Franklin Graham, Billy Graham’s son and the leader of Samaritan’s Purse (a large Christian charity), authored an opinion piece, “Jesus is a model on how the church should respond to HIV/AIDS,” in the Washington Post, July 23, 2012.
I found his opinions outrageous.
He began with this statement:
In many ways today, HIV/AIDS has the same stigmas as leprosy did in Bible times. Leprosy was considered a death sentence. Victims were considered unclean and shunned by their families and communities. Yet, Jesus reached out to them, touched them, loved them, and healed them. This is the perfect representation of how the church should respond to people living with HIV/AIDS.
Had he stopped at that point, I would not have found his opinions outrageous. Jesus does want the Church (which includes people with HIV/AIDS, something Graham does not seem to acknowledge) to reach out to people with HIV/AIDS, touch them, love them, and contribute to their healing. The analogy with leprosy is apt, but, like all analogies, it is imperfect. Medical advances, if treatment is available, now mean that HIV/AIDS is not necessarily a death sentence even though a cure still eludes researchers.
First, Graham’s organization does not provide condoms. People will have sex. This includes married heterosexual couples, one of whom has HIV/AIDS. Distributing condoms and promoting their use slows the rate of HIV/AIDS infections. Education is part of the answer, but only part.
Second, Graham’s essay does not address the issue of rape, a major cause of the spread of HIV/AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa. Speaking to Christians is insufficient. The Church must carry its message into the world, standing against rape, ministering to those with HIV/AIDS, and working to rectify the rampant injustices that rob so many sub-Saharan Africans of hope, dignity, and respect for the worth of others.
Third, Graham writes, “We have to take responsibility for our lives and the decisions we make. That starts with the facts. And the fact is any type of sexual relationship outside a committed marriage between one woman and one man puts you at risk for contracting the virus.” That’s a lie. Homosexual marriage no more puts one at sexual risk than does heterosexual marriage.
Fourth, Graham’s comments appear to deemphasize the importance of the Christian community inclusively welcoming all of God's people, the healthy and the sick. The passing of the peace and Holy Communion afford the body of Christ dramatic opportunities to demonstrate God's radical welcome for all.
Anytime people or a society attempt to declare persons unclean and to shun them, the Church must stand with the unclean and the shunned. No one whom God has created is unclean, a lesson Peter learned in his vision in Acts 10.