The Rev. Aaron Graham is senior pastor of The District Church, a non-denominational, evangelical congregation in Washington. He’s a former “Justice Revival Director” (whatever that is) for Sojourners. He wrote a piece for the “On Faith” column of the Washington Post about National HIV Testing Day (what? you mean you missed it?) entitled “Why I got tested”:
As I walked into the Whitman-Walker Clinic I thought, What will everyone in the waiting room think when I tell the receptionist why I’m here? Will they think I’m gay? Will they think I cheated on my wife? I wonder if any of them know I’m a pastor?
As I went into the back room to get my finger pricked, I began to worry about whether I would test positive. What would my wife think? What would my church think? Would I lose my job?
Me, I’ve got to wonder why he didn’t tell his wife. As he makes clear later, he didn’t really think he would test positive, but did it to make a point. If I were going to do something like that, I’d certainly tell my wife first, rather than afterwards (or, heaven forbid, let her know through the Washington Post, which would be grounds for a frying pan across the skull, if not divorce).
While I know I would be loved by some, I also know I would probably feel judged by many. If one of my friends told me they were HIV positive I’m sad to admit that my first thought would be to wonder whether they were sleeping around.
I think it’s this fear of being judged that prevents so many of us from getting tested.
No, actually for most people I suspect it’s the realization that they haven’t 1) had male homosexual contact; 2) had heterosexual contact with someone who was infected; 3) had a blood transfusion; or 4) taken intravenous drugs. I know that’s why I haven’t been tested. What Graham seems unable to accept, like so many people who want to “destigmatize” HIV/AIDS, is that it is not an easy disease to get, and most people are simply not at risk. That may upset some disease activists or gay rights people, but that’s reality.
When Jesus interacted with the sick, he always treated people with dignity and focused on healing rather than judgment. When the disciples asked Jesus why a certain kid was born blind, he replied, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned…but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.” (John 9:3; NIV)
Sorry, that passage can’t be extrapolated to all disease or disability, nor should it be. Crack babies are born addicted because of specific actions taken by their mothers. People who get HIV/AIDS do so because they engage in high-risk behaviors (or got an infusion of infected blood, but that rarely happens these days). The story of the man born blind is hardly meant to give a pass to all who engage in immoral or risky behavior and then wind up having to deal with consequences that were well known to be possibilities before that behavior occurred.
I got tested because I believe Jesus would get tested. I got tested because, if Jesus were walking the streets of D.C. today I’m convinced he would be hanging out with those who are positive. Sick people always seem to find friendship and healing by being with Jesus.
The latter two of those sentences are undoubtedly true, but say nothing about the first. Look, I’ve worked with HIV/AIDS patients before—held their hands, prayed with them, buried them. I have no problem with those who seek to minister to the sick, including the sick whose own behavior led to them contracting the disease. I have no problem dealing with them in a non-judgmental way. But what Graham is talking about here is the kind of cheap stunt with which Jesus would have had nothing to do. He identifies plenty with the sick, through His crucifixion and death. Getting tested when you know there’s essentially no way you could test positive is simply a no-cost way of making a statement that you care. Somehow, I’m sure that the actual sufferers to whom Graham ministers with his time, his spiritual gifts, his empathy, and his wisdom are helped far more by that than by any gimmick.
This is a preventable disease, but the first step to stopping the epidemic is for everyone to know their HIV status through testing. And the key to everyone getting tested is to remove the shame and stigma by modeling out a Jesus-like culture of grace.
Again, no. Most people already know their status, and have no need for testing, because they haven’t done anything that could result in them catching the disease. Ultimately, this is simply a way of covering for those who need to get tested because of their behaviors, and especially for those who test positive. There are steps that could be taken to stop the disease, but suggesting that every American get tested isn’t it.
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