HIV/AIDS: A Biblical & Theological Response

HIV/AIDS and Wheaton College

The global HIV/AIDS pandemic is one of the greatest humanitarian crises of our day.  Although in the West HIV/AIDS is a chronic disease that has become increasingly treatable with proper medical care, among the poor of the global south it is often fatal. AIDS tends to cluster in families, killing adults and leaving their children orphaned and sick. Because proper nutrition and access to healthcare remain beyond the reach of most people in the global south, this renders the diagnosis of an HIV infection an imminent death sentence. 

The suffering and death resulting from HIV/AIDS stands in stark contrast to God’s intentions for abundant life. This unprecedented pandemic thus confronts the world with a complex crisis of profound proportions, including medical, scientific, logistical and structural challenges. It also raises for Christ’s church a series of theological and moral challenges.

How are we to respond to such challenges? The following represents our commitment to reflect faithfully upon our Christian responsibilities in the face of this global threat. We acknowledge our responsibility to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ and embody his commands for justice, sexual purity, forgiveness, and compassionate action for those who suffer.

A Biblical Response

Christ and the Promise of Life
Scripture repeatedly reminds us that God animates, sustains, and protects life (John 1:4; Amos 5:4; cf. Ezekiel 18:32). Thus our theological reflection on the HIV/AIDS pandemic must be grounded in a theology of life. God’s gifts of life, dignity and love obligate humans to glorify him in faithful obedience. These gifts extend to all humanity, the just and the unjust, because God’s redemptive love encompasses the world.

A truly Christian theology of life will be, moreover, thoroughly Christ-centered. He who created life (John 1:3-4) also joined the human race, giving himself to die in order that we may live. Jesus has entered into the suffering and brokenness of the world and won victory over death through his own suffering and weakness.

The HIV/AIDS pandemic thus calls for a consistent Christ-centered theology of life, one in which human existence is properly understood as life before the living God. The devastating threat posed by HIV/AIDS challenges us both to affirm the life and dignity which flow from God’s creative and sacrificial love, and to do all we all we can to enhance them.

Compassion and Justice
With the framers of the first Lausanne Covenant (1974) we express “penitence both for our neglect and for having sometimes regarded evangelism and social concern as mutually exclusive. Although reconciliation with other people is not reconciliation with God, nor is social action evangelism, nor is political liberation salvation, nevertheless we affirm that evangelism and socio-political involvement are both part of our Christian duty” (Article 5, “Christian Social Responsibility”).

God calls his people “to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8). He honors those who stop to care for suffering strangers (Luke 10:29-37). Thus the Apostle Paul instructs us, “Let us not become weary in doing good. As we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers” (Galatians 6:9-10). 

Jesus summarizes the entire law when he commands us to “’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind,’ and ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (Luke 10:25-28). Just as the church responds to the needs of the unborn, the homeless, and the persecuted church, so also the love of Christ compels us (2 Corinthians 5:14-15) to offer ourselves in sacrificial service to those who suffer, especially to the most vulnerable and fragile of our neighbors (James 1:27).

According to the Bible, justice and mercy are inseparable (Isaiah 11:1-5; Psalm 113:5-9). Thus, in addition to caring for those who suffer (acts of mercy), we are also called to proclaim a holistic Gospel.  Not only must we speak truthfully about individual sin such as sexual promiscuity and drug use; we must also by extension speak truthfully about ineffective political and economic structures, poverty, and inadequate health care, and about institutionalized sin such as government corruption, organized crime, and economic oppression, all of which contribute to the spread of HIV. 

Sexual Fidelity and Obedience
The watershed All Africa Church and AIDS Consultation (1994) declared that, “HIV/AIDS is inextricably intertwined with human sexuality. Through the indiscriminate practice of sex outside of marriage, HIV is taking advantage of one of the most beautiful God-gifted expressions of love that can be shared by two people. The church's unique biblical perspective can serve to both preserve the loving expression of human sexuality intended by God and protect human relationships from the destructive and divisive nature of HIV.”

This statement is based upon the assumption that human disease, suffering and death ultimately result from Adam and Eve’s sin and God’s subsequent curse. The HIV/AIDS pandemic in particular has been driven largely by sexual relations outside of marriage, and by complex social and political forces. We believe that God has commanded sexual fidelity in marriage and sexual abstinence outside of marriage. Thus, we believe that prevention of HIV/AIDS begins by calling all to a life of sexual purity. We also believe, however, that Scripture warns against the conclusion that suffering and disease can be easily correlated with sin (see Job, John 9:1-3; Luke 13:1-5). A Christian response to this crisis must therefore resist simplistic claims about HIV/AIDS and divine judgment.

Our Response
HIV/AIDS confronts us with the call to serve with compassion and mercy in the midst of a profound human crisis. By God’s grace, we must not “pass by on the other side” (Luke 10:31).

The College’s mission as a Christian institution of higher learning dedicated to the development of whole and effective Christians carries with it an obligation to respond in appropriate ways to the pandemic of HIV/AIDS. As a Christian learning community made up of faculty, staff, students, and alumni, we seek to carry out the mission of the College by demonstrating faithful and informed reflection upon this crisis. In addition, we acknowledge our responsibility to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ and embody his commands for justice, sexual purity, forgiveness, and compassionate action for those who suffer.

In the fulfillment of this obligation, we aim to foster student involvement in addressing the pandemic. In addition, we seek to encourage our faculty to teach effectively about HIV/AIDS across the disciplines, and to develop staff engagement through further education and opportunity. We affirm Wheaton’s global alumni who have made significant contributions and we seek to encourage them as they continue to respond through healthcare, education, government, non-government organizations, and grassroots support groups. Even as we seek to equip future graduates, the College recognizes the value of listening to our alumni and discerning how we may support them in responding to AIDS on the front lines.

Given that HIV/AIDS is most acute among the poor, the impoverished and the marginalized, and that it is spreading most rapidly among women, leaving millions of children orphaned around the world, this pandemic is an urgent occasion for Christians to practice “pure and undefiled religion” (James 1:27).  Because we recognize that brokenness fractures all facets of human life, including the physical, spiritual, psychological and social, we seek to stand with those whose bodies and spirits have been devastated by disease and suffering, focusing not only on the pandemic itself but also on the issues that exacerbate it. 

In all of our efforts, as God’s people we proclaim the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We affirm that, in the end, true and lasting healing is found only in a living embrace of the Gospel. Given that personal and social transformation is the work of God, we offer ourselves to God, in full confidence that He will sanctify our efforts to His good purposes. In all of this we endeavor to glorify God as we seek to fulfill our Christian responsibilities through prayer and action “for Christ and His Kingdom.”

April, 2007