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Christian Concern for AIDS Victims Grows, Says Barna Report

  • Janet Chismar Senior Editor, News & Culture
  • Published Nov 29, 2004
Christian Concern for AIDS Victims Grows, Says Barna Report


Two years after U-2's Bono challenged American Christians to become engaged in the AIDS pandemic, a new survey reveals a small, but significant increase among evangelicals willing to donate money to help and support children orphaned by AIDS.


The poll found that 14 percent of American evangelicals definitely would be willing to donate funds to AIDS education and prevention in sub-Saharan Africa and other regions devastated by the disease.  It also indicated 17 percent would help children orphaned by AIDS.  These statistics are much higher than in 2002 when the same poll found 5 percent and 3 percent, respectively.


The new survey revealed that 12 percent of Americans in general were willing to donate money to help prevent AIDS, and 13 percent interested in supporting children orphaned by AIDS.


"The needle is moving in the right direction, but we - Americans overall and Christians - still have a long way to go," said Richard Stearns, president of World Vision, which commissioned the survey.


The survey of 1,009 people was conducted by the Barna Research Group, Ltd. over two weeks in late October and early November.  The margin of error is 3 percent.


President George W. Bush promised $15 billion over five years to fight the epidemic.  While the action is welcome, much more will be needed, said Stearns.


"This crisis is too big for the U.S. Government alone.  It requires action from all sides ? businesses, individuals and people of faith," he said.

JC:  The last Barna research was commissioned by World Vision?


SH:  That’s right, in fact we’ve actually commissioned (something) in the past so we actually have something to go of off over the last three years, have a chance to watch either the fact that this issue of AIDS is becoming well-known issue amongst predominantly evangelical because that’s been the real shocker both positive and negative over the three years as to whether they consider this an issue worth advocating for, getting involved in.  So we’ve worked with Barna to try and understand that community, see what it reflects.


JC:  What factors would you contribute the increase in support to?


SH:  I think for one the national leadership actually making this an issue that’s worthy of not only talking about but doing something about.  The Pepfar (?) Grant by President Bush I think did in a very large way registered this as an issue that we all need to pay attention to.  I would highlight the Hope Tours that World Vision did in 17 of the major cities of our country in which they were talking to editorial boards, major religious leadership, major donors, community leaders, often in three and four day events, series of events in which we were going from morning till night saying this is the issue that we need to pay attention to.  I think also the fact that major Christian leaders have seen to it to begin speaking out.  Ricky K. Warren (?) of Saddleback Church, Bill and Lynn Hibles (?) at Willow Creek, Max Lucado are just three of the very prominent, and Bishop Blake at West L.A. Church of God and Christ, Horace Smith out of Chicago, these have been, Herb Lusk out of Philadelphia, these have been major leadership moves where this is no longer an issue that is simply to be borne by those who have a heart for those who are caught up in average lifestyles.  This is a global pandemic that all Christians need to pay attention to.


JC:  While there is an increase do you feel that it’s still a small percentage of Christians?


SH:  Absolutely.  It’s one of those positives negatives.  The positive part is when you go come three percent to 17 percent over two years.  If all you do is grouse at the 17 percent that I think you’ve missed something.  We’re involved in a fight and it’s a fight of life and death for millions upon millions of people, especially for orphans and widows, which are basically mandated at least in scripture these are the individuals that should be the focus of our concern. Old and New Testament are very clear about who we’re to be taking care of.  In fact we’re serious about a relevant faith.  In James 1:27 is very very clear about that but at the same time even though we look at 17 percent, we realize that there’s still a boatload of ignorance and judgment and misplaced understanding out there that needs to be corrected.  And so for those of us in the fight we recognize also that we may not be able to convert everyone to understand this issue but if we can accomplish a tipping point then we will have accomplished what is the beginning of general understanding and general activation of assets and activity that really could turn the tide on this disease.


JC:  Is the stumbling block still attitude?


SH:  Absolutely.  And I think also another major thing at least for western believers and I would say this isn’t just the evangelicals or, as Barna described them, born agains or notional Christians, he had a whole series of main line attenders, non main line attenders, active faith people, what is true about all of them is we don’t see the heavy infection rates and the disablement of community like is happening in other parts of the world.  We look out and we see Magic Johnson and we love the fact that he’s looking good, seems to be feeling well.  I just read an article that his businesses are doing incredibly well and so we think well now if that’s HIV infection well then how bad can it really be?  He seems to be doing quite well.  But we don’t also understand that that’s also the result of good nutrition, anti-retral(?) virals, which he’s able to get to a good social safety net that he’s able to access great health care, clean water, etc. Most of out world doesn’t come close to getting even a small percentage of that and therefore you’re talking about a death sentence of five to ten years.


JC:  Given this information what will World Vision now do with that?


SH:  The first step was awake!  Everybody get awake, we have an issue and we’ve been obviously supported by a lot of others outside World Vision from Bono to the President who have used all sorts of creative, sometimes shocking, methods to let everyone know that there’s a fire in the house and it is consuming a large part of the house.  The second part I think of our initiative is to begin to broaden the initiative so that it really has the trappings much more of a movement.  World Vision, even though we understand ourselves as the largest faith based NGO in this site, in no way can we accomplish this by ourselves.  And so it’s critical that those who are also in the fight recognize that this is a big umbrella, that we all need to get under it, that we all need to be pushing, we all need to be fighting, we all need to be unified and that we have very little time to be caught up in minor squabbles.  That this is a chance now for the church, the American church, to really stand up and be seen as relevant and doing the very things that the scriptures mandated for us to do, which is to take of vulnerable people in their distress.


JC:  What can the average person do to make a difference?


SH:  I think this is going to sound incredibly simple but I think the best things usually start there and one is to become informed, to get information, and actually understand what is the disease, where is it attacking, and how does that impact me.  One of the greatest ways that people have told us is in fact just to get up on the World Vision web site where they can get all sorts of statistical as well as UN information.  Where is the disease, how is the disease, etc.  You can’t advocate on behalf of those with the disease until you understand who actually has it.  And so that’s www.worldvision.org is the best place that I have found to start.  Number two, to begin talking this up.  Many Christians are a part of Bible studies, they’re at least connected to church leadership, they’re in small groups, etc.  But begin to bring this up as an issue.  How should we react?  What should we do in light of scripture, to actually make it a talking point.  And the third one is probably to do something, either locally or internationally.  Most of the folks who are suffering from HIV are called the modern day leper.  They are untouched.  Unfortunately too often they are unloved.  They are under resourced.  People have shunned them without realizing it, even in their own community groups.  And so as a faith community begin to do just as scripture asks us to do, to find these people and begin to minister to them in whatever ways are appropriate, whether it be rubbing their feet, listening to their stories, driving them to visits to the grocery store, the clinic or what have you, but beginning to show the compassion of Christ.  That’s locally.  Nationally, or internationally, perhaps to sponsor a child, actually get behind a community that’s had damage done to them because of HIV infection.  And that can be with World Vison or World Relief or any number of organizations that beginning to really wrap up their efforts on behalf of these who have been so infected.


JC:  Can you tell me a little about Precious In His Sight?


SH:  It’s a great film with Barbara Knotts (?), Jennifer O’Neill (no relation), it’s a way for us to see some of America’s prominent media icons walking amongst communities that have been heavily impacted by AIDS and HIV infection. And to see this disease up close and personal, it’s our belief that these children and widows especially who have been impacted heaviest with this disease, 58 percent of those infected in Africa with the disease are women.  Most of which were along the lines of the ABC Prevention schedule abdicated by President Bush have been faithful to their husbands.  But faithfulness is this case came at a pretty heavy price.  This case HIV infection.  So whether their story again along the lines of what I had shared earlier in terms of getting better information and understanding, because of the numbers of people who are being impacted by this disease in the millions, it is far too easy in this country to blanch, duck, to turn away, because it’s just too overwhelming.  And what we hope with Precious In His Sight is to realize you know this is mom, this is a dad, this is a little kid, this is their name, this is that they look like, this is where they live.  And to begin to understand that this disease is not simply huge numbers, it’s individual faces and names that are precious to God.


JC:  What is the situation in Haiti?


SH:  Haiti is actually one of the most infected countries at least in the Western Hemisphere.  A lot of that is acerbated by poverty.  Poverty and AIDS go hand in hand and of course that is also the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.  Now it also has that to have to deal with.  The problem in Haiti, as in so much of the world, because of the stigma that goes along with HIV infection, not a lot of people are wanting or willing to go and be tested and so even though the statistics on HIV within the Haitian community are quite high, they don’t really tell the whole story because we really don’t know who’s infected and who’s not infected.  In fact a large number of those who go in for testing never show up for their results so what you will see within Haiti are individuals, especially in hospitals with tuberculosis cases, some of the respiratory track illnesses, some of the loss of weight issues that show up in clinics that if you have a chance to go to health centers.  So you may be told, we’d really appreciate it if you don’t use the word AIDS.  We’d really appreciate if you don’t talk about HIV, stay off those topics.  It seems rather unnatural, as a reporter because after all that’s what I’m here to cover and isn’t that what you’re showing me but the stigma even in Haiti is so strong and so high that it will not be unnatural if someone says we as medical professionals know what this is, but we’d really appreciate it if you didn’t bring this up.


JC:  Does World Vision have an office in Port-au-Prince?


SH:  Yes we have one of the largest offices, one of the largest NGO offices are in Haiti.


JC:  I would love to visit.


SH:  Well we need to know what you’re availability is.  We’re obviously still doing a lot of some of mopping up of some of the flood issues that we had down there, we were heavily hit and heavily responsive. 


(Do you need all the other talk about visiting Haiti?)