Monday, December 1, 2008

Dec. 1, 1981: Christianty - Where the HELL WERE YOU??!!

Making The Most of Suffering?

It has always been my opinion that during the onslaught of the AIDS crisis, while people were (literally) dying in the streets, some people (and you might now find this perverse) were dancing in the streets: God had given those people a very effective weapon for their hatred of others. Of course, it's a bit odd to think of Jerry Falwell partnered by Pat Robertson, and Strom Thurmond in the arms of Jesse Helms, both couples dancing to an oh-so-modest waltz.

But waltz they did.

The AIDS crisis had two sides: the suffering and the self-righteous. The self-righteous made AIDS a symptom of sin so heinous that AIDS became a mortal sin in itself. Cancer and heart trouble were never made into sins, and venereal disease was treatable, forgiven and forgotten. AIDS, however, was untreatable and fatal. Wonderful! Churches would be swelling with the righteous and since the pagan homosexuals were dying quickly, and in large numbers, ministers were rushed to judgment. And that judgment was: homosexuals are obviously evil in the eyes of the Lord. Rebuke them, then shun them. They may eventually quarantined, but until then...

Readers have read this story many times, but there is no other more appropriate time to repeat it: When I was privileged to volunteer for the AIDS Emergency Fund in 1990, I was given the task of helping the office manager perform client intake. The office manager, by the way, was THE only paid person at the Fund the rest were all volunteers and the Board of about fourteen was a working Board: signing the checks for phone, heat, electric and rent bills. One third of all the checks went for funeral expenses that clients wanted to "prepay" (making sure their relatives weren't stuck with the bills).

Since the epidemic was at its most virulent and only AZT (a rather toxic drug) was the only medication taken to slow the disease, many of the clients we saw were ill in the extreme. Some passed out in front of my desk. And since doctors were still unsure if they wanted to diagnose AIDS, we were (at the time) privy to the client's medical records and could make a decision as to eligibility on the strength of their T-cell count.
We saw many men, some women and even some children. The kids were the hardest for me. Most of them, I knew, didn't have more than a year to live.

This is the point: many of our clients came to us first because they actually had no place else to go. We were the first place to experience the dreadful practice of putting out someone (usually a son or daughter) out of their home WHILE THEY WERE SICK AND DYING!!

O.K., I'll calm down the drama. We were literally seeing the results of what I called the three Rs: Robertson's Rotten Rhetoric. Although medical research had come to the conclusion that AIDS was not gotten by casual contact, Robertson, Helms, Falwell, were all playing on people's fears: God was smiting them with a terrible disease and it was highly contagious: AIDS was the new Black Death and its victims were perverted sinners.

I was a volunteer for the AEF for 6 years. I was lucky, in a sense, that I survived it - "burnout" was actually about 3 years. The most important thing I came away from the Fund was this: all of the AIDS volunteers and health care workers across the country (eventually several hundred thousand people) were doing wonderful work while much of American Christian community stood by and did next to nothing.

The very first faith-based AIDS outreach programs outside of San Francisco did not start until 1986 (Episcopal Archdiocese of Los Angeles, bless them). A handful of churches were doing work by 1990, but so minuscule was the ratio of faith-based organizations to other non-profits agencies that any new f-b agency being trumpeted (and trumpeted) was met with skepticism rather than relief.
It took over 25 years for America's Christianity to come to the aid of AIDS victims.

To date, the Southern Baptist Convention has not.

So, again, I ask Christians: on December 1, 1981
Where the HELL were YOU?
SBC and Christofascists: Don't even bother.

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