AIDS-Ribbon[1]We close this chapter of the “Advocating on the Road” series (where we explored Lutheran responses to HIV and AIDS in Washington, D.C.) with this blog piece.

Like ELCA members we’ve heard from in Washington, D.C., ELCA members across the United States — and Lutherans around the world — are working for an HIV and AIDS-free society. Lutherans everywhere share a hope that this virus, which has now claimed over 25 million lives worldwide can and will be defeated.

Lutherans are actively working to halt the spread of HIV (through effective prevention, treatment and care), eliminate the stigma and discrimination experienced by those who are HIV-positive, and reduce the conditions of poverty that contribute to the spread of the virus. Many ELCA congregations hold an annual Week of Prayer for the Healing of AIDS. Bishops of various ELCA synods organize educational programs for members in their area. Lutherans have discussed the pandemic and response at multiple ELCA Global Mission Gatherings and HIV and AIDS-specific regional events. Many congregations use ELCA World Hunger resources — like this one — to educate themselves on the connections among poverty, hunger and diseases, like HIV and AIDS. Church partnerships and support from ELCA World Hunger assist many HIV and AIDS-related ministries in African and Latin American countries, and the ELCA also funds significant work through The Lutheran World Federation (a global communion of 140 churches — including the ELCA — and 68 million people that are grounded in a common Lutheran faith). And this month alone, hundreds of ELCA members have written their member of Congress, asking them to prioritize investment in maximizing HIV infection prevention as well as the impact of HIV and AIDS treatment, at home and abroad.

As advocates, we cannot tire of this important work. While it’s understandable to feel discouraged by the severity, we must remember that advocacy efforts have spurred victories in the global fight against HIV and AIDS. U.S. travel restrictions on persons living with HIV and AIDS have been lifted; substantial progress has been made in prevention education; drugs can now prolong contraction of AIDS, giving millions of parents, children, partners and spouses, siblings and friends more precious time with their loved ones. Yet we know there is significant work left to be done.

On numerous occasions, Scripture lifts up Jesus as a healer. Even today, Jesus’ healing includes curing, but also saving, forgiving, reconciling and triumphing over the grave itself. As Christians, we need to continually proclaim this healing presence of Christ, while working — with our hands and our voices — to alleviate suffering and restore peace and dignity. Lutherans must be fervent advocates for policy that funds both research and relief, and addresses the underlying poverty that contributes to the perpetuation of HIV and AIDS in many parts of the world. Lutherans must be outspoken voices of welcome and inclusion in our congregations and our larger society. As Lutherans, we must tackle the virus — and its stigma — wherever it exists, looking past the disease and seeing a valued, important, beloved neighbor and child of God.