Voices for Change

Advocacy ministries of the ELCA want to share stories and your voices about public policies and relevant advocacy issues that are of interest to you.

“HIV — you’re either infected or affected.”

Posted on July 30, 2012 by Advocacy Ministries of the ELCA

This piece is part of the Washington, D.C. installment of the ”Advocating on the Road” blog series.

By Kati Miller-Holland
Director, Church and Community Ministries
Lutheran Social Services of the National Capital Area  

 

A text message popped up on my phone recently:
Hey Kati!
Hi, Carla. How are u doing?
Ok, bored.
Are you taking any classes this summer?
No.
What’s new?
Nothin. [pause]
It’s my birthday tomorrow.
Wow, I remember last year, Carla. A lot of memories. Hugs.

Last year, Carla had just graduated from high school here in D.C. and was excited to turn 18. HIV-positive from birth, shy Carla had become a regular participant in our Youth Haven camps and retreats. Last spring, she seemed to have found her niche after serving as a junior counselor at our spring Family Retreat, playing with the younger children. Two weeks after her birthday, however, her mother died. And Carla and her brother were alone and afraid.

Her Youth Haven mentor answered that anxious call and stood by her and her brother. I got involved raising funds for the funeral and burial, brokering some peace with estranged relatives, and helping the kids move in with some cousins. At least once a month, Carla drops me a line to say hi and, in her quiet way, say thanks. It’s been a tough year since her mother’s death, but Carla knows that she has friends to talk with and adults who believe in her.

At our recent Teen Retreat, a camper asked Dara, our camp director, “What made you want to work with kids with HIV?” It was an honest and important question, because we’ve heard it plenty of times from our kids that they don’t want pity. Dara answered, “Actually, the job found me. I wasn’t actually looking for something like this.” I would answer the question the same way, too.

In 2004, Lutheran Social Services of the National Capital Area called me to develop its AIDS camp program because I had quite a few years of experience in outdoor ministry and engaging church members in community service. I knew a lot about children, youth, organizing trips and retreats, and wrangling volunteers . . . but I didn’t know much about how HIV impacts the lives of kids in our urban centers, like Washington, D.C., here in the United States.

In 2004, 90 percent of our campers, like Carla, were HIV-positive. That’s about all I knew, mostly because the program was, frankly, pity-based. We rounded up these kids once a year, gave them a week of fun in the Maryland mountains, and then disconnected from them until the following year. I learned about the impact that stigma was having on their lives, about the linkages between poverty and the explosion of HIV cases in the African American community, about the “aging” of maternally infected youth unprepared to live-and-not-die. I became convinced that we were called to do more; we were called to do better by these young people.

These days, we work year-round with a variety of community partners to help our kids achieve goals that will help them live-and-not-die: to feel healthy and strong, to feel good about themselves, to have strong, healthy peer friendships and relationships with caring adults, to identify and develop sparks of interest that will give them career direction.

Last year, only 47 percent of our campers were living with HIV/ AIDS. (There has not been a baby born with HIV in D.C. since 2009 because of better testing and treatment of HIV-positive mothers.) The rest are “affected” — living in a household with an HIV-positive parent, or orphaned because of AIDS. We’re doing some new programming with kids and parents together. And we’re spending most of our time with youth between the ages of 14 and 21, who are proving to be particularly vulnerable to homelessness, crime and health relapses.

As we meet and collaborate with our partners, we continue to learn and be challenged to fight AIDS stigma and walk with young people who are looking for hope and a future. Our kids teach us to be compassionate, not pitying; to know them by name and not by a label.

I learned a lot of things, but the most important thing I learned came from an activist’s slogan: “HIV — you’re either infected or affected.”

That central truth rang a bell with me, because it’s the kind of thing that I’ve always known about Jesus’ compassionate ministry. Jesus approached the suffering and evil around him with this same attitude: Poverty. Demons. Oppression. Illness. Sin. We’re all either infected or affected. We’re in this together, whether we like it or not. For the “infected,” Jesus has compassion. For the “affected,” Jesus calls them to repentance and reconciliation.

These days, it means we need to come to terms with our participation in stigmatizing people who live with HIV/AIDS, and change our ways. The good news is that Jesus offers healing for everyone, and he extends open arms of unconditional love and mercy.

Kati Miller-Holland at camp!

“We can do a lot as a church…”

Posted on July 26, 2012 by Advocacy Ministries of the ELCA

This piece is part of the Washington, D.C. installment of the “Advocating on the Road” blog series. 

By the time the Centers for Disease Control first used the acronym AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) in the fall of 1982, the disease was already heavily stigmatized in the United States. Reports of the disease were mounting weekly, and the public was becoming increasingly aware of the linkage to gay men and intravenous drug users — groups that were already stigmatized. While the medical community searched for definitive evidence on what caused the disease and how it was transmitted (and elected officials, including President Reagan, remained silent in the face of a growing epidemic), many Americans responded to the disease with fear and judgment.

It was during this uncertainty that Karin Klingman — a member of Christ Lutheran, an ELCA congregation in Washington, D.C.—was beginning her medical career as a resident physician. Now an infectious disease doctor and involved in clinical research at the National Institutes of Health, Karin felt compelled to work with HIV and AIDS patients in the early 1980s when “nobody wanted to touch them and yet somebody needed to be caring for them.” She says, “I’ve always had a great deal of compassion for these patients — they were always a marginalized group: the gay men whose families didn’t come to visit them; the IV drug users whose lives were a mess; and other people who were shocked to be dealing with the life-threatening disease they didn’t expect to get.” Since then, Karin has devoted her career to working with HIV and AIDS patients and, since coming to the National Institutes of Health, being involved in research that focuses on treatments for HIV-infected people.

Outside of work, Karin engages members of her congregation and other Lutherans and Christians in D.C. to tackle stigmatization and serve those living with the disease. “The D.C. area has a special need to focus on HIV and AIDS and try to get the prevalence rate down,” she says. “We can do a lot as a church to welcome marginalized people, make them feel whole.”

Most recently Karin has been a leader within Lutheran Grace, a group of Lutherans in the D.C. region who are committed to reducing the stigma of HIV and AIDS, as they participate in the 2012 International AIDS Conference currently taking place in Washington, D.C. They are a strong Lutheran presence at the Global Village, and the only church denomination with a booth in this diverse space where people from all over the world meet, share and learn from one another. Through the ELCA Metropolitan Washington, D.C., Synod, Lutheran Grace has recruited volunteers and church members from all over the synod and other regions to create prayer cards for their booth in the Global Village. “It’s been phenomenal the way people have embraced this. We never expected this response, and I couldn’t have expected more than what they’ve done,” Karin says.

When asked what she has learned about working with HIV and AIDS professionally and within her congregation, Karin responds, “I’ve seen that people don’t realize they should worry about HIV unless they’ve been personally affected. Once you start talking about it, they start to understand stigma and how that makes living with the disease so much worse. I think the church should commit itself to being inclusive and welcoming to people with HIV and AIDS and not judge what they’ve done or why they’ve gotten the disease.

“Unless we’re compassionate about the disease, it’s never going to go away — people won’t be tested and people won’t take drugs because they’re scared of being identified. We won’t be able to combat the disease. We have to keep talking about it; people in the church are receptive to learning. I think the church is a good place to talk about it — we are supposed to welcome all people.”

Keep checking back for more updates on the “Advocating on the Road” series.  Look for more blogs on HIV and AIDS in Washington, D.C. and beyond in the coming days.

The Bishop of Metro D.C. Synod, Rev. Richard Graham and Lutheran World Federation delegates to the International AIDS Conference join Karin and other volunteers with Lutheran Grace at their booth in the Global Village.

HIV and AIDS in Washington, D.C.

Posted on July 24, 2012 by Advocacy Ministries of the ELCA

This piece opens the Washington, D.C. insallment of the “Advocating on the Road” series.

This month the “Advocating on the Road” series stops in the District of Columbia, where we look at Washington, D.C., not solely as the nation’s capital, but as a community in which more than 600,000 people build their lives.

More than a patch of land holding majestic monuments and palatial museums, Washington, D.C., is a real community with real people facing real problems. One does not have to travel far from the grand symbols of our Republic and the recognized centers of power to see the effects of disease, poverty and crime here. This “real” D.C. faces many challenges, among them being the rampant spread and heartbreakingly high rates of HIV and AIDS within the District. In fact, health official and activists have labeled Washington, D.C., as an epicenter of HIV and AIDS in the United States.

Last month, the D.C. Department of Health released the 2011 annual report on HIV and AIDS in the District. Although there was progress made in providing access to care and improving long-term health outcomes, HIV and AIDS remains a grave problems for D.C. residents and the mayor’s administration. The report found that 2.7 percent of D.C. residents (nearly 14,500 people) are living with HIV — a percentage that exceeds the World Health Organization’s definition of 1 percent as a generalized epidemic. While all racial/ethnic groups in the District exceed the 1 percent rate of infection, Washington’s African American population is disproportionately impacted — 4.3 percent of African Americans in D.C. are HIV positive. The report also found that men having sex with men and heterosexual contact are the two leading transmission modes of new HIV cases in D.C.

In the face of this health crisis, Lutherans in Washington, D.C., are actively responding with compassion. ELCA members and congregations (some of whom we will hear from in this month’s blog series) work to serve and welcome their neighbors living with HIV. On National HIV Testing Day in June 2010, several ELCA congregations were joined by area Episcopalian, Presbyterian, and Baptist churches in a campaign called, “God’s People Are Tested” in which adults and youth learned about the epidemic and were tested.

Participation in these types of events is important, explains Karin Klingman, a member of Washington’s Christ Lutheran Church, because it reduces the damaging stigma associated with HIV. “When being tested, people have to learn about the disease, opening them up to more compassion with those coping with HIV. Testing helps normalize discussion about AIDS.”

Through similar testing events, participation in the International AIDS Conference later this month, advocating for better services for those living with HIV, and welcoming all people into their congregations, ELCA members in the District are sharing Christ’s love in their communities. Seeing the person and not the disease, not judging their past but acknowledging their dignity and individuality, these Lutherans are working to restore and reconcile communities in Christ’s name throughout Washington, D.C.

Keep an eye on the “Advocating on the Road” blog series throughout the next few days — we will hear more from Karin Klingman and other Lutherans on HIV and AIDS in Washington, D.C.

God of Creation…

Posted on July 4, 2012 by Advocacy Ministries of the ELCA

We close the Colorado leg of the “Advocating on the Road” blog series with this prayer by two local ELCA pastors, the Rev. Susan Candea and the Rev. Matt Converse

God of creation,
the mountains declare your majesty,
the trees reach up to give you praise,
the rivers and lakes proclaim your glory as they flow through the land,
the incredible diversity of creation sings your sovereignty and splendor,
And over all this beloved creation, you have called us to be faithful  stewards. Yet we have not been faithful to you, to your creation, to our own identities  and roles in creation. And so we pray:

Give us the gift of discontentment; discontentment with the way things are.
Open our eyes to see and our ears to hear the injustice and brokenness in our world.
Make us discontent with the disproportionate harm environmental racism does to    countless communities;
Make us discontent with the unsustainable way we continue to use the world’s     resources,
Make us discontent with the inequitable way those resources are distributed,
Make us discontent with all the ways we fall short in stewarding your precious creation.
Let our discontentment turn to longing; longing for a better world.
Longing for a world where diversity is celebrated and burdens are shared equally,
Longing for a world that wisely uses renewable resources like solar and wind,
Longing for a world where none shall have need in the midst of abundance,
Longing for a sustainable world.
Turn our longing into hope; a hope of transformation for us and the world.
A hope we find in the story of liberation from slavery in Egypt;
A hope found in the imagination of the prophets;
A hope found in the new community created in the life, death and resurrection of    Jesus;
A hope found in the re-imaging of the world and community of Paul’s letters;
A hope found everywhere the church accompanies the oppressed and marginalized.
May this hope bring real and sustainable change so creation may once again sing out with your glory. Amen

 

Policy needed for renewable energy expansion

Posted on July 2, 2012 by Advocacy Ministries of the ELCA

This piece is part of the Colorado installment of the “Advocating on the Road” blog series.

By Mary Minette, director for environmental education and advocacy, ELCA Washington Office

In Genesis 2:15, God calls us to be good stewards of the earth’s gifts. That means protecting our air and water quality for its own sake, for our fellow creatures, and for our own benefit. Our energy choices impact air and water quality in profound ways: we burn coal to generate electricity and release mercury into our air, which eventually finds its way into water, fish and the food chain. We burn fossil fuels in our power plants and in our cars and pollute the air in our cities, leading to increases in childhood asthma and in premature deaths due to lung and heart ailments. 

In this month’s “Advocating on the Road” series, we’ve heard from ELCA members and congregations in Colorado who take their stewardship of God’s earth, and our collective air and water, very seriously. They have made a morally based decision to pursue cleaner ways to power their congregations, and to advocate that their state adopt a renewable energy standard (RES). A state RES requires that state-licensed utilities obtain a percentage of their power from renewable sources like wind or solar.

Colorado is fortunate to have a state RES; in other states with RES provisions, residential and commercial adoption of renewable energy systems is growing, generating both benefits for the earth and jobs for the companies and people that build and install solar panels, geothermal systems and wind turbines. It seems like I hear a new story of an ELCA congregation doing its part to steward God’s creation in these ways every week. Other ELCA institutions are also doing their part — Luther College recently received an award for its efforts to cut energy use and expand its use of renewable energy by, among other things, building its own wind turbine and installing solar panels.

But not all states have an RES, and efforts to pass a national RES are stalled in Congress. A national RES, together with existing supports and policies (including federal tax credits), would help to encourage even greater expansion of renewable energy technologies and reduce our country’s dependence on fossil fuels. This would not only reduce smog in our cities and mercury in our lakes and rivers, but also would reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and help us begin to address the issue of climate change. In the U.S., the largest single source of the carbon dioxide emissions that scientists tell us are a primary cause of climate change is the electric power industry, accounting for about 40 percent of all U.S. emissions. More than 80 percent of these emissions come from older, dirtier coal-fired facilities, which are also a major source of smog-causing nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide and mercury.

Another way that federal and state governments support renewable energy is through the use of tax policies that support investment in these technologies. The federal government also funds research into new energy technologies as a way to spur innovation and investment in the private sector. However, federal support for renewable energy pales in comparison to the decades of support given to fossil fuel-based energy, which still receives the lion’s share of federal tax breaks and research dollars even though the industry is mature and established as compared to the far younger and less developed renewable energy industry.

Our governments need to prioritize the research, implementation and expansion of renewable energy sources. ELCA members in Colorado and around the country are realizing that energy choices have consequences for God’s earth, and are choosing to invest in renewable energy as a way to live out their faith. These people, and many other Americans, are doing their part to work toward a cleaner, healthier earth. Our leaders now must make policy choices that protect God’s creation, by encouraging investment in renewable energy sources.