From NPR Story Corps:
REVEREND ERIC WILLIAMS & JANNETTE BERKLEY-PATTON
Eric Williams (EW): So I get a call from a local funeral home. She said, “I’ve got a really big favor that I want to ask. There is a kid that died. He’d been a member of the church all his life. His parents were very active in church. Mom sang in the choir. At any rate, he’s twenty-five years old and he died of AIDS–and he just happened to be gay. She said, when his pastor found out how he died, he said, “Well you know, I am not going to do the funeral and it can’t happen in our church.”
Jannette Berkley-Patton (JBP): So how did you respond to that then?
EW: I didn’t want to do it…didn’t want to do it. It’s not appropriate for one pastor to go against what another pastor has said, this is what I am going to do in my congregation. And I was perfectly alright with that until I went home and um, started thinking about this family. You know everything good that I have been able to accomplish has started with some kind of a burden. And AIDs burdened me. So reluctantly, I did the funeral.
I met the parents of this kid and, you know, I was used to black dads disowning their gay sons. That was the thing to do, My son can’t be gay. But not this family. This father and this mother, they celebrated his life. They embraced all of his friends. And, you know, they taught me more about unconditional love in that little experience than any of the Sunday school books, and any of the courses in seminary, or any of it. And that was the event that kind of rearranged my life.
Bruce Garner writes at Integrity USA:
Alan and I were like brothers born from different mothers. We spent vacations together and developed a bond so strong that whenever one called the other, we could tell within minutes if all was okay with the other. His death was devastating… and in ways I didn’t even realize for months. My grief took time… and I didn’t realize how much time I actually needed. Some of the anger still lingers… always will.
Those were the times during this epidemic that we never had a chance to grieve our losses. Those were the times of multiple funerals a week. Those were the times when we wondered who would be next. Those were the times when death was a constant companion. I stopped counting the number of friends I had lost when the total reached 200. It was, in more ways than we realized, like being in a war. We were in a war. We were fighting a virus about which we knew little except that it seemed to have almost a hundred percent mortality rate. And those were the times when politicians rarely uttered the word AIDS except in some derogatory context. Those sick and dying were expendable… after all they were people of color, fags, intravenous drug users, sex workers and immigrants from an island where a nation called Haiti was located. The only group impacted that generated any degree of empathy were those who relied on blood products to live… mostly hemophiliacs. Even then there was the disdain shown to those with chronic health problems.
I made a panel for the Names Project AIDS Memorial Quilt for my friend Alan. A picture of it hangs in my home. I once made the comment in a presentation that “when” a panel was made for me… not “if” a panel was made for me. I don’t know if it was the proverbial Freudian slip or not. I do know that I have now lived with HIV for over 30 years. By the grace of God, prayer, good medications and good medical treatment and a streak of stubbornness I plan to fulfill my doctor’s prediction that I would die from old age and not from AIDS.
Many portions of the AIDS Quilt will be on display around the country on December 1. Will that move us to action? Will it make us angry instead of just sad? …
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announces a global blueprint to reduce and eventually, eradicate, the number of new HIV cases.
The AP reports that the Obama Administration on Thursday released an “ambitious road map for slashing the global spread of AIDS.” The blueprint (pdf) by the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) “outlines how progress could continue at current spending levels…or how faster progress is possible with stepped-up commitments from hard-hit countries themselves.” Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who “ordered the blueprint,” stressed that the US “must continue doing its share” towards combating HIV/AIDS globally. Clinton said the goal of achieving an “AIDS-free generation…is within our reach.” President Obama was similarly optimistic: By “working together, we can realize our historic opportunity” to bring the battle against HIV/AIDS “to an end,” he said in a “proclamation to mark World AIDS Day on Saturday.” The AP notes that at present, there are about 34 million people with HIV worldwide, and “despite a decline in new infections over the last decade, 2.5 million people were infected last year.”
A joint statement from the Presiding Bishops of the Episcopal and Evangelical Lutheran Church in America – see below
World AIDS Day, on the first of December each year, offers an opportunity for reflection. On this day, people around the world pause to grieve the 30 million human beings who have died from HIV and AIDS in the last three decades, and unite in solidarity toward the goal of a human race free of AIDS.
This year World AIDS Day falls on the eve of Advent, a time when we wait in joyful expectation of the Savior who takes on human flesh to dwell among the poor and the vulnerable. We join Mary, the mother of Jesus, in praise of the God who exalts the humble, meek, hungry, and sick:
‘My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.’
We live out her vision of God’s Reign by embracing the sick and lifting up those whom society has cast aside.
Our task is great: thirty-four million people around the world today are living with HIV or AIDS. Infection rates are growing in many parts of the world despite innovations in medicine and technology that could eliminate the virus entirely. Last year, 2.5 million people were infected with HIV and 1.7 million died from AIDS-related causes. Each year, 50,000 new cases of HIV infection are reported in the United States alone.
Vulnerable populations continue to face disproportionately high rates of infection and shrinking access to life-sustaining treatment. Our silence, and the stigma often attached to those living with HIV or AIDS, perpetuate the poverty that so often surrounds this disease. That poverty becomes endemic and expanding through discrimination, homelessness, malnutrition, sexual violence, and incarceration. All those realities facilitate the further spread of the virus. Silence and stigma often cause HIV-positive Episcopalians and Lutherans to feel invisible, even in their own church communities.
Yet Advent is a time of hope, particularly in the ways in which God’s love and healing are evident in the progress made in the work against AIDS. Today more than 8 million people around the world receive life-saving treatment for HIV. Globally, fewer people are dying of AIDS and several countries have reduced their high infection rates (particularly for newborns) by more than 50 percent. People with HIV and AIDS who have access to basic treatment are now living long and productive lives, and women infected with the virus are giving birth to healthy children free of the virus.
This year has seen significant progress toward the end of AIDS. The cost of HIV treatment has fallen dramatically with increased efficiencies and greater access to generic drugs. Countries with high infection rates have increased their participation in programs to fight the virus. Leaders in Africa, the region most affected by the pandemic, recently committed to increasing their domestic investment and taking greater responsibility for eliminating AIDS in their populations.
This is a critical time in the fight against AIDS. We urge the United States government to strengthen its leading effort toward “getting to zero” infections. We urge President Obama to reverse proposed cuts to PEPFAR, to the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, and to domestic programs that provide affordable access to antiretroviral treatment, palliative care, and health services. We also urge him to recommit to funding strong, comprehensive HIV-AIDS programs in his second term.
We wait in hope this Advent season for the coming of the one who shows us how to lift up the humble, meek, hungry, and sick. We look to God with confidence, grateful for what has been done, and hopeful for what God will continue to do through us as we look for ways where we can partner to heal humanity of HIV and AIDS.
The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori
Presiding Bishop and Primate
The Episcopal Church
The Rev. Mark S. Hanson
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America