Pacific Churches Switch From AIDS Condemnation to Support

Pacific Christian churches that used to regard AIDS as a punishment from God are now switching from condemnation to support. "This is critical because, in the Pacific, the first people we go to when we need assistance and guidance are the priests," Jimmie Rogers, senior deputy secretary general of the multi-national Pacific Community, told the recent Pacific Regional Youth Congress on HIV/AIDS in Suva, Fiji.

The multi-denominational Pacific Theological College has incorporated HIV/AIDS in its curriculum to better equip its graduates for counseling in their respective countries, said Jenny Willsher, an Anglican priest and lecturer. "We hope by dealing with current social issues, clergy will be better equipped for their roles as Christian educators, care-givers and counselors in their communities," Willsher said. "We try and address how churches, particularly in youth groups, can assist in educating young people about their sexuality in an attempt to decrease possibility of infections."

"Churches have the advantage of having the biggest clientele in the Pacific," Rogers said. "Speaking from the pulpit you have hundreds of thousands of people listening.... So when new graduates come out, not only do they know about biblical teaching, they will know about HIV/AIDS and how to counsel."

The powerful Fijian Methodist Church's community outreach unit has been roping in health ministry officials to attend meetings and conferences to speak on HIV/AIDS issues to its members. "Most of our youth groups have been visited by health ministry officials and the response has been very encouraging for us," said one deaconess who preferred to remain anonymous. UNICEF Pacific Adolescents and HIV/AIDS Project Officer Dr. Ayoadi Olatunbosun-Alakija said the churches' decision to acknowledge the pandemic "is absolutely wonderful." "In many parts of the world... this kind of support is absolutely essential, and the church has so much influence in the Pacific, imagine the impact if ministers were convinced to preach the issue from the pulpits."

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