Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The Leprosy of Our Age

The Following are two articles from two of my favorite people: Tony Campolo and Bono, about the aWAKE Project which aims to raise awareness and action to the AIDS PANDEMIC and EXTREME POVERTY that are consuming Africa:

While the HIV/AIDS issue in America continues to be a threat to our nation, the virus in Africa and other regions has become a pandemic. In Africa, thirty-four million people have been infected with HIV; thirteen million are orphans. Every minute two people contract the HIV virus; and 90 percent of those people are children. The number one mode of transmission is not through homosexual activity but from mother to infant. This is indeed the "new plague" of our times. Yet, a BARNA Research poll shows that evangelical Christians are the least likely group to help AIDS victims in Africa—less than 3 percent said they would financially help a Christian organization minister to an AIDS orphan.

The aWAKE Project: Uniting against the Global AIDS Crisis is the first book of its kind to target a general audience: AIDS: Working toward Awareness, Knowledge, and Engagement. We want the citizens of the world to wake up to this devastating disease that is killing our brothers and sisters across the nations. Upon awareness, we mourn the loss of these fellow human beings in a global wake, or funeral, for life itself. And, finally, we hope a wake of emotional and intellectual response follows worldwide by spreading knowledge for the sake of action.
- Jenny Eaton and Kate Etue, Editors

Indifferent Christians and the African Crisis
By Tony Campolo

I need not go into the agony that Africa is enduring under the impact of the AIDS epidemic. I wish you could see what I saw with my own eyes as I visited South Africa and Zimbabwe. The suffering I witnessed led me to get together the resources to start a program for the orphans of those who have died from AIDS. You meet them almost everywhere you go in those countries. Many of these children have AIDS themselves. Our program is designed to provide them with some loving care and sustenance. No child should be abandoned to the streets, covered with the body sores that accompany AIDS. No child should die alone without knowing that he or she is loved.

The social impact of AIDS is horrendous. In two of the schools I visited, there was a shortage of teachers because several of those who had held teaching positions had been victimized by the disease and were gone. I learned that schools throughout Africa are enduring this same loss of crucial personnel. The very people that Africa needs to emerge out of economic privation are being liquidated by this dreaded disease.

I believe that too often the Christian response to the AIDS epidemic has been abominable. In many instances there is a tendency to write off those who are suffering from AIDS on the grounds that this disease is some kind of punishment from God meted out to those who have been sexually promiscuous. The logic behind such a conclusion is beyond my comprehension. Consider the fact that a huge number of those who are HIV positive are women who have been infected, not because of any immoral behavior on their part, but because their husbands gave them the disease. Are they to be condemned and ignored because of what their husbands have done? And what about the children who are infected? Children constitute a significant proportion of those who are facing the possibility of AIDS-related death through no fault of their own.

The church must recognize that AIDS very much parallels the disease of leprosy that we read about in the New Testament. In Biblical times, those who had leprosy were deemed spiritually unclean, and others would not get near them or touch them for fear of contamination that would be both physically harmful and spiritually defiling. Leprosy was seen to have a spiritual dimension to it and those who had the disease were looked upon as being especially cursed by God. Given those realities about people who had leprosy back then, it is easy to understand why comparisons can be made to those who are infected by AIDS in our contemporary world.

It is important for us to note that Jesus had a special spot in his heart for the lepers. He embraced them. He touched them. He reached out to them in love. All of this was contrary to the legalistic pietism of religious leaders in his day. Jesus' condemnation of such religionists was harsh. He always reached out to the lepers to make them whole, in spite of the fact that touching them would render him ceremoniously unclean to the custodians of the temple religion.

The Jesus who we find in Scripture calls upon us to look for him in the eyes of the poor and the oppressed. He tells us in Matthew 25 that what we do "to the least of them" we do to him. The Christ of Scripture refuses to be an abstraction in the sky. Instead, he chooses to be incarnated in the last, the least, and the lost of this world. I contend that he is especially present in those who suffer from AIDS. Sacramentally, the resurrected Jesus waits to be loved in each of them. Mother Teresa once said, "Whenever I look into the eyes of someone dying of AIDS, I have an eerie awareness that Jesus is staring back at me." Indeed, that is the case. No one can say that he or she loves Jesus without embracing Jesus in those who have this torturous disease.

Those of us who are in the church must use what moral authority we have to speak against those political and economic structures that the Bible refers to as the "principalities and powers" that rule our age. We must raise our voice against those pharmaceutical corporations that overprice the cocktail drugs that could slow down the effects of the HIV virus in those who are infected. We must call the corporate community to account for their apparent tendency to put profits far above people.

We must also speak out against a government that spends trillions of dollars to build up a military machine, but provides only a pittance to deal with the AIDS crisis that is destroying Africa. As we wage war on terrorism, we must be aware that terrorism cannot be eliminated until we deal with the economic imbalances and the social injustices that breed terrorism. We do not get rid of malaria by killing mosquitoes. Instead, we must destroy the swamps in which the mosquitoes breed. So it is that we will not get rid of terrorism by killing individual terrorists. In the end, we must get rid of the conditions that breed terrorists. We must attack the poverty and the oppression that nurtures such extremism. Enlightened self-interest should lead us to assume that unless we, who live in the richest nation on the face of the earth, respond to the AIDS crisis in Africa, there will be dire consequences.

But, in the end, we who call ourselves followers of Jesus have a higher calling than our own self-interest. If Christ is a reality in our lives, then our hearts will be broken by the things that break the heart of Jesus. There can be no doubt that the heart of our Lord is broken by what is happening in Africa, even now. If nothing else, our hearts should burn within us as we face the fact that thirteen million children in Africa have been orphaned because of AIDS, and that for each of them Jesus sheds His tears.

On Judgment Day, we will not be asked theological questions. Instead, we will be asked, as it says in Matthew 25, how we responded to those who were poor, diseased, downhearted, and alone. Jesus will ask us on that day if we reached out to the stranger in need with loving care and if we treated the sick with true compassion. It is not that theological convictions are unimportant, but rather that true commitment to the beliefs we espouse will be manifested in compassionate action on behalf of those who are writhing in the agonies of AIDS, even now.
Written for The aWAKE Project,
Copyright © 2002 by Tony Campolo.

Transcript of Video Message Recorded for Christian Music Festivals:
Recording Artist

I went to Africa recently and came back with some facts I'd like to share with you.
Twenty-five million people in Africa now have HIV. Think about that—twenty-five million people in Africa are HIV positive. Thirteen million children are orphans because their parents have died from AIDS—and this figure is expected to double by the end of the decade.

Today—in the next twenty-four hours—5,500 Africans will die of AIDS. Today in childbirth 1,400 African mothers will pass on HIV to their newborns.

If this isn't an emergency, what is? In the Scriptures we are not advised to love our neighbor, we are commanded. The Church needs to lead the way here, not drag its heels. The government needs guidance. We discuss; we debate; we put our hands in our pockets. We are generous even. But, I tell you, God is not looking for alms; God is looking for action. He is not just looking for our loose change—he's looking for a tighter contract between us and our neighbor.

Africa is America's neighbor. Africa is Europe's neighbor. We are daily standing by while millions of people die for the stupidest reason of all: money.

There is a growing movement for Jubilee in the United States. I love that word Jubilee—it suggests joy in a new beginning free from the bondage of slavery of any kind. In this instance, economic slavery. Let's not forget that redemption is an economic term. We need to drop the debt and end the ridiculous situation where today's generations in the poorest countries have to spend what little they have paying back old loans rather than investing in health, education, and clean water. We need to make trade rules more fair. If we're serious, we need to let these countries put their products on our shelves and stop refusing them what we demand for ourselves—autonomy in managing their own markets.

And finally, all rich countries need to increase development assistance to fight AIDS and poverty in Africa. This is not about throwing money away but about using our national wealth to improve the lives of the poorest people in the world. At the moment, of the twenty-two richest countries, the U.S. is at the bottom of the list when you look at how much the government is planning to give to foreign assistance as a proportion of overall wealth: 0.15 percent of GDP. And almost half of this goes to middle income countries. The UK and Ireland are at 0.32 percent. All countries need to get the level of the Scandinavians: 0.7 percent. Americans are generous people. Their personal giving is in line with everyone else.

I should be preaching to the converted here. There are 2,100 verses of Scripture pertaining to the poor. History will judge us on how we deal with this crisis. God will judge us even harder.

Look, sometimes we've just got to do what we're told. The children of God have to listen to their Father in Heaven. It's easy to think that Africa's problems are caused by natural calamity and corruption and have nothing to do with us. That's part of the problem, but the truth is also that the relationship between the developed and the developing world has been so wrong so for long—corrupt actually.

It's the start of the twenty-first century; it's time to put this right. Charity alone will not work. We need a new partnership based on justice and equality. We need to remind ourselves that God will not accept our acceptance of lives made wretched by a geographical accident of latitude and longitude.

We must wake up the sleeping giant of the Church; we must set alarm clocks to rouse our politicians who also slumber. The choice is there before each and every one of us: to stop and tend to the distant pilgrim sick on the side of the road, or, a nervous glance, and we turn away . . . away from the pilgrim, away from God's grace.

Written for The aWAKE Project,
Copyright © 2002 by Bono.


Gordon said...

Even for someone who sees the AIDS pandemic as a spritual problem with promiscuity cannot turn a blind eye to it. Remember Mary Magdalene was a prostitute and Jesus forgave her.
There have been so many pet projects by millionaire personalities over the past few decades (for the most part I feel for their own concience sake) that many of us don't recognize the real thing when it happens. I am not a huge fan of U2, but I do respect Bono as a person and I do not believe that he is doing this out of a misguided feeling of fame-guilt. There is a real need that can be addressed here--do not make the mistake of thinking that these are the only lost souls though...not until there is a new heaven and a new earth will the suffering end. Matthew 5:13 says "you are the salt of the earth" meaning that we as christians are what is preserving the earth until he comes. I take that to mean that it is personally in our charge to do what we can for those who are suffering until Jesus Christ returns to end all suffering once and for all.

from Christy Fritz said...

i got chill bumps reading both articles... thanks for enlightening us...i'd never thought of the leprosy perspective, but oh how true!!

and yes annie lenox did rock the house that night...even at fifty something, i think it is .. :)
our house follows american idol pretty close... it was nice to see the give back addition this year.