On Tuesday, December 1, 2009, Emory University hosted an AIDS awareness day, displaying the World AIDS Memorial Quilt at what was the largest collegiate display in the world. Several friends and I walked through the University quad, which is just a few 100 yards from the school of theology. As we walked and the names of the victims of AIDS were read aloud, we began to reflect on the small portions of the quilt that individual families and friends made to remember their lost loved ones. Many of them had died during the surge of HIV and AIDS cases from the 1980s.
I experienced a profound sense of sadness at this sight. Needless to say, the sight of these quilts, combined with the names being read from the platform was powerful. However, I was most grieved because of how the Church—not any one individual church, but Christian Churches as a whole—have responded (or failed to respond) to the AIDS crisis. Just a few years ago, the late Rev. Jerry Falwell made a very public and licentious statement, suggesting in no uncertain terms that AIDS were repayment for the sin of homosexuality.
I was astonished after hearing a recent NPR report that revealed that a black man who is gay has a 1 in 4 chance of contracting HIV/AIDS. Even more shocking is that Hispanic men who are gay have a 1 in 3 chance of contracting HIV/AIDS. By and large, the Church has been silent in its response to the AIDS crisis—ostensibly because of the disease’s misunderstood stigma as a “gay disease.”
While it is true that a disproportionate number of men—both gay and straight—have AIDS, a growing number of women and children are suffering from the disease—especially in the global south. The long-standing position of “we have no official position” is no longer acceptable. The Church must not shy away from confronting controversial issues and helping to resolve the crisis.
Marshall is a first year Master of Divinity student from Paris, Kentucky. A graduate of Transylvania University with a BA in American Studies, Marshall is an Episcopal studies student at Candler and is pursuing ordination to the Episcopal priesthood in the diocese of Lexington (KY). His research interests include American religious history and the rise of the modern Christian evangelical movement.