Saturday, January 23, 2010

Christian Compassion and Condoms (part 2)

Rest your fears, my friends: I will not be part of demonstrations and petitions calling for condom distribution and safe sex education as part of international aid programs (nor advocating expanding these within the North American education/health care system, for that matter). But neither will I be a loud voice opposing these activities. If unregenerate people want to teach unregenerate people how to avoid contracting and infecting others with a deadly disease, is it really worthwhile to try to stop them? Sounds like a good way to waste my time feeling important for taking a “moral stand” while a field fertile with opportunities to share the gospel while fighting this crisis goes uncultivated.

What is worth advocating for on this issue so that the people of God can influence public policy in a way that aids the spread of the gospel? We should support abstinence education, which is quite easy to do by pragmatic reason: diseases are spread every day through people having pre- or extramarital sex, protected and unprotected (condoms don’t work 100% of the time); the crowd of people who were infected as a result of choosing not to have sex outside of marriage is…well, non-existent. However, there are some who have been infected because of condoms failing. If abstinence was the favored method of prevention among public officials, Christian development groups would be much more likely to obtain public funds for their work, allowing them to do more as they offer Christian truth along with the loving laws of a loving God.

Supporting treatment for those already infected and treatment for expectant mothers (which greatly reduces the chance of the virus being transmitted to their children) provides funding for medical care that can be obtained and used by Christian organizations as an expression of God’s mercy. And God’s mercy is not limited to those who are innocent victims.
In the process of teaching prevention, then, the Christian has the opportunity to explain God’s expectations for human behavior, and show how they are clearly given in love - in this case, to keep people from harm, sickness and death. In the process of showing mercy on those suffering the consequences of sinful behavior, the Christian can show how God’s care and mercy continue for a time in the face of humankind’s tragic rebellion that brings them to face the devastating consequences of choosing a path that diverges from God’s will. Christianity can affect politics in a very good way on this issue, by putting a structure in place that is friendly to Christian compassion and pragmatically effective in reducing infections and treating effects.* And please, let’s be defined by what we are for, not by what we’re against.

Thankfully, in the community where the pastor was so ready to let AIDS victims die for their sins, the church is now active in responding with compassion to the crisis around them through the ministry of World Relief. And this organization’s work has received a considerable amount of funding through matching funds and grants from US and international aid money.

*And already has, if you look into what happened from 2001-2008 in this area of U.S. foreign policy.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Christian Compassion and Condoms

While we are, appropriately, riveted to the current devastation in Haiti, this post relates to a humanitarian issue that has been, and will continue to be, of huge significance worldwide, and especially on the continent of Africa. It provides one “test issue” for working out thoughts on how politics and evangelism relate. And, hopefully, it reminds us that there is more to this question than just the favorite North American issues…

“Let them die!” the African pastor thundered from his pulpit. He was speaking of those living with AIDS in the village around them. “They are receiving God’s punishment for their actions,” he asserted, and so the church ought not to intervene to help any of their neighbors suffering the effects of AIDS.

In this story, recounted in an update from World Relief, the AIDS crisis was dramatically oversimplified. While many sufferers have made sinful choices that brought their condition as a consequence, myriad others suffer from HIV/AIDS and its affects because of someone else’s decisions. On the African continent, many women have been infected after their husbands contracted the disease from a prostitute while traveling - a faithful, monogamous woman could suffer because of her husband’s infidelity. Thousands of orphans are without their parents because of the virus, and other children received the virus from their parents at birth. How can these people be left to suffer without care or relief as a consequence of sin when the particular sin that caused the disease was not their own? Thankfully, it seems evangelicals are largely in agreement on this topic, as Christian groups around the world are taking action to respond with compassion to the AIDS crisis in many ways in many places. Non-religious governmental and humanitarian groups agree and are also working hard on tackling the problems of treatment and preventing on a large scale. And in prevention is where political views diverge, because of a difference in ethics based on Christian teaching.

Abstinence education is near and dear to the heart of evangelicals at home and abroad, since keeping sex within the bounds of monogamous marriage is God’s prescription for sexuality, and since abstinence outside of marriage is hands-down the most effective way to prevent the spread of STD’s, including AIDS (not to mention the difficulties that come with having a child outside of marriage). This is a clear example of how following God’s teachings keeps people from problems and suffering that come as consequences of sin. If every government and NGO made a policy of promoting abstinence apart from marriage as part of their education and health programs, and the people of the nation responded to this teaching in their behavior, the spread of HIV and other diseases would be dramatically slowed.

This all lines up for a Christian who takes the presupposition that keeping God’s law is best for individuals and for society, because there are always consequences to breaking it, whether short-term or long-term. Until we are reminded that we have t consider not only God’s ideal forms for society, but also the sad reality that people react to God’s law with the stubborn rebelliousness of the sin nature. Christian sexual ethics stand out in the world largely because it is so difficult to keep control over one’s sexual desires and behave in line with God’s law, and the greatest aid available to do so is the Holy Spirit. So if we are trying to shape public policy on this issue, should we expect that we can best protect the innocent by expecting unregenerate people to live up to the standard of self-control that comes from walking by the Holy Spirit? Is this too idealistic for the “real world” (as one of my coworkers has complained), so that it will only lead to more infections as people remain ignorant about how the virus is really transmitted, and buy into superstitions about how to avoid or cure the disease, but don‘t actually change their behavior? If distributing condoms keeps an unregenerate husband from contracting the disease from a prostitute and infecting his wife who has become a Christian, which could have, in turn, left their children orphaned, is this such a bad thing?

More to come...