HIV/AIDS and Other Challenges
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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,
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).
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,
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).
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,
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).
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.
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