Aaron Geringer, Graduate Student in Clinical Mental Health Counseling at Minnesota State University, Mankato
When I first got into AIDS advocacy, my mentors gave me a shirt with a Dr. Seuss quotation I will never forget. “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing will get better. It’s not.” Being in Durban at the 21st International AIDS Conference has been an emotionally infectious experience. Partially because of the pain, anger, and despair that AIDS has unleashed within our communities; but mostly infectious because of just how deeply these 18,000 individuals care about this cause. This has truly been the most diverse event I have been to, with people from all races, nationalities, occupations, ages, abilities, faiths, sexual orientations, and gender identifications. Despite our differences, we all share a profound desire to combat the global HIV/AIDS epidemic.
The diversity of this conference allows us to organize our efforts in combating AIDS on many different fronts: medically, politically, economically, socially, artistically, spiritually, etc. I am here as a mental health clinician in-training, and a delegate of the ELCA. Therefore, my time in Durban has been spent reflecting ways I can contribute to efforts to combat AIDS through supporting the well-being of individuals living with HIV through mental health and spiritual interventions. Whereas medicine can treat HIV, I believe that the church can plays a unique role in treating the PERSON with HIV.
Earlier on this week, I was reminded of Micah 6:8, which states what the Lord requires of us. “To act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.” The church has a dark history in turning its back on the AIDS epidemic. Even today, many churches still hold that HIV is a punishment from God to those who are living vile or immoral lives. Fortunately, these believes are becoming archaic for churches in around the world.
Churches can become the ultimate safe-space for individuals living with HIV. To act justly, we can provide a communities for people living with HIV to feel safe, loved, and treated with dignity. We can love mercy by opening our doors to people living with HIV; offering acceptance, where they otherwise may live in constant fear of rejection and hostility, even if some of us do not agree with a person’s lifestyle or if we were socialized to have reservations against people living with HIV. We can surrender these reservations and acknowledge that we do not know exactly what God knows or thinks about HIV/AIDS. By walking humbly with our God, we can make our churches institutions of love and healing for people living with HIV.