In many of our churches, we sing a popular song entitled, “I Need You to Survive,” by Hezekiah Walker. The lyrics of the song convey a powerful message, “I need you; you need me. We’re all a part of God’s body.” It goes on to say, “You are important to me, I need you to survive.” When I hear the church singing this song, I often wonder if we realize what we are singing, because when it comes to the HIV/AIDS community many of its members feel as though the church does not have a need for them. In fact, the church has made them feel excluded. They feel like the church will survive just fine without them.
HIV/AIDS is running rampant in every community in the United States and around the world. Even though there is no cure as of yet, people living with HIV/AIDS are still able to enjoy a long, healthy life if the right treatment, love, and support are in place – the kind of love and support many of them never receive.
I also find it interesting that the church places a lot of emphasis on loving thy neighbor, yet there are so many people in the HIV/AIDS community who feel they have never received the precious love of a neighbor and especially from the church. In fact, women living with HIV/AIDS tell me it is the people in the church who have hurt them the most, from members in the pews to preachers in the pulpit.
As a pastor, I have always viewed the church as a trusted source in the community for both social support and where healthy coping strategies are developed; a place of refuge, the one place where those who are living with HIV/AIDS should be empowered and supported. But the truth is, in many churches, HIV/AIDS stigma, discrimination, and mistrust are thriving. The church, the very place that should be a safe haven, has become the source of hurt, rejection, and pain for people living with HIV/AIDS.
I must be honest and say, I am not sure whether the hurt, rejection, and pain are due to a lack of knowledge, plain arrogance, or a lack of compassion. Whatever the reason, as a church we must first and foremost, understand that, for a lot of people living or suffering from HIV/AIDS is through no fault of their own. If you stop and think about it, we all suffer from some type of malady, hurt or challenge because the world can be an unfair, unjust place. Secondly, we are to be the hands and feet of Jesus in our communities, meeting the spiritual, social, and economic needs of all people, and not just those we feel comfortable with. And thirdly, the church has a responsibility to serve and support our sisters and brothers living with HIV/AIDS through education and awareness in order to prevent this disease from ravaging our communities and to reduce the stigma and discrimination displayed towards people affected by, and living with, HIV/AIDS.
As a church, it is certainly not our place to judge. We have the opportunity to take care of some people who are hurting and need us, and we need them to survive as part of the body of believers in Christ Jesus. We need to build each other up and recognize that we need each other to be whole.
The Rev. Mary L. Mitchell,
Bartley Temple United Methodist Church