Posted by: howvoicebegan | 03/06/2011

HIV: The Scarlet Letters

For those who are far removed from the world of HIV, it is easy to think there is a simple solution to the endemic. I know I used to think that way. We so often hear, say, or think, “Well, if you’d quit sleeping around, you wouldn’t have HIV.” Yes, HIV is spread in Sub-Saharan Africa mostly through sex. But it’s not as simple as it sounds.

HIV risk starts in childhood, and I’m not even talking about mother-to-child transmission. It is common to find in the township that kids are not taught about sex, its dangers, and why to wait for marriage or at  the very least encouraged to wait until they are older. I actually know children who have become HIV+ at age 7 or 8 because that is when they became sexually active. One of them said to me, “If someone had told me to wait, I would have.”

At the current rates, one of these children will be HIV+ by adulthood.

Women are not equal to men in their “sexual rights” and do not have the ability to ask for condoms, especially if they suspect infidelity in the relationship. Many women are coerced into sex, being emotionally or physically abused and threatened when they say “no.” Some women are threatened by their partner saying he will find it somewhere else if she doesn’t give it to him. Some women are made to feel worthless if they don’t want to submit to a man’s every request.
For some women it is a free choice they make to have unprotected sex with multiple partners. For many women, it is a forced obligation. Rape is rampant; in a recent study, nearly 40% of South African men admit to rape. Top reasons listed: Feeling sexually entitled, trying to punish a woman, and boredom.

HIV/AIDS is destroying families. Spouses find out the hard way that they are being cheated on. Children are left without parents, or forced to take care of dying parents. HIV doesn’t care if you’ve been faithful, or if you are just a child, or if you were never educated.

HIV does symbolize sin in a certain aspect– it can hide in the deep recesses of the body, undiscovered, slowly wreaking havoc, silently destroying life, while on the outside you look “normal”– until one day your body can no longer hold it and its decay becomes visible to all. But, there is never a time to demonize those with HIV. We treat HIV as scarlet letters that “sinners” must carry on themselves for all to view publicly. Just because you don’t have an obvious mark on your body it does not mean you are entitled to throw the first stone.

I’m calling on the Church, particularly in Southern Africa, to step up its action in many areas:
1. Stop the stigmatization. HIV+ people are sinners, just like you. It is only because of God’s grace that you have health and life, for the wages of [all] sin is death (Romans 6:23).

2. Step up the effort to speak up about abstinence, faithfulness, or any sort of awareness for that matter. It’s time to stop letting the subject of sex go by the wayside for people to navigate themselves, only to condemn them later once they have fallen short of our unspoken standards.

3. Restore women to their rightful stance: as a human made in the image of God, just as much as men are. Men and women should be regularly taught in the church about equality and appropriate roles, and that a woman’s feelings about her relationships deserve respect.

4. Support groups for men should be established that emphasize fidelity and hold accountability in remaining faithful to their wives.

5. Love. Love the man who has cheated. Love the woman who made bad choices. Love the orphaned child. The world is already a dark enough place without Christians contributing to the mess. Let’s be a light to all. Let’s show what Christ’s compassion looks like.

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