As Christians across the globe take part in events to mark World AIDS Day, members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) are participating in worship services, gatherings and advocacy activities to remember, and demonstrate support for, people living with or affected by HIV and AIDS.
Every nine and half minutes a person in the United States becomes infected with HIV, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia.
Globally, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS estimates the number of people infected with the virus is 33 million.
“World AIDS Day shines a light of awareness on the pandemic of HIV and AIDS,” said the Rev Andrea DeGroot-Nesdahl, ELCA coordinator for the HIV and AIDS Strategy and the Lutheran Malaria Initiative.
“It’s important for all people of faith, infected or not, to stand together against this epidemic that is taking such a devastating toll,” she added.
The 2009-2010 World AIDS Day theme is “Universal Access and Human Rights.” This theme was selected by the World AIDS campaign, a network that works in response to HIV and AIDS. The association includes the Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance (EAA), an international network of churches and Christian organisations cooperating in advocacy about global trade, and HIV and AIDS. The ELCA is an alliance member.
According to the EAA, the theme encourages people to deepen understanding, develop partnerships and challenge discriminatory laws, policies and practices which stand in the way of access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support for all people
The Rev Mark S. Hanson, ELCA presiding bishop, spoke on the subject of discriminatory laws when he welcomed a travel policy decision by the US President, Barack Obama, which removed entry restrictions into the United States for people who are HIV-positive.
He said that an end to discriminatory policies and confronting stigmatising attitudes toward people with HIV and AIDS are essential for their full inclusion in society and religious communities.
In March 2009, the ELCA Church Council adopted a strategy to address HIV and AIDS. The 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly approved a three-year, $10 million fundraising proposal to support the strategy.
In his remarks to the assembly, Hanson said he hoped in 2017 the ELCA could say, “Together, we increased access to government and non-government resources in the fight against the spread of HIV and AIDS. Through improved access to treatment and education, the number of cases were significantly reduced, and stigmatisation and discrimination diminished.”
According to DeGroot-Nesdahl, the ELCA Strategy on HIV and AIDS represents an ongoing engagement with the pandemic both globally and domestically.
“The ELCA has a long history of partnering with global companions on HIV and AIDS ministry. Those same companion churches have encouraged the ELCA to also attend to the growing number of infections in the United States, and to become a more HIV-competent church in our own country,” she said.
In the spring of 2009, at least 56 ELCA bishops participated in HIV screening. “The bishops’ testing spoke prophetically to their own synods in the United States as a witness to the importance of knowing one’s own status, and of dismantling the stigma and discrimination around HIV and AIDS,” said DeGroot-Nesdahl.