HIV/AIDS: IS IT GOD'S JUDGMENT?
pamphlet was originally produced in 1985 in cooperation with the
UFMCC Commission on Faith, Fellowship, and Order. The Rev.
Jennie Boyd Bull, Chairperson. The 1994 revisions are by Rev. A.
Stephen Peters, ©1994 UFMCC
Is HIV a punishment or
judgment from God?
answer, from many people of faith, is "No! Absolutely not!" Yet
some people have answered the question "Yes". Indeed, some
members of what has come to be know as the radical religious
right praise God for the tragic pidemic which is claiming the
lives of hundreds of thousands of human beings in every part of
the world. Because HIV/AIDS was associated in the first years of
the epidemic with the gay male community in the western world,
many from the radical religious right have used this pandemic as
a weapon to further their own homophobic agendas.
that HIV/AIDS is a punishment from God is based on three faulty
assumptions: that homosexual acts are sinful that God causes
suffering and that God punishes sin with disease. These false
assumptions result from a particular way of looking at society,
sexuality, and how God works in the world. Homophobia, (the
unrealistic fear, hatred, and rejection of lesbians and gay
men,) is based on these assumptions and the world view they
reflect, and in tragic misunderstanding of the meaning of
Christ. It is the responsibility of Christians to overcome this
fear and misunderstanding, and to witness to God's love and
Are Homosexual Acts
a few passages in the Bible that have been said to condemn
homosexual acts. Currently there is much debate about these
passages. Some Christians believe these passages condemn all
homosexual behavior. But a growing number of Bible experts are
convinced these passages condemn only certain sexual acts that
are idolatrous or abusive. For example, many Bible scholars
believe that the story of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19),
condemns rape, not homosexuality. Rape is a violent act and
irrelevant to loving same-sex relationships.
passages in the Bible, such as Ezekiel 16:49-50, identify the
sin of these cities as injustice and idolatry. Likewise, some
religious authorities point out that New Testament passages like
I Corinthians 6:9 and Romans 1:24-27 deal with sexual behavior
that is unloving and exploitative (such as pedophilia or the
temple prostitution common to that era). But even then, the
Christian message is one of forgiveness and healing. Jesus said
nothing to condemn homosexuality, but he said a great deal about
faith, hope and love. Certain passages of the Bible, around
which there is no debate, assure us that everyone has access to
God by faith. John 3:16 teaches that whosoever believes in
Christ will have eternal life. Lesbians and gay men who believe
in Christ are part of the "whosoevers" (as stated in John). Not
only does the Bible not condemn loving same-sex relationships,
it has many positive images and references to physical intimacy
and sexuality. Examples include the stores of Ruth and Naomi,
David and Jonathan, and the book of The Song of Songs.
Christians today believe that sexuality, both heterosexual and
homosexual, is a good gift from God. Gay men and lesbians need
to remember and to know in their hearts that sex is good. People
of faith are called to celebrate and affirm the inherent
goodness of sex.
Does God Cause
Why do people suffer?
religions have had to address these questions. The world is full
of human suffering caused by hunger, disease, poverty, and
multiple forms of oppression and injustice. If these things are
happening, does this mean they are God's will and, therefore,
God wills us to suffer? Evil is a very real force in this world,
a force not of God's making (Mark 1:32-24). And HIV/AIDS is
certainly a devastating evil not of God's will. It is not just
desserts for gay men, hemophiliacs, babies born with HIV, IV
drug users, or any other person living with HIV/AIDS. Jesus
never punished people with sickness, Jesus healed. HIV/AIDS is a
tragedy. And God suffers with all who are victimized by it or
who lose loved ones because of it. Bad things happen.
many times through no fault of our own, because the world can be
an unfair, unjust place. God does not create chaos or injustice.
God brings order out of chaos, and demands justice where there
is injustice. God does not cause tragedy, but God does respond
to suffering with healing. God heals sometimes through physical
restoration, and other times with grace sufficient to grow in
the midst of suffering, even in the face of death (I Corinthians
example of God's healing grace is well described by a woman with
a friend who died from the complications of AIDS: "As a child,
he had been abused and abandoned by his mother. But as an adult,
in his last months, his mother came to live with him, nursing
him around the clock. In their times together, old wounds were
healed, forgiveness was shared, and faith grew. My friend
received a healing gift of family and love he had never known."
the injustice of tragedy invades our lives, God's passionate
love and bring good in the form of healing and growth. We can
find God's healing touch in our tears of sadness and our screams
of anger. We can find God's healing touch in the words of love
and comfort shared by others. More than anything, we can find
God's healing touch through that inner peace that comes from
God's presence and promises. We know that in everything God
works for good with those who love God (Romans 8:28).
Is Sin Punished With
Is God punishing gay
men and lesbians with HIV/AIDS?
the kinds of questions that have been asked for centuries before
HIV/AIDS became an issue. Each time some mysterious malady or
disaster befalls an identified community, there have always been
some who claim that God has caused the disaster as a judgment
against the affected people.
HIV/AIDS is a plague sent by God into the lesbian and gay
community, there are some flaws in the plan. There is the matter
of all the other people who are not lesbian or gay who are
infected and affected. For example, what is the explanation for
the decimation caused by HIV/AIDS in Central Africa, where
transmission is primarily heterosexual?
there is no justification for suggesting that God has
unfavorably judged the lesbian and gay community, nor that God
has created HIV/AIDS as a punishment. Are all women with breast
cancer victims of God's wrath? Are people of African descent
being punished with sickle cell anemia? Have Jews done anything
to deserve Tay-Sachs disease?
known HIV/AIDS is disproportionately affecting communities of
colors in the United States. Does this mean that God has made a
judgment against people of colors? Most people would answer
these questions with a resounding "No!" People had similar
questions during the time of Jesus Christ. Then, as now, many
assumed that suffering is a direct result of sin. But Christ
challenged that assumption.
walked along, he saw a man who had been blind from birth. His
disciples asked him, "Rabbi, was it his sin or that of his
parents that caused him to be blind?" "Neither," answered Jesus,
"it was no sin either of this man or of his parents. Rather it
was to let God's work show forth in him". (John 9:13). Jesus
then reached out to heal the blind man. Christians, too, must
reject the idea that HIV/AIDS, or any other illness, is
punishment for sin.
faith, like Jesus Christ, must reach out with a healing touch.
Rather than being understood as God's retribution, suffering
becomes an ccasion for God's love to be demonstrated. When
Christians reach out and touch those with HIV or AIDS, they can
transform suffering into a living example of God's love.
What Is the
Responsibility of People of Faith?
today's culture often focuses on sin and evil as an individual
matter, the Bible speaks frequently of sin as something in which
human beings are involved as a group. Similarly, evil happens in
groups, in structures, and in forces beyond the individual. A
faithful response to HIV/AIDS, then, must be a group response,
as well as an individual one.
homosexual acts are not evil, and God does not cause suffering
or punish lesbians and gay men with HIV/AIDS, then what keeps
people, particularly gay men and lesbians, from responding
answer is homophobia, unrealistic fear, hatred, rejection of
lesbians and gay men. Homophobia affects lesbians and gay men
when they believe that there is something wrong with their own
sexuality. They question the validity of who they are and give
in to self-hatred. The resulting low self-esteem has caused some
to abandon safe sex practices. In the case of lesbian and gay
youth, this low self-esteem, learned from the homophobia of the
dominant culture, sometimes prevents them from adopting safe sex
practices from the beginning of their sex lives.
with the feeling of invulnerability to disease, common among
young people, it is no wonder that the HIV infection rates among
youth are among the fastest growing of any population. People
are taught homophobia from a young age through such things as
queer jokes, and a lack of positive role models. Facing the fear
of one's own sexuality and identity is the first step toward
ending the paralysis which affects much of the lesbian and gay
community. Freedom from homophobia is an important first step
toward the prevention and elimination of this tragic disease.
said, "The Truth shall set you free", (John 8:32), and yet
people too often deny the truth, or avoid learning about
HIV/AIDS because of fear. It is the responsibility of all people
of faith to educate themselves and all who can be reached. Many
people have fears about the risks of contracting HIV/AIDS; that
fear can be overcome with facts. With the facts about how HIV is
transmitted, people of faith can remain sex-positive while
the example of Jesus, people of faith are called to eat with
people with HIV and AIDS, and to share their home with them
(Matthew 25:6); to touch people with HIV and AIDS and give them
intimacy (Matthew 8:2-4); and to heal people with HIV and AIDS
A faithful, intimate presence in the lives of those with
HIV/AIDS, witnessing to them of Jesus healing touch, is one of
the most important responsibilities of all people of faith.
Is HIV or AIDS a
punishment or judgement from God?
minds and hearts of many people of faith, the answer is clearly,
"No! Absolutely not!" This pandemic is a tragedy. It does,
however, present people of faith with the opportunity to be
faithful witnesses to God's love and healing grace, even in the
face of suffering, death, and grief.
FOR FURTHER READING:
Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality.
Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1980.
Eastman, Rev. Elder Donald.
Homosexuality: Not a Sin, Not a Sickness:
What the Bible Does & Does Not Say.
Los Angeles: Universal Fellowship Press, 1990.
Fortunato, John E.
AIDS: The Spiritual Dilemma.
San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1987.
Kushner, Harold S.
When Bad Things Happen to Good People.
New York: Avon Books, 1981.
Russell, Letty M. The Church With AIDS.
Westminster/John Knox Press, 1990.
Scanzoni, Letha and Mollenkott, Virginia Ramey.
Is the Homosexual My Neighbor? Another Christian View.
San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1978.