who can’t be bothered or inconvenienced. They only help when others are looking or simply for a token missions trip or outreach. I believe this is a major flaw in the American Church which has forgotten that we share this planet with other people. To “protect” ourselves from the “poisonous and caustic” society around us, we build up secure walls for safety. But yet, it’s is the ministry of Christ to care for the hurting, dying, and the outcasts. When the Bubonic Plague ravaged 1/3 of Europe, it was the Christians who risked their own lives to minister comfort to those who were stricken.
The Good Samaritan represent those who are willing to die to opinions and cultural mores. Jews and Samaritans despised each other. But racism didn’t matter in this vulnerable moment. He was motivated by compassion and love for his neighbor. That’s the heart of following Christ. Can we afford to set aside our inward focused agendas and respond to the needs around us every day?
“We cannot build our own future without helping others to build theirs,” said President Bill Clinton. These AIDS statistics bother me. They need to bother more people. Not just bother. But motivate to act. Blame has been assigned, accusations have been hurled, promises have been made, but now action must be taken.
There are 3 current themes for World AIDS Day:
LEAD – Pastors and churches need to take the initiative in servanthood. We must motivate our ministries to engage the community, particularly the overlooked and ignored. I applaud the efforts of Rick Warren and Saddleback Church who have invested millions into the eradication of AIDS in Africa, yet acting locally to serve those in the surrounding community.
EMPOWER – Church leaders need to instruct folks in compassion, lay down intolerance and opinions…and serve PEOPLE.
DELIVER – We MUST follow through. Talk is cheap. Campaigns are a show. If ask What Would Jesus Do? The answer is simple: minister healing, reconciliation, peace…and bring hope.