The following is my article for our church’s monthly newsletter, the Courant:
I remember the first time I met someone I knew had AIDS. It was the mid-90s. It was DesMoines, Iowa. I think I was a sophomore in college.
At the time, AIDS was a frightening, somewhat unknown, disease that people died from. At the time, the acronym elicited images of two groups: gay men (otherwise known – by most of my religious community – as “guilty victims”) and African children (i.e. “innocent” victims). I knew you couldn’t get AIDS from talking with someone who had it, but I remember being less certain about the idea of shaking hands, hugging, or sharing a bathroom.
Of course, a lot has changed in the last two decades. AIDS is now a disease people live with. I’ve known dozens of people with it – strangers, friends, classmates, colleagues – and I now know better than to be scared of them. When I hear the term, it no longer automatically brings to mind a particular type of people. Why? Because I now know its effects men and women, gay and straight. I now know that it doesn’t distinguish based on ethnicity or people-group. It isn’t limited to a particular income bracket, or a specific religious (or non-religious) community. AIDS, like cancer, is a fact of life in the 21st century.
Unlike cancer, however, the Christian Church often continues to stigmatize people with HIV/AIDS – trying to answer whether they’re “guilty” or “innocent” before determining if they’re welcomed or not. Mention a friend diagnosed with “the C word” during the prayer time at church and people will sigh knowingly and find you after the service to offer their help and support. Mention AIDS, and the room gets uncomfortably silent.
This is why I signed up for the Aids Red Ribbon Ride last year, and part of why I signed up for it again this year.
Don’t worry, this isn’t a fund-raising letter (although, of course, I am raising support again). This is bigger than just whether or not I come up with the money I’ve committed to raise for a bike ride. It’s about centering in on why the church exists (not just Pultneyville Reformed, but any Christian church). As I see it, the Christian Church exists for two key purposes: (1) worshipping God, and (2) providing a context through which we embrace (personally) and promote (publicly) God’s love and grace to all people.
Not just the people who look like us or think like us. Not just the people who love like us or have a similar income-tax bracket as we do. Not just the people we’ve decided are “innocent” or those whose differences are familiar.
As you look at yourself and our congregation, can you see ways that we could live out those two priorities more fully? Are there things we could do to help foster richer and more engaged worship? Are there new or creative ways we can nurture personal growth and publicly promote God’s love and grace to everyone in the world around us?
Let me know! I’ve love to hear your thoughts and dreams for the mission and ministry of our congregation!
Grace and peace,