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AIDS, Africa and Christians
Last year I wrote a commentary expressing my concerns that it seemed to be the most heavily Christianised countries of Africa which had the highest incidences of HIV/AIDS.
The result was more email than I had ever received before for one of my articles, and, later, an invitation to participate in the Lyceum Challenge, a pilot project of The First Academy in Orlando, Florida, aimed at developing critical thinking in Christian students.
I was asked to write a “brief open letter” to the students, based on my concerns about the African crisis. Here it is:
The AIDS tragedy in Africa is not new. I remember reading many articles about it in The Economist magazine in the early 1990s, and possibly even in the late 1980s, and feeling great concern.
I wasn’t a Christian then. (I became a Christian only in 1993.) So in some small, peripheral way the exploding AIDS crisis – in Africa and in a few other places - has shadowed my walk with the Lord.
I was shocked last year to read that Papua New Guinea (PNG), a large island nation north of Australia, was facing its own looming AIDS explosion. PNG is said to be overwhelmingly Christian. It also has huge numbers of Christian missionaries, many of them supported by our churches here in Australia.
How could this happen, I wondered? What on earth have all those missionaries been doing? I wrote a commentary for my website, concluding sarcastically:
What messages are the missionaries bringing? Should I be directing my tithes elsewhere? Or should I just sit back content in the knowledge that so many are going to heaven?
Then the United Nations released its “Barcelona Report” on the AIDS crisis. I decided to spend some time studying it. What I found was depressing. In Africa, it often seemed that the more non-Catholic Christians there were in a country, the higher the incidence of HIV/AIDS.
I wrote another commentary for my website, and this provoked considerable debate. (In particular, several people pointed to the unreliability of AIDS reporting throughout Africa.) Nevertheless, the fact remains that millions of Africans – particularly in Christian countries - are going to die of HIV/AIDS.
I have far more questions about all this than answers, including a query about the reliability of “Christian reporting” in Africa. How many Christians are there really? Who decides, and how?
But I also have one big question. Might the problem be simply that the message of Jesus – forgiveness, service, integrity, trust, humility, prayer, compassion, justice, and, above all, a sacrificial love – might it be that all this is just too radical for Christians today? Not only for Africans, but for those of us in the West as well?
Students, I wish you well with your project!
March 7th, 2003