As noted earlier, the answer to why the Women’s Center at LPTS walks in the Louisville AIDS Walk has a historical and a theological part. We addressed the historical part a few days ago. Here is a view on the theological part:
The theological part has something to do with stigma. That might best be illustrated by thinking about the average church prayer list. Picture that list. It’s probably long — the list at my church covers half a page of the bulletin. The one we used for years at the Wednesday evening Bible study was a full page, two columns. Think about who is on that list, and what we know about them. Most often, it lists the people in and known to the congregation who are sick, or in the hospital, or about to have surgery, or at home recovering from surgery; people whose mothers or fathers or cousins or aunts recently died, in accidents or at an old age. Now picture what you do to get a name on the list. Picture yourself walking up to the church secretary and saying “I’d like the church to pray for my niece/daughter/mom who has been diagnosed HIV+.” Picture yourself standing up in the prayer meeting and saying “I could use prayer for the challenges of living with my HIV+ status.”
We know those prayer requests are more difficult to make than the ones asking for prayer for our relatives and friends suffering with cancer or needing joint replacements. We know that people who are living with HIV/AIDS are living with a disease that entails all the affliction of disease, plus a still-powerful social stigma that makes it difficult for a person to acknowledge that disease, to seek the help and treatment needed, and to experience the grace and care of the community.
Participating in the Louisville AIDS Walk moves that grace and care out into the community in an active way. We believe God’s grace is active; Jesus exemplified active grace; Jesus’ disciples are called to that practice. The theology on that point is simple and direct.
But the reasons we know there’s a stigma attached to HIV/AIDS underscore yet another theological reason for Louisville AIDS Walk-ing. We know that among the reasons for that stigma are punitive and rejecting attitudes about “what HIV/AIDS means” that persist, even in the churches that should be — we also know — the places that proclaim the good news of reconciliation to the world. We have probably all heard people give voice to those attitudes. They may not even be couched in the form “Who sinnned, this man or his parents?” They may express judgment directly: “Well, that’s what people get when they . . .” or “AIDS is God’s punishment for . . .” Often, what HIV/AIDS is said to be a punishment for amounts to a rejection of rules for gender and sexuality said to have been made by God.
We must insist on a different vision of God. It has always been the mission of the Women’s Center to proclaim that the stance on gender that holds that women are bound by divine command to serve men by making babies and taking beatings is stenotic and mistaken. The stigma attached to HIV/AIDS, especially where it lingers in the church, often derives from that same stenotic position on gender. It has always been the mission of the Women’s Center to proclaim a vision of God informed by the revelation of created diversity (e.g., Gen. 1:27), an expansive call to worship (e.g., Isaiah 56:3-8, Rev. 22:17), and an emphatic stress on justice and wholeness (e.g., Micah 6:8). The stigma attached to HIV/AIDS evaporates in the light of that vision.
The Women’s Center’s mission and vision urge solidarity with everyone who faces oppression, exclusion or aspersions on grounds of gender — including many people living with HIV/AIDS.
That is another reason the Women’s Center participates in the Louisville AIDS Walk.