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Reflections on the 2017 U.S. Conference on AIDS


December 1 is World AIDS Day, an important time to learn, advocate, and pray. It is a time to celebrate how far we have come in the fight against HIV and AIDS – and how far we have yet to go.

This September, six ELCA Young Adult delegates, supported by ELCA World Hunger and Lutheran Campus Ministries, attended the United States Conference on AIDS (USCA) in Washington, DC. The USCA is a key event for activists, medical professionals, non-profits organizations and others to learn about the latest challenges and opportunities in the fight against HIV and AIDS. ELCA delegates heard from leaders in a variety of fields and engaged in conversations around connections with their faith. Below, Yen Tran and Richard Adkins, attendees at this year’s conference, share their reflections on the event.

ELCA staff and delegates at the United States Conference on AIDS

Richard Adkins – “The stigma is real”

Richard Adkins has over 10 years experience involved in HIV and AIDS. He has led numerous workshops around stigma reduction. He has been a member of the ELCA’s Young Adult cohort, an ambassador for ELCA World Hunger, and a youth delegate for the 2014 International Aids Conference.  

One of the most dangerous obstacles in the fight against HIV and AIDS is stigma.  Yes stigma. The medical treatment of the disease has come a long way and HIV is no longer the death sentence it was in the early 1980s. In fact, the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently agreed with the science from the U = U campaign, that if a person is on treatment and virally suppressed, they cannot transmit the virus. The medical community has provided the knowledge and treatment to keep people alive and reduce the spread of HIV.

Antiretroviral therapy (ART) preserves the health of people living with HIV…When ART results in viral suppression…it prevents sexual HIV transmission. CDC, 2017

Despite these medical advances, the rate of annual infections only decreased 10% in 2014.  What is the reason? Stigma.

Stigma is a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or persons. The stigma surrounding HIV is unique in that part of it comes from the history. In the early 1980s and 1990s, people were dying, little could be done, and little information was known about the disease. The stigma also comes from how it’s transmitted, through injection drug use and through bodily fluids exchange through sex, both highly taboo subjects. The population that HIV disproportionally affects are gay males and people of color, so HIV is further stigmatized through homophobia and racism. There is an intersectionality of stigma experienced that can be made worse by race, class, sexual orientation, gender identity and/or other factors.

The cycle of stigma is a vicious one that can reinforce negative beliefs and behavior. HIV stigma leads to discrimination, which can affect the ability of people living with HIV to find work or housing, which in turns contribute to a lower self-esteem. This can even cause a person to avoid doctor’s appointments, which leads to poorer health outcomes and more stigma. The stigma is then reinforced through negative or false beliefs or even stigma from enacted laws. The end result of stigma is that fewer people get tested, and those living with the virus live in secrecy and silence.

If stigma feeds on shame and isolation, the key to overcoming stigma, is community and understanding.  It starts with information, knowing how the virus is transmitted and how it is not. The next step is acknowledging HIV. The United States currently ranks 9th for most people living with HIV at 1.1 million people. These are people in our communities, in the same neighborhoods, attending our faith communities, the same schools. They are often in the shadows for fear of not being accepted and of facing discrimination. Ending stigma means seeing people for more than their status, and creating a safe and welcoming environment for all.

Yen Tran – “We Are Family”

Yen Tran is a Public Health Professional. She implements sustainable practices and promotes healthy living environments for the St. Paul Public Housing Agency in Minnesota. She enjoys collaborating with diverse populations, who have a common mission to flourishing equitable communities. Yen resides in Wisconsin with her partner, who is an ELCA Pastor for North Beaver Creek Church.

This upbeat, make-you-want-to-groove song by Sister Sledge, was played continually throughout the U.S. Conference on AIDS. Community members from across the country have united for more than two decades now at these important events. The annual frequency has transformed the gathering into something like a “family reunion.” A time to catch up with familiar faces, welcome new arrivals, to share and listen to numerous stories of triumphs, challenges, and hopes, and to be re-energized in the mission to end to this HIV and AIDS epidemic.

Reunions of any sorts always stir a spectrum of emotions. Whether it’s feeling excited to reconnect with distant friends or feeling dreadful to encounter new faces or re-encounter a particular person who drove you to the edge. During the reunion, I experienced both ends of the spectrum. I felt nervous, excited, amazed, saddened, disappointed, hopeful, empowered, and many times, hangry when I didn’t get a snack in between the workshops. However, at the end of this particular reunion, I felt overwhelmed with love and filled with inspiration.

As a Midwestern, first-generation, Asian-American, Catholic, cisgender, ‘negative-status’ person, I was welcomed open-armed into this diverse family. I felt privileged to be trusted and to hear personal struggles of how the social, environmental, and political systems have hurt or failed to protect the most vulnerable populations. I saw how various determinants of health, such as education, economic stability, society, access to health care, and the physical environment, have tremendously impacted a persons’ mental and physical well-being. Though there were many lessons I learned from the stories shared, but these three facts have blown me away:

  1. There has been immense progress in medicine (like PrEP[1]) to help a positive-status person prevent the transmission to their partner(s), and innovative technology has improved access to health centers and resources.


  1. Social stigma has been one of the primary culprits in hindering the end to the HIV and AIDS epidemic.


  1. There are unjust laws that have incarcerated many populations based on their health status. Policies need to be re-evaluated, adapted, and implemented to prevent and address inequities.

Overall, the conference created a sanctuary, an environment that was inclusive and encouraged all voices to be heard. A community where I felt so at home. It would be wishful thinking that all communities – schools, workplaces, spiritual centers, healthcare clinics, public centers, etc. – can be just as inviting and supportive. I know not every community (and not every families) may have similar priorities, support systems, resources, values, and policies that may promote such environments.

However, we are equipped to learn open-mindedly, to love unconditionally and to listen humbly to diverse perspectives. We can set aside our differences or claimed identities and realize that we are not perfect human beings. We do wish to do good, to be valued and for our voices to be heard. Most importantly, we have the ability to unite as a family and to uplift each other.

The missions to end epidemics, stigmas, and inequities are attainable:

Here’s what we call our golden rule

Have faith in you and the things you do

You won’t go wrong, oh no,

This is our family jewel….


Yen and Richard at USCA




Congregational Resources for World AIDS Day 2017


Today’s post is from Megan Neubauer, Program Associate for the ELCA Strategy on HIV and AIDS. This post originally appeared on the ELCA Worship blog.

Spirit of the living God, you breathe on all that is. You lead us from the places of pain and difficulty to your cool living waters of health and wholeness. Through you every tear is wiped away and we are transformed by your wellsprings of life.

-Litany from ELCA worship resources for World AIDS Day

December 1st is quickly approaching. Each year, this is a day set aside to commemorate World AIDS Day; a day of remembrance, awareness, and commitment to action.

In 2009, the ELCA Churchwide Assembly passed the ELCA’s Strategy on HIV and AIDS, outlining where the ELCA is being called in the response:

  • Called to biblical and theological reflection in community
  • Called to effective prevention, treatment, and care
  • Called to eradicate stigma and discrimination
  • Called to walk with companion churches and partners in other countries
  • Called to advocate for justice
  • Called to build institutional capacity and make strategic choices

The ELCA and each of its members have the opportunity to speak out powerfully against all forms of stigma, discrimination and systemic inequality. Together, we can be affirming communities and engage in open conversations. Collectively, we can raise our voices in advocating for just policies. And as a community of faith, we can begin in worship and prayer.

Coming together on Dec. 1st, or at our usual worship times on Sunday, Dec. 3rd, we join our neighbors around the world as we honor all who have lost their lives to AIDS-related illnesses; we seek encouragement to take bold action; we rejoice in scientific advances in effective prevention, treatment and care; and we are sent out in peace, freed to act.

As we gather this World AIDS Day, remember that on this and every day, we are called to respond.

You can find ELCA Worship resources here. The full ELCA Strategy on HIV and AIDS, along with other resources for World AIDS Day can be found here. You can also stay connected with the ELCA’s Strategy on HIV and AIDS on social media @ELCAHIVandAIDS, and can share what your congregation is planning for World AIDS Day 2017.

We thank you that by the life-giving power of your spirit you bestowed upon us, your people, such gifts as are needed to respond to the situation at hand. Pour on us all that we need to stop AIDS and reach out to everyone affected with compassion, healing and hope.

May we know your call to be leaders in this struggle and employ the courage, wisdom and resources you have given to respond to HIV and AIDS.

A Time to Listen: The ELCA and HIV & AIDS

By Allison Beebe

ELCA World Hunger recently held an event outside of Atlanta, Georgia on the topic of HIV & AIDS. Those in attendance were a blend of professionals in the field, people with personal testimonials related to HIV & AIDS, and interested members of the faith community. We looked at HIV & AIDS from our vantage point in the U.S., and also from an international perspective. It was an event which encouraged open dialogue and informed action.


I have had a heightened interest in HIV & AIDS after spending some time in East Africa. While in college, I studied and volunteered in Kenya through a program called “Minnesota Studies in International Development.” This particular study abroad program focused on public health as it relates to international development.


This experience brought me to an organization called “Solidarity with Women in Distress” or SOLWODI. This organization provides vocational training, access to basic health care and counseling to women who find themselves in difficult situations. Specifically, SOLWODI serves women who have been coerced into commercial sex work. Prevalence rates of HIV & AIDS are high within this demographic. With families to support and no jobs to be found in their community, women have sold their bodies in a desperate attempt to earn some income. Many of the women who frequented SOLWODI were people living with HIV or AIDS. They came for health screenings or vocational training, but stayed for the encouraging community where they wouldn’t be judged for their actions. While I admittedly arrived at SOLWODI with my own set of stigmas and assumptions, I left knowing that these were women with hearts of gold in desperate situations. They inspired me to find ways that I could be involved with the HIV & AIDS community in my home context.


The time spent in Atlanta reminded me of my cherished Kenyan friends. This was a chance to stand in solidarity with them, and rally around the same cause though we are in different places. When one member of the body of Christ suffers, we all suffer.  With that logic, when one member of the body of Christ stands up against injustice, we can all stand together.


One of the things I took away from the event was that hunger and HIV & AIDS are very closely connected. Some reasons are obvious – people who are not eating a nutritious diet are not as healthy, and therefore have a more difficult time fighting off disease. Some reasons related to my SOLWODI sisters – people who are hungry will do anything to earn money for a good meal. This can lead to prostitution, where HIV & AIDS is more likely to be transmitted. Some reasons are consequential – once a person contracts HIV, they must purchase medicine, which may prevent them from purchasing adequate food. As the list goes on, it becomes clear that hunger is a thread which is woven into the HIV & AIDS story.


It is my hope that people left Atlanta knowing that ELCA World Hunger is a place where they can be engaged to support work related to HIV & AIDS. When we fight against hunger, we fight against many more issues of injustice, not the least of which is HIV & AIDS.

Allison Beebe, Assistant for Constituent Relations ELCA World Hunger

World AIDS Day: The Lazarus Effect

Tomorrow is the 22nd World AIDS Day, a day to raise awareness and fight the stigma of HIV and AIDS (see also the very informative Web page).  As I have written earlier,

AIDS and hunger are closely intertwined.  AIDS is rapidly spreading in the most impoverished areas of the world—places where education, women’s and children’s rights, and peace are hard to come by.  Many areas, especially Sub-Saharan Africa, are trapped in a vicious cycle in which the symptoms of poverty facilitate the spread of the disease while the lives and productivity lost to the pandemic further impoverish vulnerable communities.  Moreover, AIDS is especially devastating to hungry persons.  Malnourished persons cannot take anti-retroviral drugs—an empty stomach cannot handle the powerful medicine.  In the absence of drugs and adequate nutrition, HIV develops into AIDS more quickly.  Once a person has AIDS, more food is needed to fight the illness and counteract weight loss.

On the flip side, when someone is given the food and drugs that are essential to effectively addressing the disease the results are miraculous.

This year, take some time to watch the Lazarus Effect and learn more about HIV and AIDS and the amazing transformations that can happen if someone is simply given access to life saving drugs (drugs that cost less 40 cents a day!).   After watching, do something about it: learn more, share the film with a friend, give.

David Creech

National Week of Prayer for the Healing of AIDS

This week is the National Week of Prayer for the Healing of AIDS.  According to the Web site,

The National Week of Prayer for the Healing of AIDS is the coming together of all people of faith to unite with purpose, compassion and hope. Through the power of God’s love we will educate every American about HIV prevention facts; encourage and support HIV testing; advocate for the availability of compassionate care and treatment for all those living with the disease in every community in America; and love unconditionally all persons living with and affected by HIV/AIDS.

ELCA World Hunger has many reasons to be engaged in HIV and AIDS work.  AIDS and hunger are closely intertwined.  AIDS is rapidly spreading in the most impoverished areas of the world (including the poorest areas of the United States)—places where education, women’s and children’s rights, and peace are hard to come by.  Many areas, especially Sub-Saharan Africa, are trapped in a vicious cycle in which the symptoms of poverty facilitate the spread of the disease while the lives and productivity lost to the pandemic further impoverish vulnerable communities.  Moreover, AIDS is especially devastating to hungry persons.  Malnourished persons cannot take anti-retroviral drugs—an empty stomach cannot handle the powerful medicine.  In the absence of drugs and adequate nutrition, HIV develops into AIDS more quickly.  Once a person has AIDS, more food is needed to fight the illness and counteract weight loss.

Join us this week in prayer and advocacy with and on behalf of those living with HIV and AIDS.  To learn more about the ELCA’s engagement in the National Week of Prayer for the Healing of AIDS, click here.

-David Creech

Excerpts from my time in Sweden

Last Autumn I had the opportunity to study for a semester in Sweden. Looking to fill some requirements for my International Studies major back home I signed up for the course Global Health. At the time, it slipped my mind that Sweden is known for this kind of study and research. As I sat amongst students from Sweden, Poland, the Netherlands, South Korea and Zambia who were studying subjects which ranged from nursing to psychology, I realized that I was in for an eye-opening semester. As you read, please keep in mind that all of the facts are already a year old, but their significance is no less impactful. This blog is a very short snippet of all that I learned in that class; below are the concepts and figures that moved and surprised me the most.

Excerpts from my final paper:

• “I was also struck by a statement which one of the presenters recalled from one of the older Zambian women, ‘When the white men came we saw that we were poor.’ I believe that we have as much to learn from struggling peoples as they have to learn from us, they are rich in other aspects of life.”

• “I also found it fascinating when Mr. Almroth talked about how children need love, and when their parents die they are more likely to get sick as well. It’s amazing how something so simple can have such deep and compounding impact. It’s hard to realize how much that love is taken for granted in developed countries where health is expected and sickness can be treated.”

• “Additionally, the knowledge that female literacy is most directly connected to child mortality, and that fifty percent of all child deaths could be prevented through female literacy surprised me.”

• “Education empowers women, gives children more access to healthcare, encourages micro-loan systems, informs about water sanitation and improves infant survival through breast feeding.”

• “I was finally incredibly relieved to hear Mr. Almroth talk about the fear of over-population. I admit that I was one of those people who are often conflicted by compassion for people in need and scientific numbers of over-population. Hearing that increased child survival has always lead to less pregnancy was all I needed to hear for my fears to be quickly relieved and my compassion to take over!”

• “I was encouraged to think about AIDS as a result of poverty, not necessarily a lack of knowledge. This cuts at the basic human need to survive, and when people see no way to make money, they turn to dangerous practices to survive. When it is knowledge vs. necessity, necessity always wins.”

• “Standing at twice the African regional average, 150 out of 100,000 people in Zambia are infected with tuberculosis. Of those infected, over half are co-infected with HIV/AIDS. Zambia is currently working to improve lab facilities, increase community awareness, expand public-private partnerships (such as support groups who visit patients,) increase printed and circulated materials and conduct training of health workers.”

• “One very cool way of disease education that Zambia has implemented is grounded in schools. Each year on World AIDS Day and World Malaria Day formal debates are held between students in schools to increase awareness of the disease crises.”

• “Every year 7.5 million women and babies die unnecessarily due to pregnancy-related causes, NOT disease. This is 50% more people than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined! In poor nations around the world poverty causes death in heart-wrenching ways because the cure is both known and attainable. On one side of the problem lies a lack of funding for pregnancy care and neonatal mortality prevention and the shift of educated doctors from rural Africa to lucrative Europe. On the other side of the problem lies hope. The greatest resource that Africa needs to improve the maternal health situation is educated midwives. Additionally, the country of Mozambique is leading the way by training ‘non-physician clinicians’ to perform cesarean sections, obstetric hysterectomies, laparotomies and other life-saving emergency obstetric care. These clinicians also exist in rural Malawi and Tanzania, creating an incredible resource where doctoral care is limited or non-existent…Cures and preventative methods are known, available and common; proper funding, education and trained professionals are what the world is waiting for.”

Thanks to lecturers Almroth, Berggren, Halling and Bergström.

Service Opportunities for the 21st Century

This is the fourth and final post in our series by young adults on the topic of HIV/AIDS.

It is written by Ryan Fordice, a Luther College Alumnus. He attends Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Dubuque, IA, and has previous experience centered on social justice.


As we in the ELCA continue to shape our identity and mission for the 21st century, it has become clear that we intend to not just continue our central focus on humanitarian concerns but expand and intensify it. The long‑overdue call for an official AIDS policy is a major component of our forward motion. This push and the commitment to action that absolutely must follow will challenge the ELCA to utilize the full depth of its resources, especially the remarkable individual talent and energy of our five million members. One mechanism through which we can advance our humanitarian mission is full time service opportunities. The personal, church-wide and societal benefits of service are great for people of any demographic, but the situational conditions of youth and recent graduates make the investment of offering meaningful service to young adults especially fruitful for a couple reasons.

Firstly, they often have the extraordinary freedom to set aside a year for service, and the simple immediate effect of this full time work is invaluable in and of itself. Secondly, and this is really the heart of the issue, the investment of self in a meaningful cause through service forms a lasting personal concern with that cause. If we offer expanded and increased service opportunities for our youth that are intentionally focused on the problems we have prioritized,—AIDS, for example—in addition to the immediate benefit of their labors we will gain the long-term benefit of planting the humanitarian priorities of the ELCA deeply into the hearts and minds of these young adults who have already demonstrated that they will be advocates and active citizens through their service.

Since I am most familiar with HIV/AIDS and was a member of the ELCA’s youth delegation to the International AIDS Conference I will deal with this issue as an example. If combating the AIDS pandemic is going to be a priority of the ELCA in the 21st century (and I believe our faith demands it must), we must drastically increase the opportunities we give our members to serve with HIV/AIDS projects and organizations.

In perusing the ELCA’s mission and service websites I found the following regarding AIDS service opportunities for young adults in our primary domestic service organization, the Lutheran Volunteer Corps: From 2003‑2005, the LVC had placements in six organizations nationwide working with an AIDS organization. In the 2007‑2008 placement listing there are only three organizations—providing five total placements—listed that obviously focus on HIV/AIDS. This list is not broken down by category, so there may be some organizations that deal with AIDS and have names that do not immediately suggest this, but whatever the case, at any given time the ELCA is providing the opportunity to work in domestic AIDS organizations to a single digit number of young adults at maximum.

The situation is similar for our primary international service organization for youth, Young Adults in Global Mission. Of the nine global sites, only one—South Africa—includes a focus on AIDS. The scope of our AIDS service offerings must be expanded dramatically, both to increase our immediate response to the crisis and invest in future societal and church leaders to champion the cause.

We have a wealth of passionate young adults currently serving in an admirable domestic and international service system; this call is not meant to belittle or criticize this. Neither the work that has been done to create and maintain this system nor the meaningful service that have been offered by those who have served and are serving in it is being attacked. This call is rather meant to lift up the goodness and the power of this invaluable resource and offer that it ought to be expanded, and that when it is expanded it ought to be focused on the advancement of our church’s vision for the world as it ought to be. And it lastly offers that this vision ought to include more than just an official statement on AIDS, but a plan to address it with the full strength of this church and all its passionate members. We must form new service partnerships with HIV/AIDS clinics, care centers, educational organizations, and ministries both in the U.S. and in AIDS‑stricken countries around the world, building on existing relationships where possible and creating new ones where necessary.

This is a plan that will provide the kind of individual involvement that will transform the hearts and minds of those who serve into lifelong advocates in both the church and the world at large.

-Ryan Fordice

We must ask for forgiveness and open our doors to respond to global AIDS

This is the third post in our HIV/AIDS series by young adults. It is written by Jacquelin Rostad, who attends Luther Seminary. Her home Congregation is Trinity Lutheran Church in Moorhead, MN. She plans to bring HIV/AIDS advocacy into her future ministry.


Bishop Mark Hanson’s call for public acts of repentance by members of the church to oppressed communities was a powerful and proud moment for Lutherans during the 2008 International AIDS Conference. In front of five hundred onlookers, Hanson washed the feet of two HIV+ women.

Certainly the message is on the mark – there is no room for discrimination against anyone in the body of Christ, and the presence of stigma is the absence of Christian love. But the move towards repentance, reconciliation, and lived Christian love cannot end with one leader’s largely symbolic act while the cameras were flashing and all eyes were on him. The challenge now lies with us, the church, to answer the call, to repent for being openly or subtly exclusionary, to make amends for turning a blind eye to those in desperate need. How might the neighborhood church and the individual Lutheran respond?

To truly make amends, a symbolic gesture or word is not enough. Things must be set to rights. Action must be taken. Individuals might feel powerless to respond to the global AIDS crisis – “I don’t know anyone with AIDS!,” or “What can one person do?” But acts of repentance don’t have to happen publicly or on the global scale to be powerful. It could be as simple as church members coming together to create an AIDS visitation team, a small group of people who visit or bring food to individuals in the community with HIV/AIDS. The community church can also help to erase stigma by encouraging church members to get tested for HIV. Familiarity erases stigma, and something as simple as having a conversation about getting tested for HIV can start to erase that stigma.

Churches can begin to repent for the discrimination of the past by welcoming stigmatized persons into their communities. Many churches claim to be welcoming and friendly, but make little effort to truly position themselves as centers of their communities or reach out to stigmatized people in their neighborhoods. Offering support groups for persons affected by HIV/AIDS and their friends and family, or hosting a community meal with a facilitated discussion of AIDS in the community can open doors for conversation. To truly show a spirit of repentance, the emphasis should be on learning and dialogue, with the attitude that the church is already walking with the community, not reaching down to it.

Going forward, we must remain mindful that real people are hurt by the actions and words – and the inaction and silence – of the church. Getting rid of stigma implies opening our doors, our arms, and our hearts to individuals who may have had a very different life experience, and a very different experience of the church. It implies salving the deep wounds of discrimination with the healing balm of unconditional Christian love, even if someone looks different or loves differently or lives differently than us.

-Jacquelin Rostad

Sister Corita Kent, an artist who lives the body of Christ

Another entry in our AIDS series by young adults, this post is written by Mary Button. Ms. Button is an Artist/Activist/writer; she works with Visual AIDS for the Arts and a creator of the Hymnbook Project (, She is a member of Advent Lutheran Church, NYC.


For many, religious art conjures up images of Michelangelo lying on his back, way up high on scaffolding, wiping sweat from his eyes, painting The Sistine Chapel. Or gilded altars in Bavaria. Or the dark, brooding images of St. Peter’s crucifixion by Caravaggio. Our preconceptions of religious art are, all too often, intricately tied up in our societal definitions of what art is and what it isn’t. If it’s old, European and precious it’s Art; likewise if it’s modern, expensive and inscrutable it’s Art. For me, though, the very epitome of religious art has always been the day-glo color poetics found in the work on Sister Corita Kent.

An innovative artist working in a pop art vernacular, Kent was also the chair of the art department at Immaculate Heart College in Los Angeles and a practicing nun. She left her religious community at the height of her success in 1968. Her works were calls of action. In a piece titled my people she pairs the front page of the August 14, 1965 edition of the Los Angeles Times, the fourth day of the Watts Riots – it’s bold headline reads “EIGHT MEN SLAIN; GUARD MOVES IN,” with the words of Father Maurice Ouellet, an Edmundite priest who was expelled from his Selma, Alabama parish by Archbishop Toolen who felt Ouellet too outspoken in his support of the Civil Rights Movement. Written in white in Kent’s handwriting against a red background are the words of Father Ouellet:

The body of Christ is no more comfortable now that it was when it hung from the cross. Those who live in the well organized, well ordered, nourished, clean, calm and comfortable middle-class part of Christ’s body can easily forget that the body of Christ, as it now exists, is mostly disorganized, devoid of order, concerned with the material needs, hungry, dirty, not motivated by reason, fermenting in agonizing uncertainty and certainly most uncomfortable. Youth is a time of rebellion. Rather than squelch the rebellion, we might better enlist the rebels to join that greatest rebel of his time – Christ himself.

These words move and inspire me. These words are a call to action. To be part of a Christian community implies membership in a community that holds sacred the power of words to heal and stories to create solidarity that transcends race, gender, class, sexuality and nationalism.

Where academic notions of religious art conjure up images of The Creation painted centuries ago Sister Corita Kent’s work directly engaged with her community and is still a powerful, plaintive cry for social change. In the face of all the social problems that fuel the AIDS pandemic – stigma, homelessness, racial inequality, gender based violence – art is a powerful means of communicating the church’s message on these issues. And what exactly should the message of the church be with regard to social issues? Namely, that membership in Christian community means joining a rebellion against a society that accepts as status quo these exacerbating factors. The artwork of Sister Corita Kent is a powerful example of what happens when an artist lives in the body of Christ as it now exists.

-Mary Button

Are we answering the call to respond to HIV/AIDS?

David Creech mentioned in his post this week that we would be featuring entries from young adults who attended the Interational AIDS Conference in Mexico City this summer. Here is the first.

It is written by Joni Ricks, who is currently a 2nd year doctoral student in Epidemiology at University of California Los Angeles. She is also an Associate Member of Lord of Light Lutheran Church.


Christians are often comfortable relating with certain groups of people that do not challenge our Christian values or make us feel uneasy. Historically global challenges such as poverty, homelessness, and diseases were acceptable and were seen as opportunity for service.

Today HIV and AIDS (a disease associated with issues that Christian organizations have been dealing with for decades) creates segregation, contrary to the Scriptures call -‘We should be the first ones to combat the epidemic’. Christians have shied away from this mission. HIV and AIDS is not a ‘comfortable disease’ for many Christians. We increasingly build walls with people affected by HIV and AIDS, yet we gather together every Sunday to celebrate Christ’s unconditional love for us.

The apostle Matthew invited Jesus and other disciples to dinner at his home; together with tax collectors and other ‘disreputable sinners’. Pharisees referred to tax collectors as “scum” and wondered why anyone would debase themselves to be seen with “such” type of people. We similarly brand people living with HIV and AIDS as ‘sinners’. Christians are called to love sinners and not the sin. We are all saved by faith in Jesus Christ. And I often wonder why we Christians perceive ourselves to be better than those whose lifestyles are not what we would consider acceptable.

In the United States we are comfortable ministering and ‘donating’ to people halfway across the world but ignore those living with the disease in our own locality. How often do we think of offering services to a homeless shelter? Or bother to make eye contact with people who seeks our help on the street?

We are created in God’s image hence are co-creators. Our actions and deeds ought to reflect Christ’s teachings. But how are we to show the love of Christ if we refuse to minister to people in need? We must strive to be the people of God we are chosen to be and that will only be demonstrated with our un-conditional love to people living with and affected by HIV and AIDS.

-Joni Ricks