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“The only thing necessary for these diseases to the triumph is for good people and governments to do nothing.”


Theological Education: HIV/AIDS and Other Challenges

Part 1

The Context of HIV/AIDS & Theological Education
In this day of HIV/AIDS, we are in certain context that produces particular circumstances. Since theology is a reflection on God's activity and will for creation in all circumstances, it follows that there is already a theology of HIV/AIDS. The moment we ask what is God saying to us through HIV/AIDS? What is God's will concerning this disease? Does God love us? Does God care, and where is God's healing in this HIV/AIDS era then a theology of HIV/AIDS has began. We have began to reflect on a particular context and to seek for God's will for God's own people in their particular circumstances of HIV/AIDS.

The statistics of HIV/AIDS infection are staggering: 40 million have been infected; 22million have died in twenty-two years and 14million children have been orphaned (UNAIDS 2001:1; UNAIDS 2002:8). And still as we speak people get infected on each day, many are on home-based care others are being buried. The statistics hide the truth. They do not tell us how many billions of people, who are HIV/AIDS negative or sero-status blind are gripped by HIV/AIDS stigma, which manifests itself as fear, hopelessness, lack of belief in the future, indifference towards the suffering and the act of isolating and rejecting those who are HIV/AIDS + . Many more billions are infected by fear of HIV/AIDS, stigma and hopelessness.

As a new epidemic HIV/AIDS produces a particular context on three fronts:

  • First, the fact that HIV/AIDS is a global catastrophe means that it calls for the response of all of us, wherever we are. HIV/AIDS is not, as some have come to mistakenly think, an African disease. It is a global epidemic, tragedy and crisis. In that sense, it offers us a chance to develop and strengthen our ecumenical theology and response.
  • HIV/AIDS is an epidemic within other social epidemics of poverty, gender inequalities, violence the abuse of children, racism, ethnic conflicts, wars, international injustice, HIVAIDS stigma and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Given that HIV/AIDS functions within other social epidemics, it is the most marginalized members of the world who are more vulnerable to infection and lack of quality care. The worst part about HIV/AIDS is that it makes the marginalized to become more marginalized. The poor become poorer, children become more disempowered, widows become dispossessed and thrown out of their homes etc.
  • Third, HIV/AIDS affects all aspects of our lives: the spiritual, mental, political, cultural, social, economical and psychological areas. It affects everything and everyone. It questions the very fabric of our existence and calls for rethinking and research on what we have always taken for granted-and theological education is not an exception.

These three aspects speak for themselves in so far as providing theological education which is socially engaged and which seeks to enable religious leaders and communities of faith to be co-creators with God in keeping all creation within God's intention and will. It goes without saying that if HIV/AIDS is a global catastrophe, then globally theological institutions should have by now integrated HIV/AIDS in their programs. It is twenty-two years now since this epidemic has invaded our world, how many of our theological programs have responded to this global context by developing courses such as Reading the Bible in HIV/AIDS era; Doing Theology in a the HIV/AIDS Context; Christian Mission and HIV/AIDS? Ethics and HIV/AIDS; African Religions and HIV/AIDS; Islam and HIV/AIDS; Human Sexuality and HIV/AIDS, Liberation Theology in the HIV/AIDS era, African Theology and HIV/AIDS, or the Church and HIV/AIDS. Theological Institutions should have HIV/AIDS policy for their students, staff and programs. It would be interesting to carry out a worldwide assessment of theological institutions to assess how they have programmatically responded to HIV/AIDS. This would be telling in so far as measuring the relevance of our theological education to our contexts and time is concerned.

Second, the fact that HIV/AIDS is an epidemic within other social epidemics is quite a critical issue on how we formulate our theological content and intention of our theological education. If HIV/AIDS works with poverty, gender inequalities, violence against women, civil wars, national corruption, international injustice, child abuse, human rights violations, HIV/AIDS stigma, racism, war, ethnic conflict/or cleansing and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, we can only be theological answerable if; first, we have an understanding of this epidemic-if we can identify and name these social epidemics and when we are able to critically assess their origin, causes and how they can be stemmed. Our theological education will be able to stand up to the challenge if, it gives students and communities of faith concrete tools for social analysis. And third, our theological program, will have to have a framework of reference that enables our students to reflect on, "What is God will; concerning these social evils?" Unless our theological education brings our students and our faith communities to see these social evils as violating God's will and creation; unless it underlines that all life is sacred; unless we underline that healing is God's will for all, unless it expressly says it has zero tolerance for HIV/AIDS stigma then how can they become theological leaders and faith communities who seek to be co-creators with God in keeping the earth and everything in it good in the HIV/AIS era? Theological education, which is informed by the above and seeks to address the above must be social formation-it must be a vision for mission that underlines that all life is sacred and practically works for the realization of the same.

Indeed, initial theological response to HIV/AIDS has demonstrated theological poverty in many ways. First, there was silence and indifference. Then there was an association of HIV/AIDS with immorality and God's punishment upon the sinful. When the churches finally decided to be actively involved, they insisted on abstinence and faithfulness as the answer to the fight against HIV/AIDS. The condom became, and still is, outlawed for supposedly encouraging promiscuity. While A & B, seems/ed ideal, the truth is that, this perspective overlooks that HIV/AIDS is an epidemic within other social epidemics. While it would seem that every individual could prevent HIV/AIDS by applying A or B, unjust social circumstances and institutions make individuals unable to apply these ideals. An effective fight against HIV/AIDS must, therefore, not only focus on the individual, but must equally address the social injustices that fuel HIV/AIDS for individual's choices are determined by their social location and the institutions that they co-exist with. For example, both poverty and gender inequalities render A and B strategies ineffective. Many poor, unemployed and unmarried mothers or evicted and dispossessed widows, who nonetheless have children to feed, have to choose between dying of starvation in two weeks or to engage in sex work and die ten year later of HIV/AIDS (NCA 2000: 12-13). While I will agree that the condom, like A & B, is not hundred percent safe, I found the churches unwillingness to admit that it is another usable tool troubling. One could well say that while the world said ABC, faith communities were saying ABD, ie abstain, be faithful or die. Here I gleaned a theological perspective that dangerously subjugated the imperative to preserve life to sexual purity. Christian faith communities were overlooking a central theological base; namely, that all life is sacred. To me, this reflected a dire theological poverty and immaturity. As I have argued elsewhere,

In our fight against HIV/AIDS, we must develop a well-grounded theology of respect for life. Our prophetic theology must be grounded and propelled by a theology of respect for life. It must be based on the conviction that God does not wish anyone to be infected by HIV/AIDS-regardless of whether that person was failing to abstain or to be faithful. We need, therefore, to continue saying, abstain, be faithful, but whenever you have sex, condomise (Dube 2001: 46).

I believe theological education has a great task to address here-namely, that HIV/AIDS is not only an issue of individual immorality, but rather, it is also very much a disease of social injustice. The two must be seen and tackled together. Theological education needs to assist in bringing our faith leaders and communities to realize that our mission in the HIV/AIDS era is to develop and implement a prophetic theology of life in the fight against HIV/AIDS-one that is able to address the individual and the social circumstances around her/him.

Further, it is at least fifty years since human rights were passed and many other charters and declarations that challenge us to have a better respect for life-for Women's rights, Children's rights, environment, culture were passed. The world in itself is trying to respect life. Most of our theological programs still need to reflect on this international context of seeking to respect life and to build on it. Here we will do well to heed the voice of sister Teresa Okure, who insists that a biblical interpreter refers to "anybody who reads the biblical text in order to discover life (1995:55) and that "any interpretation that fails to do this… becomes suspect and should be regarded as in authentic," since it would have failed to "be in tune with universal intention of God to liberate, save, give and sustain life"(57). We need a life-centered theology in the HIV/AIDS era for our communities and for our world. I think that the fact that the response of faith communities has harped on individual responsibility or lack of responsibility to the exclusion of evil/unjust social structures and institutions had been quiet telling. Namely, faith leaders do not have skills of social analysis and how social structures and institutions affect individual's decisions. I think that this is both a statement and challenge to our theological education to raise faith leaders and communities that are prophetic-those who are able to see social injustice and to challenge, it underlines that we cannot afford to offer theological education that does no seek social justice.

Turning to a theology of gender justice, it is at least forty years since modern feminist theology began. Yet many of our theological programs treat it as a novelty--they leave it to a few women in the staff or completely ignore it. Many times even the women in the theological institutions when they struggle to bring gender studies they are ridiculed marginalized and sometimes threatened. In the HIV/AIDS training workshops that I hold for theological educators, I always give a paper on Gender and HIV/AIDS. In the workshops some heads of departments have openly said, "stop this gender nonsense." In some evaluations some people wrote this was an excellent workshop, but you almost spoiled it with your gender nonsense." This resistance from theological leaders and educators means that our students who become religious/faith leaders graduate with no understanding of what gender inequalities are; how they work with the cultural, social, economic, political and spiritual institutions of our worlds to promote the spread of HIV/AIDS.

In this HIV/AIDS era, however, gender inequalities are second to poverty in being a major driving force behind the spread of HIV/AIDS (UNDP 2000:21). Many economically, culturally, politically, and religiously powerless women find that neither abstaining, nor being faithful or having a condom/femidom can shield them from HIV/AIDS infection. Many men who know about the dangers of HIV/AIDS, still either refuse to give up the culture of multiple partners, to share power with their women partners; they refuse to condomise for in so doing they would have betrayed their identity of manhood, which encourages one to be brave and take risks. At the end of the day no one wins-only HIV/AIDS wins. Any theological responsible education, which wants to contribute to the struggle against HIV/AIDS and which subscribes to the theological economy that says we are all made in God's image must address gender inequalities and provide theological education which helps us to establish gender justice. Courses on gender and theology; gender and HIV/AIDS; gender, the Bible and HIV/AIDS; gender and African religions must be part of the core courses that are compulsory. Gender must also be mainstreamed across all subjects, for we are always gendered men and women and all forms of knowledge must acknowledge this in their research, writing and teaching-failure to do this is failure to prepare our students for leadership in the society. Worse, failure to do this is to become guardians of social evils-and failure to curb the spread of HIV/AIDS.


When it comes to issues of children, perhaps this is one area where most our theological programs are glaringly lacking (Maluleke & Nadar 2002; Dube 2002e:31-42). Being some of the most powerless members of our societies, children hardly have a visible theological voice. Our institutions have not yet fully found a way of allowing them to speak and be heard. HIV/AIDS has once more highlighted the plight of children as powerless citizens our world communities. Children face a uncertain future as their parents die, as they get dispossessed by neighbors and relatives, as they get stigmatized at school and at home and as they get subjected to child labor. Sexual child abuse has increased as children are raped by relatives and strangers. Given the myth of virgins can cleanse one of HIV/AIDS. Rape has escalated. Orphans are increasing. Be That as it may, most of our governments have not yet responded by putting into place legal instruments that will protect children. Our theological education needs to develop theological perspectives that allows our faith communities to become guardians of children's rights, allow children to speak and be heard as well as strengthen the parenthood role (Dube 2002e:31-33).

Here in Africa, most of us are doing theology in corrupt nations and under repressive leadership, where populations are condemned to exploitation and poverty (Manus 2002:16-18). As HIV/AIDS research and documentation indicates that poverty is the number one sponsor of HIV/AIDS. How much has our theological education done to equip its students and the communities of faith to be prophetic voices in the society? What can our theological education do? We need to concern ourselves with the question of, what can theological education do to equip faith communities with a prophetic theology of life against national corruption and poverty. National corruption is not only limited to Two-Thirds World countries, it also applies to First World countries. Indeed the poverty of the former is linked to unjust international trade policies-which have locked many of our countries into huge debts and perpetual poverty. In this HIV/AIDS era we know that, poverty is the number one sponsor of the epidemic. This, plus the reluctance to let Two Third Worlds countries produce affordable HIV/AIDS drugs, has seen many die unnecessarily of HIV/AIDS. What should be the perspective of theological education and training concerning the resources of the earth and access to them? If we believe that the earth and everything in it belongs to the Lord, then I believe, our theological education should empower our faith leaders and communities to be prophetic and to programmatically undertake to fight poverty, national and international injustice.

On top of all these social evils, unfortunately, HIV/AIDS has brewed a second epidemic, a more deadly one, the HIV/AIDS stigma. Fear of an incurable disease, fear of death after a long suffering, misunderstanding about HIV/AIDS transmission, the association of HIV/AIDS with sexuality and misinterpretation of the causes of HIV/AIDS, indifference to suffering have all contributed to the second and even more deadly disease-the HIV/AIDS stigma. It is deadly because it hinders prevention of HIV/AIDS and the provision of quality care. It is deadly because every human being is a social being, when rejected the social, psychological, spiritual health of a person is also affected, thus leading people to die long before the virus could kill them. It is more deadly because people who are HIV/AIDS stigma positive are more in numbers that those HIV+, thus making it unlivable for the latter. Our theological education need to help our students and communities of faith to develop a theology of compassion-compassion as the capacity to suffer with, to enter the pain of the other, but not just to be in solidarity with the suffering, but to translate our compassion into the energy we need to transform their conditions. Those of us who are in the Christian faith need to recapture the compassion of Christ, who asked the believers to see his face in the face of all who suffer (Dube 2002a:536-540).

Before I turn to other challenges, the fact that HIV/AIDS is an epidemic within other social epidemics, underlines that for our theological programs to enable our students to be effective leaders in the society, they must be given tools that enable them to understand the society and all social evils. Second, our theological programs must underline that social evils, together with HIV/AIDS violate God's creation and hence our mission in the 21st century is that we will speak out and search for new models of a better world. Instead of engaging in theological theories and content that are divorced from our social context, we will need theological programs that are largely informed by a framework that holds that God's salvation is the liberation of all humankind and creation as well as one that holds that faith communities shall be trained to play the role of being midwives of God's will on earth.

Other Challenges

Other challenges that confront us as theological educators of Africa and elsewhere are globalization, increasing violence in the form of civil wars, ethnic conflicts, religious differences, wars of terror, violence against children and increasing violence against women. Globalization has been defined as the "compression of the world" (Robertson 2000:53-54); "the creation of a single market-- international, financial or capital market" (Lind 1995:31) "the absorption of all countries and systems into one" (Tolluch 1998:101) or the process whereby the "search for more profits became the search for cheap labor" (Pheko 2000:90). The problem with globalization has been graphically described for us by Asian Theological conference, who hold that in globalization

Money with a capital M was promoted as the storehouse of value, rather than a medium for exchange…Every relationship in which people were involved and stayed outside the purview of the markets, such as education, health care and religious practices were also brought into the reality of market. Market now has control over the social, economic, political and cultural relationships of the people. All other social forces, including the state, which regulated people's needs, have ceased to operate…therefore, people are turned into labor or prostitutes, nature as land or raw materials or golf parks and culture as souvenirs…in tourist market. Moreover, the organizing philosophy of the market ecclesia… is social exclusion: Those who have no commoditable money or commoditable commodities (including skills) were excluded from the market and left as expendables, (2000: 218-219).

In short, while globalization seeks for trade liberalization, "which would allow goods and services and money to move easily across the borders" (Pheko 2000:90) and while it is noted for massive profits, it is nonetheless noted for profiting a few individuals, while its policies and impact exclude and exploit the majority. In the age of HIV/AIDS, globalization--which increases mobility, separates families, creates job insecurities, increases poverty, and weakens social services--cannot help but spread the infection rate and deny people any quality care. In the economy of God's will for creation, the impact of globalization on people and the environment is highly problematic and needs our theological attention. Again, we must ask ourselves how many of us have meaningfully began to dialogue with globalization as an issue that must inform our theological education (Ukpong 2002:9-40; Dube 2002d:46-63).

Turning to violence, of late we have become so aware of our world becoming even more violent or using violence to address their problems. What immediately comes to our minds is 9/11, the subsequent so-called war on terrorism, Palestine-Israel unending conflict, and the ethnic and civil wars of Africa. In these past weeks we have seen a string of bombings. I even had to avoid using BA to come to this consultation, fearing a possible terrorist bombing. Those of us who are here will remember the horror of Rwanda-Burundi Genocide and how Christians participated in such crimes against humanity and God. I think that it is really a theological indictment for all of us who are involved in Christian theological education as social formation. Current reports from Rwanda-Burundi indicate that more Christians are turning to Islam, having lost confidence in the relevance of the Christian faith in their well-being, if Christians could participate in such crimes. In deed, given the number of civil wars that characterize the African continent, we run a danger of accepting violence as part of our lives.

But may be these are the most evident symptoms of a violent world. Underlying we have violence against women and children which happens in the streets and in the homes. Women and children are beaten and raped and we do not feel safe to walk freely without looking behind our backs. Is this God's will for us? Are there other ways of living with our differences rather than turning to violence? In their Special Issue on Over coming Violence against women and children, Tinyiko S. Maluleke and Sarojini Nadar hold that, violence is "a deadly covenant cultivated and reinforced in attitudes, teachings, practices and rituals that tear human societies apart…Above all, this is a covenant of silence-silence about violence, especially against violence against women" (2002:7). Maluleke and Nadar continue to say,

In our experience, women victims of violence in society are up against a social covenant with violence against them. For example, in cases of domestic abuse the battle is not only against the abuser, but also against a host of other conspirators, people who have entered into a covenant of violence with the abuser himself. Such participants in the unwritten covenant with violence and silence often include pastors, church elders, siblings and parents. Their participation in the covenant often manifests in the advice and counsel they give to the woman victim: telling her that it is her fault that she is beaten; advising her that 'the Bible says' that she must be submissive; telling her that marriage is like that"(2002:7).

Living as they do in violent contexts, African theologians are grappling with violence both at national and at continental levels. In her article, "Come let us reason together," Nyambura Njoroge writes that "Kenya has increasingly become a violent nation" and continues to say, "this has become so bad to be almost a civil war," and that "most of the people in Kenya are indifferent, apathetic, complacent, disillusioned, hopeless and in despair. Violence and poverty have deeply destroyed people's self-confidence and dignity" (234). Njoroge thus calls for "a spirituality and ethic of resistance, of not giving up and of transformation" (255). As she explains, "This ethic and spirituality drive people to confront leadership crises and the structural sins of imperialism, globalization, patriarchy, hierarchy, sexism, and other social sins that leads the majority of people into a life of misery, agony and suffering (255). Similarly, in his article, "Mission and Social Formation: Searching for an Alternative to King Leopold's Ghost, Emmanuel Katangole examines the colonial roots of violence on the psyche of African people. Here Katangole echoes Mercy A. Oduyoye, who holds that, "throughout many locations in the Third World, the violence and exploitation of colonialism was, undertaken in many cases with the complicity of the church" (20002:235). Katangole's question is: "Can Christianity save Africans from the politics of dispossession, violence and powerlessness?" (2002:139). Katangole calls for social imagination, holding that

The call to discipleship is not just a call to believe certain things about God, Christ and the World, which beliefs might have social implications. It is a call for Christians to be socially formed in a distinctive way. But this formation is not an extra to what it means to be Christians. It is the core of the call to discipleship. For without being so socially formed, Christians would not even know what it means to have the convictions they have, let alone to claim those convictions as true (141).


One thing for sure, in the HIV/AIDS era, violence hampers prevention and the provision of quality care. Safer sex cannot be negotiated in homes where wives are subjected to physical violence. Abstinence does not work in war zones, where rape is used as a weapon between the warring powers. Faithfulness becomes a myth, when families are uprooted and separated by war, poverty and globalization. Indeed, funds that could be used for serving and saving lives are diverted to war; health and educational services of well-being are neglected. Women and children who live under violent circumstances cannot be saved from HIV/AIDS by abstaining, nor can they insist on condomizing. In this Decade to Overcome Violence, our theological education needs to integrate in their program ways and means of solving or living with or celebrating our differences without resorting to violence. In particular, we need theological programs that will stand in solidarity will all the marginalized groups, particularly women and children.

I want to conclude by congratulating you again for your hundred years of theological education, and even more importantly for taking this time to assess yourself in search for offering theological education that is both ecumenical and one that enables religious communities to live out their mission in the world. We happen to be reflecting at this particular context, the context of the global HIV/AIDS epidemic, which is an epidemic within other social evils. The advantages of responding to this epidemic theologically is that it calls us to address all other social evils, thereby forcing us to offer theological education that is socially engaged and one that seeks the salvation of God as liberation for creation and humanity as a whole. For this task, I am sure that we are all doing well to start by revisiting our vision for mission as we seek for ways of moving forward with ecumenical theological education. This is a fitting role for an institution that began in area of freed slaves with the aim of meeting development and social justice needs. I wish you another fruitful 100 years of theological education as you struggle to be co-creators with God.

List of References
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Dube, M. W. Mary as Our Ancestor: An African Search for Identity. A dissertation submitted for Master of Arts Studies, Durham, University, 1990.

"Savior of the World but Not of This World: A postcolonial Reading of Spatial Construction in John," pp.118-135. In R.S. Sugirtharajah, ed. The Postcolonial Bible. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1998a.

"Go therefore and Make Disciples of All Nations," (Matt 28:19a): A Postcolonial Perspective on Biblical Criticism and Pedagogy," pp.224-247. In F.F. Fernando Segovia & Mary Ann Tolbert, eds., Teaching the Bible : The Discourses and Politics of Biblical Pedagogy. New York: Orbis Press, 1998b.

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Katangole, Emmanuel, "Mission and Social Formation: Searching for an Alternative to King Leopold's Ghost." In Emmanuel Katangole ed. African Theology Today. Scranton: Univeristy of Scranton Press, 2002.

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"The Challenge of HIV/AIDS for Theological Education in Africa: Towards an HIV/AIDS Sensitive Curriculum." In Missionalia 29: 2001: 125-143.

"Christianity in a Distressed Africa: A Time to Own and Own Up." Missionalia 26/3:324-340.

Maluleke T.S & Sarojini Nadar eds. Special Issue: Overcoming Violence Against Women and Children: Journal of Theology for Southern Africa 112, September 2002.

Njoroge, Nyambura. "Come Let us Reason Together." In Missionalia 29, 2001:232-257.

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Oduyoye, Mercy Amba. Hearing and Knowing: Theological Reflections on Christianity in Africa. New York: Orbis Press, 1986.

"Violence," pp.235-236. In Fabella Virginia & R.S. Sugirtharajah, eds. Dictionary of Third World Theologies. New York: Orbis, 2000.

Okullu, Henry. Church and Politics in East Africa. Nairobi: Uzima Press, 1974.

Okure, Teresa. "Reading From This Place: Some Prospects and Problems," PP.52-69. In Fernando Segovia and Mary Ann Tolbert eds., Reading From This Place Volume 2. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1995.

Ortega, Ofelia. "Theological Education," pp. In 282-283. In Letty Russell & Shannon J. Clarkson eds. Dictionary of Feminist Theologies. Lousville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1996

Pheko, Mohau. Privatization, Trade Liberation and Women's Socio-economic Rights: Exploring Policy Alternatives, pp.89-102. In Yassine Fall ed., Africa: Gender, Globalization and Resistance. New York: AAword, 2000.

Robertson, Roland. "Globalization and the Future of Traditional Religion," pp.53-68. In Stackhouse Max L. & Peter Paris eds. God and Globalization Volume 1: Religion and Powers of Common Life. Harrisburg: Trinity Press International 2000.

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Ukpong, Justin. "Reading the Bible in a Global Village: Issues and Challenges From African Readings," pp. 9-40. In Justin Ukpong etl., Reading the Bible in the Global Village: Cape Town Atlanta; SBL, 2002.

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Part 1