Our church (still) has AIDS
Twenty years ago Ted knew almost nothing of AIDS other than fear and half truths. It was in 1983, while Ted was working as a priest in the diocese of Dallas in Texas, that the problem of AIDS landed on his doorstep quite literally. Ted answered his door one night to find standing there a man with his face disfigured by the cancerous sores associated with advanced stages of the HIV/AIDS virus. The man said simply: “Will you allow me to come to your church and die here?' He went on to explain that six other churches had already turned him away.Ted's ministry has since taken him to South Africa and today the Anglican church there and elsewhere in Africa, though slow initially to act, is now at the forefront of speaking plainly in public about AIDS and steps to take to prevent its spread. Much has changed in the past 25 years. In the meantime, AIDS victims became the new lepers. Like lepers to whom Jesus reached out, many people (including deeply religious people) shunned those suffering with AIDS as both unclean and even as persons being punished by God. But at our best, Christians have reached out in love yet again, just as Jesus called us to do.
The first thing Ted thought was of the terrible disease and the uncertainties of how it spread. What would it mean for this man to share in the worship at his church? He thought if you drank from a communion cup with someone that has this disease you too would contract the virus. But Ted stopped long enough to Think Like Jesus Thinks. Ted thought of how Jesus welcomed the outcasts in his own society, especially the lepers who others avoided out of fear of the disease. After an initial pause, Ted said, “My church is open to you. I will stand by you.”
Later, Ted would learn that the man only wanted to place to commit suicide. However, when he realized that Ted actually intended to show him love and care, the man put aside his thoughts of ending his own life. Miracle of miracles, a church was offering love and support rather than judgment and condemnation.
The only problem was that Ted’s church could not see it the same way. The issue was not inclusion or exclusion, but fear. Fear of AIDS and what it could do to a person. Ted reached out in love to a dying man and the people of his congregation abandoned their church and that dying man. A few months later, there were only 21 people remaining in Ted’s church. At one main Sunday service, only three people attended. Ted saw no choice but to stand by the dying man offering him the love of God.
Time passed. The disease ran its course and the man died still upheld by the love of Ted and the few who stood by him. There was no small cost to Thinking Like Jesus Thinks, but the faithful Christians felt they had no other choice. How could they not humble themselves to be of service to someone in need?
The Rev. Frank Logue, Pastor + King of Peace Episcopal Church