Preaching the gospel of care and support

Although we’€™ve been living with HIV and AIDS for almost 20 years, the struggle to talk about it is far from over.

Churches are now taking up the challenge to encourage openess about the disease. At a recent one-day conference hosted by the religious and theology department at the University of the Western Cape, churches came together with various AIDS groups and community-based organisations to talk about how best to support people living with HIV/AIDS.

HIV/AIDS educator, Reverend Christo Greyling is HIV positive and is critical of the church’€™s silence about the epidemic.

“People who are living with HIV, [those who are] infected and affected by the virus, are sitting in our churches in our congregations and they have to live alone with the fact that they are HIV positive; afraid of stigmatisation, afraid of being rejected by the people they love.

“The church is silent about what we know is the hope and love and the Grace of God, but we do not demonstrate that in the way we care and we don’€™t preach that in our pulpits,” he said.

Greyling added that in the 1980s the Methodist Church declared itself a “Peace Church” whereby it played an important role in bringing about peace and reconciliation. He said it is in this spirit that churches can make a difference by talking about HIV and AIDS and starting to make it their responsibility.

A lecturer and counsellor at the University of Western Cape, Reverend Daniel Kuys, said it was important to know that HIV and AIDS was not only about health but it was also a spiritual issue.

“It is important to know that the church is there when you have a problem,” Kuys said.

He said that during during pre-marital counselling sessions he advised couples to have an HIV test, but emphasised that it was their decision.

Following the conference the theology department at UWC has committed itself to changing the curriculum to introduce HIV/AIDS as a subject. Social ethics lecturer at UWC Professor Russel Botman said in future, students would examine the ethical implications of HIV/AIDS, sexual behaviour, human dignity and the rights of women and children.

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