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Q: I recently found out that I'm HIV-positive. So far I haven't told anyone except my best friend and just thinking of people finding out I'm gay and have HIV makes me want to crawl into a cave! I was raised in a religious family and my faith community, which is very important to me, is very conservative.
Over the years, I've heard them condemn homosexuals and theorize that AIDS is God's punishment for being gay. Now is a time when I need my faith and I feel like that, as well as my health, has been taken from me and I'm really depressed about it all. I have a friend who's some sort of pagan and he talks about how important the mind/body/spirit connection is to your health and well-being -- I believe that may be true, but I just can't abandon what I've always believed in for something that's not true for me. I've prayed and prayed and haven't gotten any clarity. What do you think? How important is my faith to my health?
A: Faith and a solid spiritual foundation is essential in living well with HIV. HIV affects the mind, the body, and the spirit and all must be in balance to be whole and well. Religion is a man-made construct to try to understand God. God loves all of us, no matter that we are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender, or if we have HIV! Disease is never a punishment from God. In the Christian belief, Jesus turned no one away and healed all who came to him. He wants us to be well, whole, and holy. Religion is simply a vehicle to things spiritual. No more, no less. As a physician and a priest and as a gay man taking care of HIV patients now for over 30 years, I know how conflicted one can be about such matters of sexual preference and what religion has to say about such things. God the Creator is bigger than religion. Again, let it be clear, God loves us just the way we are and for who we are.
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The Reverend Father Drew A. Kovach, M.D., M.Div., A.B.F.M., A.A.H.I.V.S., is an ordained Episcopal/Orthodox priest, as well as a board certified Family Medicine Physician, an HIV/AIDS Specialist, and Director of HIV Services at Kaiser Permanente Hawaii.