Some wandered in desert wastelands, finding no way to a city where they could settle. They were hungry and thirsty, and their lives ebbed away. He sent forth his word and healed them; he rescued them from the grave. (Psalm 107.4-5, 20)For Everyone’s Sake
It was one of those moments that become unforgettable for what they harbinger. In 1981, I moved to California to live with a sumptuously talented couple that invited me to assist them as music ministers in a growing church. They and their two children welcomed me into their home like family, which we virtually were. One Monday evening in early June, I came home to find Eddy watching the late news. “Have you heard this?” he asked. “Gay men in New York are coming down with some kind of deadly flu.” Patsy overheard him, came into the living room, and together we got our first glimpse of GRID, gay-related immunodeficiency. A flu that only targets gay men—how could that be? While the question perplexed doctors, we immediately knew how it would be answered in our world. “The preachers will have a field day with this,” Eddy said. Our hearts sank to think of the sidetracked sermons proclaiming an outpouring of antigay wrath. Patsy softly said, “Let’s pray they figure it out soon—for everyone’s sake.”
In less than a year we learned the virus wasn’t an exclusively “gay” disease and changed its name to Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome. Discovering its unbiased opportunism didn’t instantly unlock its mysteries, however. Meanwhile, its toll on the gay community soared, causing us to unite as never before to raise millions for research, demand viable treatment, and launch a no-holds-barred campaign to contain the virus. The days of citing “gay liberation” as license for recklessness ended. With our best and brightest falling left and right, frivolity’s price cost more than we could bear. AIDS forced us to grow up. In coming to our senses, an amazing blessing came to us. Walls dividing straight and gay people tumbled and a unilateral community joined to fight AIDS. Contrary to doomsday prophecies, the virus compelled both sides to repudiate their differences and doubts for everyone’s sake. Though we mourn the lives stolen by AIDS, we also honor them by acknowledging their irrefutable role in drawing people of every orientation, ethnicity, and persuasion together. Because of this, I’m thoroughly convinced history will show they did not die in vain.
Speaking the Truth in Love
Today we remember millions of lives lost or irreversibly altered by AIDS. We also gauge our progress against social stigmas that persist despite the battlefield’s shift from gay enclaves to sub-Saharan Africa and urban areas destabilized by poverty, drugs, and sexual ambivalence. At the same time, significant inroads forged by earlier straight and gay activists are steadily eroding. With a second generation coming of age, containment has resurfaced as our most critical issue. Breakthrough therapies lead many—young and old, gay and straight—to view HIV as a manageable condition. High-risk behaviors win wider acceptance with each day as we revert to a dangerously inflated sense of entitlement, completely ignoring our responsibility to protect others and us.
Obedience to Christ’s law of love leaves us no option but to refute the diabolical notion precaution is no longer imperative. Urgent concern for our neighbors calls for compassionate candor. Indulging their failures in the guise of tolerating their flaws exposes our cowardly attempt to escape conflict and criticism. If the unnatural lifestyle Jesus taught and exemplified proves anything it’s choosing what’s easiest for us over what’s best for others benefits no one. It’s senseless. But gambling with lives to make ours easier goes beyond senseless. It’s hateful—a sign of selfish immaturity every bit as reckless as the behavior that ushered AIDS into the world and sustains it. In Ephesians 4, Paul says maturity is essential “to prepare God’s people for works of service” (v12) When we grow up, he writes, “we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves… Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.” (v14-15) A vast gulf separates silent complicity in the name of love and speaking the truth in love.
The brutality of AIDS easily distracts us from equally horrendous diseases that accompany it. These illnesses are hardly confined to HIV-positive people. It’s no exaggeration to say we’re all infected with AIDS. We bear the cruelty and shame affixed to it. We wear its scars of loss, deprivation, and grief. We suffer the indifference of those who think AIDS doesn’t—or won’t—affect them. Whether they trust where and how they live to protect them or believe protection is unnecessary, their ideas have become the disease behind the disease. This is why believers in every community and corner of the world must speak the truth in love about AIDS. While scientists continue their quest to obliterate HIV, Psalm 107 says our outspokenness can bring healing to its secondary diseases.
Composed as a thanksgiving hymn, Psalm 107 charts Israel’s troubles to extol God’s faithfulness. Yet reading it today (which I wholeheartedly recommend), we’re struck by its resemblance to the AIDS crisis. It describes dying people in search of community, inattentive people imprisoned in darkness, people who suffer from rash behavior, and people who imperil themselves. After each account, the psalmist reminds us God delivered these lost souls from destruction, saying, “Let them give thanks to the LORD for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for men.” But the brightest gem glimmers in verse 20: “He sent forth his word and healed them; he rescued them from the grave.”
God’s word goes forth when we speak the truth in love. It mends minds and spirits troubled by alienation, darkness, rashness, and peril. It speaks to those without direction, trapped without light, sickened by selfishness, and endangered by impetuosity. God sends His word to heal them. He sends it through us. World AIDS Day reminds us how important and influential what we say can be. We must leave total healing of those afflicted with HIV to God. He alone can guide us to its cure. But stemming the AIDS tide is well within our capabilities. In Isaiah 51.16 God tells us, “I have put my words in your mouth and covered you with the shadow of my hand.” His healing word is in our mouths, waiting for us to speak it with love.
Healing for diseased attitudes and actions that spread HIV is in our mouths. We need only speak the truth in love.
(Next: The Sweet Scroll)