Barriers to reducing HIV amongst Africa’s Gays
Amongst the many articles I have saved up and still need to write a blog post about (currently 36), was a news story on the HIV rate amongst Gay men in Africa. Its a difficult topic when one is dealing with entire states still in denial over the existence of Gay people. As a Christian, I realise this is an interesting topic to be dealing with, as many working to solve the situation would name religion as a major barrier to their work.
There seems to be an attitude that runs in some Christian circles that anyone who’s afflictions can be connected to something they’re doing that Christians don’t agree with, nothing should be done about the affliction until they’ve renounced the specific sin they’re involved with.
Now, I don’t want to have a huge discussion of what is and isn’t a sin, but rather to pick out the specifically bad theology of refusing people preventative treatment on the basis of what they are doing.
For instance, lets think about the parable of the Good Samaritan. Israelite’s weren’t just against the Samaritans for being a different ethnicity, they actively loathed them for their worship of God on “the wrong mountain” (this comes up again in the story of the woman by the well). We aren’t supposed to question someone’s lifestyle before helping them.
Or for that matter, mercy. How merciful is it to act in a way that condemns people to greater suffering, simply because we don’t agree with the actions that put them there. We (hopefully) don’t see someone sat begging in the streets and check that they weren’t complicit in their own downfall, their credit history, etc. before considering helping them.
Of course, I’m sure there are those reading this who are concerned that I’m advocating helping people sin more safely. Assuming an anti-Homosexuality stance, then that is indeed what I’m advocating. The bible doesn’t tell us to seek our own revenge on God’s behalf, indeed God’s own view is that vengeance is his and his only. We should be concerned with people’s well being, and sometimes that means immediate intervention, such as with free condom supplies and education. Besides, the same could help prevent the spread of Aids amongst people of any sexual practice.
After all, Jesus says “as you sow, so shall you reap”, not “as you sow, everyone else should ensure you get what’s coming to you”. Why should we question the reason for people’s suffering in our immediate response? We wouldn’t do this with someone trapped in a burning building, checking with the neighbours in case they’re a smoker, and we, therefore, are at risk of preventing God killing them with an unextinguished cigarette. It doesn’t work like that in any other circumstance.
I’m using some slightly stretched examples here, but anyone who condemns homosexuality is likely to also condemn smoking, so its not an unrealistic jump from one to the other; in both situations one would be condemning someone to death on the basis of their personal decisions, rather than doing all we can to care for them as individuals.
Of course, this is connected with many other problems around the world where sexuality and religion clash. I admire President Barack Obama’s decision to overturn the “Global Gagging Order”, the rule that prevented money from the US government funding groups that handed out contraceptives and family planning. As a Christian, I believe what he did was right and completely in line with biblical teaching on compassion. He’s not proposing that groups get funded to do anything that hasn’t been common place in the global north for decades, and there is strong empirical evidence that it improves people’s lives.
But actively helping Gay people other than in stopping being Gay (which is normally a disaster, see Peterson Toscano if you need help understanding that) just seems too much to handle for much of the Church. And there’s often considerable inter-play between cultural and religious stigmatism, whereby churches are actually aiming to reflect a socially understood conservative viewpoint rather than the gospel, and in which the majority in society is affirmed by religion at the expense of the minority where no such affirmation or condemnation is called for; heterosexuals are also sinners and gays are also loved by God.
But perhaps, despite the over-quoting of the verse, what’s really at stake is this: that “what you do for the least of them, you do also for me”, even if they are the least socially acceptable people in the least wealthy countries of the world, no matter who they are or why they’re at the bottom of society. I don’t see Jesus clarifying his “least of them”, he seems to mean it straight out, literally, in every way, no matter how uncomfortable the implications might be to us. If we’re to really preach Good News to the world, the Church needs to get right to the bottom of that scripture.