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U.S. Lutheran Bishops Take Public HIV Tests to Raise Awareness Among Congregations, Support African Counterparts

March 6, 2009

Bishops from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America on Thursday publicly took HIV tests in an effort to raise awareness about the virus among their congregations, the Chicago Tribune reports. "We in the U.S. tend to think of this as a global pandemic unrelated to people in the U.S.," ECLA Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson, who also serves as president of the Lutheran World Federation, said, adding, "For me, as a married heterosexual man to be tested is a reminder that all communities are affected, if not infected." According to Hanson, the bishops were following the lead of religious leaders in Africa, many of whom for years have called on their congregations to receive HIV tests and agreed to be screened publicly for the virus.

According to the Tribune, although many churches have "long worked to eradicate poverty-related pandemics" and diseases such as malaria, they have been "slow to address" HIV/AIDS, which is "haunted by a moral stigma" because it can be sexually transmitted. Hanson said that the church should take steps to embrace people living with the disease. Bishop Wayne Miller of the Metropolitan Chicago Synod said that taking an HIV test is his way of being closer with the Central Diocese of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Southern Africa -- Chicago's companion synod. Miller added that he hopes his actions will send a signal to his congregations that they should be proud and not ashamed to be screened for the virus. "There's still so much shame and secrecy, people end up hiding from the treatment and care they need," he said.

ELCA's chief legislative authority during its biennial assembly in August is expected to approve a new national church HIV/AIDS strategy (Brachear, Chicago Tribune, 3/6).

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