Mexico City, 1 August (ENI)
Medical experts from around the world have pleaded at the international Faith in Action Now inter-religious AIDS conference for greater sensitivity among faith-based groups on the relationship between the religions and HIV.
The conference is being attended by more than 600 church leaders from throughout the world, in advance of the International AIDS Conference also to be held in Mexico City.
Dr Jacob Gayle, deputy vice president of the Special Initiative on HIV/AIDS for the Ford Foundation, told the audience that too many churches even today respond to the topic of AIDS the way the Pharisees responded to Jesus when he helped outcasts.
However, he continued, there are also examples of a different approach to those with HIV.
"We've seen the benefits of having church leaders, living with HIV themselves, come forth to influence how the church responds to this problem," said Gayle. "They speak the language of those suffering."
Dr Christo Greyling, advisor on HIV/AIDS and Church/Faith-Based Organization Partnerships for World Vision International, said he became involved in the cause after he contracted the disease through medical exposure more than a decade ago.
"People in my congregation told me, 'We will support you, but those other people, they brought it on themselves'," he recounted.
Greyling urged audience members to understand the devastation brought on by church leaders who proclaim HIV/AIDS as a punishment from God.
"Sex is still seen as the ultimate sin," he said. "How is it we make the leap that if someone has AIDS, it was a result of promiscuity?"
Greyling identified a series of guiding principles followed by his organization that entailed people being "ambassadors of Christ", accepting "individuals as Christ accepts them", finding "wisdom from heaven", helping "people in practical ways", and upholding "the value and dignity of human beings".
Gayle for his part urged church leaders to provide "transformative leadership". He said, "There is room within the Church to understand that HIV isn't adjunct, but that it reflects the essence of our work when we focus on the teaching, 'We do this for the least of these'." He said faith leaders also need to see those with HIV/AIDS as peers. "We must not reach down, but we must reach across to make certain those affected by aids are equals in the room."
Gayle also urged his listeners to focus on simply loving people with HIV/AIDS in the spirit of Jesus while setting aside any agenda to preach or to proselytise.
"Solutions to the global crisis of HIV and AIDS are not possible without the active engagement of faith communities", said Dr Manoj Kurian, programme executive for health and healing at the World Council of Churches (WCC) speaking before the meeting. "Although churches and other faith communities around the world are providing critical input to overcome the pandemic, much more action is called for from us - action that upholds the teachings and values that guide us," he added.
The Geneva-based Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance, a broad international network of churches and Christian organizations cooperating in advocacy on global trade and HIV and AIDS, has provides overall coordination for the Mexico meeting taking place before the 3-8 August XVII International AIDS Conference, probably the largest conference on a single health issue to date.