How would Jesus respond to the HIV/AIDS pandemic? This is a good experiment in reflection as we approach World AIDS Day on December 1. Based on his actions in the Bible, I’m inclined to say that Jesus would be right in the midst of the pandemic — comforting those affected by AIDS, fighting to keep others from contracting HIV, and, in general, making himself a nuisance to politicians who aren’t moving fast enough to rid the world of this disease. When you read the Bible, you see that Jesus was constantly looking out for the lowest of the low in his society. He was there curing the lepers and respecting the prostitutes. Sadly, people living with HIV are all too often treated like lepers and scorned like prostitutes. With my belief and understanding of Christianity, I can’t be a Christian and not respond to this ever-growing pandemic.
Every week, I teach the youth group in my Sunday School. In my class we talk about sex, drugs, and rock and roll (well, more like hip-hop) and I am sure that these words would strike fear in the heart of any conservative God-fearing man. But as a 22-year old queer Christian with tattoos and piercings, I try not to preach down to my students about what they should or shouldn’t do. Rather, I try to meet them where they are — respecting their priorities and choices and providing as much factual information as I can to help them make responsible decisions.
I think Jesus would have told young people that the only 100 percent effective method of preventing HIV is choosing not to have sex. But I also believe he would have thought it unethical and hypocritical to withhold important life-saving information about condoms in the era of AIDS.
In reality, people are sexual beings and many (more than 95 percent) will have sex before they are married. This is why I don’t teach only abstinence to my teens. I know that many will have sex if they believe they are ready and they want to. So, instead of telling them that they’re evil for being sexual beings, I try to give them the right information about safer sexual practices. The Bible also teaches us that sexuality is a gift. I believe that. And while some abstinence-only proponents use God and fear to shame young people, I believe that our job as people of faith is to provide young people with the best of both worlds. Faith, values, and information — then, they can make their own informed decisions about both their sexuality and their faith.
The cornerstone of Christianity is to help those around you — in your neighborhood, your city, your country, and your world. When you see a person in need, you reach out and help, without demanding something in return. To me, the Christian thing to do is to stop the spread of AIDS without doing harm. Exporting policies that we know don’t work, like abstinence-until-marriage, through the purse strings of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), is not a Christian thing to do.
My HIV/AIDS activism is part of my Christian identity. Whether I am teaching Sunday School, organizing an AIDS forum on my campus, or lobbying a Member of Congress about better HIV/AIDS policy, my faith sustains me.
So, this World AIDS Day, ask yourself, “what would Jesus do?” Then, ask — what am I doing?