Tell them what they want to hear

I was browsing around the Internet after lunch, waiting on my latest experiment in the lab to finish up, and ran across a front-page commentary on CNN.com by Kay Warren, husband of Saddleback (Baptist) Church pastor Rick Warren, he of Purpose-Driven Life fame. In it, Mrs. Warren discusses what she considers to be the need for a greater Christian response to the HIV/AIDS crisis. I couldn’t agree more that we need a better response, but when I look at what she proposes, it ends up being misplaced moralizing, not charity.

She writes:

Twenty-five years into the AIDS pandemic, being HIV-positive still carries stigma and shame. But God cares for the sick and so must we.

It’s not a sin to be sick. The Bible tells us Jesus was repeatedly “filled with compassion” as he encountered broken bodies and broken minds. While polite society vigorously avoided contact with those they considered diseased outcasts, Jesus responded in a radical way: He cared, he touched, he healed.

I’m sorry, but there is a place in society for stigma and shame. Not all stigmas should be so, nor should all sources of shame, but let’s look at the hard facts. How do people contract HIV? I looked it up on the CDC’s website. Of the over 750,000 cases of HIV up through 2004 in men, over 90% were the result of homosexual activity or intravenous drug use. Another 8% were from heterosexual activity, which must be the result of infidelity on either their part or that of their spouse. In women, the breakdown is 40% from drug use and 55% from heterosexual activity. The facts do not admit an interpretation of HIV that conforms with Mrs. Warren’s comment that “to be sick is not a sin,” since almost every case of HIV is the result of sin. Not all illness are so; indeed most other illnesses are not like that. There is still a stigma attached, and rightly so, to diseases acquired through vice. We should be ashamed if the results of our sin are plain for other people to see. If we’re not, then I fear that we’re just encouraging others to sin more boldly, or even forget that sin even exists.

So, what should be the Christian’s response to HIV? Of course, we should minister to those sick with HIV, and treat them with charity and open arms. Of course, we should pray for alleviation of their suffering and for a cure. However, what we must not do is what Mrs. Warren did: focus entirely on their suffering and not on sin. If we are really to make a dent in the HIV epidemic, we must follow the lead of Uganda and focus on abstinence and fidelity. Attack the root causes; don’t simply plaster the wound.

But then again, I don’t think CNN would print my op-ed.

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9 Responses to “Tell them what they want to hear”


  1. 1 Bekah June 6, 2006 at 2:29 pm

    Christians are just as guilty as non-Christians of wanting to look the other way when it comes to the problems confronting our world, the topics that make us uncomfortable. But we need to be seriously disturbed about homelessness, child prostitution, rape, poverty, injustice, and HIV/AIDS.

    It’s another symptom of the divide between Catholic and Protestant. The Catholic Church has been caring for these people in dignity for years, now johnny-come-lately protestants are finally turning their eyes to the problem. But instead of joining and expanding already existing efforts, they need to begin anew like they’ve just encountered a totally new problem. The sin of schism looms large in so many areas.

    It is true, we need to keep in mind that sin is what drives this disease, and to work to eliminate it with that mindset. But those afflicted should be cared for as the innate dignity of man deserves.

    Removing stigma seems to be a popular pasttime these days. Nothing good has come of it, in my experience. We’ve removed the stigma from out-of-wedlock birth, so we have women looking to become single parents, from very young to the mature. We’ve removed the stigma from homosexuality, to find it becoming a popular alternative for youth to experiment with.

    So, you are right to be concerned on that issue. Stigma seems to be synonymous with ‘declaring sinful’, and that’s no longer acceptable to our tolerant friends.

  2. 2 Jimbo June 6, 2006 at 5:05 pm

    When are you Catholics going to figure out that only by transcending right and wrong can you get at the real heart of problems – a lack of OurBuddyJesus(tm)?

    (OurBuddyJesus is a trademark of the New-pan-fundy-gelical- church-of-the-giant-collection LLC)

  3. 4 Jimbo June 6, 2006 at 5:10 pm

    That’s a trademark violation, you dirty Papist.

  4. 5 Edmund C. June 6, 2006 at 5:12 pm

    Trademarks, shmrademarks. We don’t believe in democracy or in your pitiful United States of America.

  5. 6 Bekah June 6, 2006 at 5:21 pm

    How exactly do you pronounce “shmrademarks”?

  6. 7 Edmund C. June 6, 2006 at 5:22 pm

    It’s Latin. No one speaks it anymore. Dead language, ya know?

  7. 8 Bekah June 6, 2006 at 5:24 pm

    Funny, it looks more Jewish.

  8. 9 Edmund C. June 6, 2006 at 5:24 pm

    Well, you do realize we still do the Temple Sacrifices, don’t you?


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