A Leper Colony by Any Other Name
By Rev. Andrena Ingram
March 5, 2012
Did you know, that when the AIDS epidemic hit in the '80s, there was a proposal to isolate all persons with AIDS? I first heard this last year. The proposal came from none other than Mike Huckabee, who wanted an AIDS "quarantine," and what's more, wanted to separate the homosexuals, who in his mind posed a dangerous health risk. This is what was written about him in the Huffington Post:
Wow! Can you imagine? I can't imagine the uproar that must have caused. Then again, looking at all the newspaper articles surrounding it, I can imagine. Which brings me to the real reason of this post.
Two Sundays ago, was "Conversation Sunday" in my congregation. It is the second Sunday of each month, (in case you'd like to pop in and partake). The lessons are read, and then I open up the floor for discussion, which leads to all kind of sharing of people's faith walk and ideas. The gospel reading that Sunday was Mark 1:40-45. The story about Jesus healing a leper.
As I opened up the conversation, we were talking about what leprosy is, and how they were outcasts and considered unclean. I also made the connection between leprosy back then, and how people in today's times treated people with HIV and AIDS. I also mentioned the fact that at one time, there was talk of isolating us, into some kind of colony. I am surprised that the visitor in the congregation didn't catch on to the word "us." Because he spoke out loud: "and they still should."
I felt all the eyes of the congregation on me, waiting for my comeback.
I remember saying: "What? You think that people with HIV and AIDS should still be isolated and put away?" And he responded: "Yes!" Whoa! I couldn't believe my ears, but I wouldn't let on that he upset me. Someone from the congregation began to contest him ... and I said: "No, he is entitled to his opinion, and this is why it is so important that we still need to educate people" ... and the discussion took a different turn.
I really was amazed to hear that come from him. Had no idea that people still felt that way, in 2012! Stigma is alive and well, people. And we have to educate. Gently.
As the discussion continued, inside my head, I was calculating how to "connect" with this brother.
Service continued with the Creed and prayers and as we began to share the peace, brotherman got up, and put on his coat, shook hands with folks and made his way to me. As we "shook hands," he said: "I'll be back next week!" I said "You sure? You sure you want to come back?" He said "Yes!" I said: "Okay, because I have HIV." BINGO! He said, "that's okay, you don't hurt me none."
As I walked him to the door, I stopped him at our bulletin board, on which is posted:
He then shared with me that he was in a homeless shelter, and that one of the men there has AIDS and has to take a lot of pills. He wanted to know if I took a lot of pills and I said yes, to keep me alive. And you know what he did?
He hugged me.
I didn't take his hug as one that was filled with pity, but rather, a hug -- acknowledging each other's humanity.
"When you know better, you do better."
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Is the Ribbon Enough?
Rev. Andrena Ingram
Reverend Andrena Ingram (also known as "Pastor Andrena" or "Pastor Ingram") has become a strong advocate for those living in the margins, as she once was. She is an activist in the HIV/AIDS arena, herself living openly and unabashedly with the HIV virus for over 22+ years.
Raised in South Jamaica, New York, Reverend Ingram served seven years of active duty in the U.S. Army. She would later move to the South Bronx, where she attended Transfiguration Lutheran Church with Pastor Heidi Neumark as her pastor and mentor -- empowering her to rise up out of herself and her life challenges, which seemed to her, at the time, insurmountable.
Reverend Ingram is a graduate of the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, with a Master of Divinity. She has been the pastor of St. Michael's Lutheran Church on Germantown Avenue, Philadelphia, Pa., for the past four years.
Reverend Ingram can frequently be found speaking about HIV/AIDS, encouraging everyone "to know your status, get tested, and be informed." Silence = Death.
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