Lutheran church leaders in Africa have publicly acknowledged the serious shortcomings in the response of their churches to the HIV/AIDS pandemic.
At a recent meeting in Nairobi, Kenya, they condemned the role played by the church in stigmatizing and discriminating against those who are living with the disease, admitting that 'our churches have not always been safe or welcome places.'
In repenting of those sins, the church leaders said in a statement at the end of the meeting, 'In some cases Holy Communion has been refused to people living with HIV/AIDS, funerals of people having died from AIDS have been denied and comfort to the bereaved has not been given.'
Organized by the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), the meeting included bishops, presidents, pastors and youth leaders from 27 member churches in Africa, as well as participants from Asia, Europe, Latin America and North America.
Bishops from Zimbabwe and South Africa, with some of the world's highest infection rates, urged the conference to support the use of condoms as a way to avoid AIDS. In the past many church leaders have argued that promoting the use of condoms means promoting promiscuity.
'The fact that the infection rate keeps rising in most of our countries is a sign that a large number of people are not heeding our message of abstinence from sex before marriage and faithfulness in marriage in obedience to the will of God,' noted Bishop Ambrose Moyo of Zimbabwe where at least 2,000 people die each week of AIDS-related illnesses. 'Many choose to disobey but their lives are also very precious before God.'
Bishop A.N. Phaswana of South Africa reported that between 4.7 and 6 million people in his country are living with the disease--and as many as 53 percent of the mothers receiving prenatal care in Soweto's largest hospital were HIV positive. He urged his colleagues to take practical steps to teach their congregations about the value of nutrition in helping those who are infected, pointing to a link between HIV and poverty.
The LWF on May 6 announced the launch of a Global Campaign against HIV/AIDS. 'Silence and all forms of myths about the reality of HIV/AIDS amount to an affront of what God has achieved for us in Christ,' said Dr. Ishmael Noko, LWF general secretary.