March 26, 2017

June 26, 2012

No-Cost Identification

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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HIV/AIDS advocates have a very difficult balancing act between a) saying you can’t get AIDS from a toilet seat and b) there are risky behaviors.  It is a sad commentary on our culture that so many have been lead into this weird idea that literally anyone could be at risk.  That’s simply not true, as you state.

In every case, the very behavior which puts a person at risk for infection falls under the category of immoral according to the Church and the Scriptures.  And this is the very thing which people like Graham are attempting to hide.

[1] Posted by fatherlee on 6-26-2012 at 03:08 PM · [top]

For the recommendations, see here:  :

“Too many people don’t know they have HIV (human immunodeficiency virus). More than 1 million people are living with HIV in the United States, but 1 in 5 don’t know they are infected.”

That means that 80% of them do know.

“CDC recommends that everyone between the ages of 13 and 64 get tested for HIV at least once as part of routine health care. An HIV test is recommended once a year for people at increased risk—such as gay and bisexual men, injection drug users, or people with multiple sex partners. Sexually active gay and bisexual men may benefit from more frequent testing (e.g., every 3 to 6 months). CDC also recommends that pregnant women get tested early in their pregnancy so they can take steps to prevent passing HIV to their babies.”

That means that there is a presumption of non-infection from one negative test between the ages of 13 and 64 IF you don’t engage in the following behaviors.
Routine OB care involves testing each PGcy per the American College of OB/GYN.

“If you don’t have HIV (if you test negative), take steps to stay negative.  Remember that if you have unprotected sex or share needles for drug use after your test, you need to get tested again to ensure you are still HIV-negative. Your HIV test result “expires” every time you have risky sex or share needles.”

Otherwise, the CDC reports the incidence statistics here: .  Overall, CDC’s new incidence estimates continue to show that:

  “Gay and bisexual men remain the population most heavily affected by HIV in the United States. CDC estimates MSM represent approximately 2% of the US population, but accounted for more than 50% of all new HIV infections annually from 2006 to 2009 –56% in 2006 (27,000), 58% in 2007 (32,300), 56% in 2008 (26,900) and 61% (29,300) in 2009.”
  “African Americans and Hispanics/Latinos are the racial/ethnic groups most affected by HIV. African Americans represent approximately 14% of the US population, but accounted for 44% (21,200) of all new HIV infections in 2009. Hispanic/Latinos represent approximately 16% of the total US population, but acounted for 20% (9,400) of all new HIV infections in 2009.
    “Overall, in 2009, African American men had the highest rate of new HIV infections (103.9 new infections per 100,000 persons), followed by Hispanic/Latino men (39.9 per 100,000), and African American women (39.7 per 100,000).”

By the by, the cost of an HIV screening test is about $123.50 at my midwest hospital.  A positive requires confirmation at a cost of $213.40.  A positive screening test MUST be confirmed by the second test because false positive screens do occur in patients with no known risk factors.

The CDC’s overview of HIV can be found here:

[2] Posted by dwstroudmd+ on 6-26-2012 at 04:03 PM · [top]

Ugh, this brings back bad memories of graduate school. At the time (1980s) everyone wanted to tap into the NIH monies for HIV/AIDS research. I actually worked in a lab studying HIV (thankfully not whole virus!!) The senior scientist (i.e. my advisor) considered working with whole virus. I was told that if the lab started working with whole virus, I would be the student to work with it because as a female I was at lower risk of infection. YIKES! Fortunately they never worked with the virus while I was there. I decided to leave with my MS, whew.

[3] Posted by SC blu cat lady on 6-26-2012 at 04:42 PM · [top]

“I got tested because I believe Jesus would get tested.”

Jesus - the action figure you can just make do whatever you want him to do.  In stores for Christmas.

[4] Posted by midwestnorwegian on 6-26-2012 at 05:48 PM · [top]

Having SC blu cat lady walk down menory lane made me travel down that same lane only a decade further removed that her memories.  This was the summer of 1970 in SC.  I was planning to be married in the fall of that year.  I was was a regular blood donor at the ARC but money so short that summer and inbetween ARC donations I would go to the for profit blood banks to pcik up some extra cash.  The last time that I would give before I was to be married I went to the for profit blood bank and was refused the ability to donate.  I questioned why this was the case and the employee said that I had received a + on a VDRL test.  I was so ignorant that I asked what a positive VDRL test ment.  After being told, I said to myself that cannot be, I know what was required to get a veneral disease.  Please know I was not a canidate for sainthood or the RC priesthood I just had not had the opportunity.

An appointment was made with my family doctor.  I was really sweating this because I was to be married in VA and there they required a blood test to get a marriage license.  The day of the appointment came and I went to the doctor who was a friend of my parents and I am sure that I blureted out I GOT A POSTIVE ON A VDRL TEST AT THE BLOOD BANK.  The physican know that i was getting married in VA.  He said no problem son we can get you cleaned up.  During the examination the doctor said that it woiuld be good to verify by taking another sample so see.  I then told him about my giving at both ARC and for profit blood banks and that the positive was from the for profit bank.  He laughed and said there are many false positives.  Everything was great that the second test came back negative.  Soo there were no problems or embarrassment in getting a marriage license in VA.

But this long story only points up the fact that proper medical testing of blood trasfusions and if someone is not practicing unsafe behavor one does not have to be concerned.  Which is the point that Father Lee was making above

“In every case, the very behavior which puts a person at risk for infection falls under the category of immoral according to the Church and the Scriptures.  And this is the very thing which people like Graham are attempting to hide.”

[5] Posted by Carpe DCN on 6-26-2012 at 07:01 PM · [top]

Carpe DCN No doubt you were thrilled to get that behind you. However your mention of a for-profit blood bank and a positive test result makes me wonder if there is a bit of ah *motivation* to have positive results.

Yes, good point made by you and Father Lee made- if you don’t practice risky behaviors, you are at very low risk. I remember the hysteria back in the 8os about one got HIV/AIDS.

[6] Posted by SC blu cat lady on 6-26-2012 at 07:18 PM · [top]

After I graduated college and got my first job (‘87), I moved into an apartment complex with alot of other young professionals.  One of my neighbors was an OB/GYN just getting his start after residency.  I remember asking him about HIV/AIDS, thinking that it must be like polio—a virus that eventually a vaccine could prevent.  He shook his head ruefully and said “I’m glad I’m married.” 

The medical community knew then that the risk was behavior related, but too often saying so is politically incorrect.  How many more lives has that cost?

[7] Posted by elanor on 6-26-2012 at 09:15 PM · [top]

You know…. I have wondered if HIV/AIDS was responsible in part for the rush to “gay marriage”. How many homosexuals were actually interested in committed relationships before it came clear that promiscuity was extremely risky?

[8] Posted by SC blu cat lady on 6-26-2012 at 09:38 PM · [top]

“committed relationship”  means something completely different to many gays.  Kind of like an “open marriage,”  which strengthens and builds the committed relationship. They’ll be “committed” to someone, but have a fling on a weekend.  They’ll be married to a woman and have children, but not take that vow as limiting their sexual relationships to their wife.  The admission of being gay can come after the marriage, w/ nothing said to the wife….  So I’m not sure “gay marriage” is related to preventing HIV/AIDS.

[9] Posted by maineiac on 6-26-2012 at 11:39 PM · [top]

That CDC page is chilling.  They make it seem like the test, the knowledge of your status, is more important than stopping risking behavior.

Sheesh.  Just as we know how to prevent pregnancy 100% (abstinence), we know how to prevent most HIV/AIDS infections (don’t engage in risky behavior).

[10] Posted by Paul B on 6-27-2012 at 08:24 AM · [top]

This honestly shows how dumb mankind is.  We can absolutely prevent unplanned pregnancies outside of marriage and AIDS 100% by making responsible choices.

I have a surrogate kid who’s sister is going in for an abortion soon.  The guy who got her pregnant beat her and she has a restraining order on him.  She is 19 years old.  What a mess.  All because of bad choices. 

Please pray that Jesus will soften her heart and she will choose to keep the baby and give him/her up for adoption.  Thanks.

[11] Posted by B. Hunter on 6-27-2012 at 08:32 AM · [top]

While prevention is part of the CDC’s mission, the CDC has long been known as a source for analyzing and presenting data about various diseases/infections in the US.  That page is meant to be chilling as well as factual. Want really chilling? read the CDC’s M and M (morbidity and mortality) report ? [It used to be published in paperback form but maybe be totally online by now]

HIV is an incredibly dangerous virus which leads to a disease that is very difficult to manage and treat.  I remember the big public service announcements/ ad campaigns (TV especially) back in the 1980s. Now many people know that you don’t get HIV from toilet seats, someone sneezing on you, shaking hands, etc. Thanks to these campaigns public knowledge is widespread but not total. Even with best campaigns, some people will still be ignorant.

I think the reason the CDC does not promote abstinence as the way to not get HIV is that they understand that in the groups most likely to get HIV/AIDS, abstinence is not a widely accepted choice. It should be but it is not. Better to promote ways that actually have a likelihood of being adopted hence the efforts to promote and reports of condom usage among MSM. It is a more of a practical decision than anything. It is not as easy as saying stop this behavior it is risky. You can tell people that abstinence is the best way to not get HIV but you can’t make them stop engaging in risky behaviors.  That is the problem.

[12] Posted by SC blu cat lady on 6-27-2012 at 09:07 AM · [top]

B. Hunter.
No, not 100%. There are ways of getting HIV that are not sexual. Health care workers are still at risk even with guideline to prevent needlesticks, accidents still happen. Even then the worker can be treated but still there is very small chance of being infected. Not arguing that abstinence is not the best way to prevent HIV, it is - just saying it won’t prevent 100% of HIV infections.

[13] Posted by SC blu cat lady on 6-27-2012 at 09:16 AM · [top]

#10 Paul B.
From Buffalo Bob and Howdy Dowdy “Plunk your magic twanger, Froggy.”  Need I say more.  Regrets happen in the morning.

[14] Posted by Carpe DCN on 6-27-2012 at 10:31 AM · [top]

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