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United Evangelical Mission

01 October 2004

Anti HIV/Aids Programme Policy
Adopted by the UEM General Assembly

Manila, Philippines
October 2004

1. Introduction

Since the 1980s the world has been confronted with HIV/Aids, a new illness which has grown into a global crisis rapidly and is still spreading throughout the continents. According to UN figures, there are presently 38 Million people world-wide living with HIV or Aids, the vast majority of whom live in poorer countries. Aids has far spread consequences: It affects individuals, families, communities and societies, but also national economies and social systems. The peak of the infection rate presently is in sub Saharan Africa with Botswana having the highest prevalence world-wide of 39 % of the adult population. However, infection rates in Eastern Europe and Asia are dramatically on the rise and new centres of the pandemic are expected there. 

UEM is a "worshipping, learning and serving" communion of churches (UEM-constitution §2). This communion is deeply affected with HIV and Aids, or, as our Moderator Dr. Kameeta has expressed it in 2001: "Our communion has Aids." This challenges us in manifold ways: 

The illness Aids is caused by the HI-virus and to date cannot be cured. Since the HI-virus is transmitted through body fluid - especially blood and sperm -, the disease has a strong link to human sexuality in its different forms - not only those generally accepted by our societies and churches but also those ostracized by many as unacceptable. HIV/Aids is caused also by blood transfusion and intravenous use of drugs and thus affecting people living at the fringe of societies and communities. Another cause for HIV and Aids is violence and rape. All this has created an atmosphere of stigma, silence and denial around the disease which has given way to a number of myths and taboos. They contribute significantly to the spread of Aids, as do poverty, violence and war, gender inequality in patriarchal societies, rapid social change or the deterioration of values as an effect of globalisation.  

We are part of the body of Christ, in which all parts suffer if one is suffering (1. Cor 12: 26). Trying to understand the situation of HIV and Aids we are faced with the question about the reasons for the existence of disease and suffering, sin and evil in God's creation.  

Aids also challenges the way we live as Christian communities. Looking at the situation of so many people who live with HIV or Aids we admit that many of us have taken too long to acknowledge the presence of Aids in our own lives and church communities. Out of fear, rejection or uncertainty we often have not cared sufficiently for those among us who were and are affected and infected. Thus, we have driven away many members from our communions who were in dire need of care and love. Moreover, we have frequently closed our eyes to life conditions of injustice or violence around us which speed the spread of the disease. 

We regret this and pray for forgiveness and healing in our societies and in our churches. We rely on God's word for orientation in finding our role as a real caring community. 

Having been part of the global fight against HIV and Aids however has also shown us our chances and possibilities as a communion of churches: 

We have seen that within our communion churches can help each other and learn from each other. This has happened in a number of cases where churches have supported each other in different ways to build up Aids programmes. 

We have seen that we are united with our brothers and sisters of other faiths in fighting the deadly disease. 

We have seen and received great encouragement from those among us who live with HIV or Aids and have dared to break the prevailing silence on it. 

The Aids crisis has caused strong controversial theological debates, but these have led us into new reflections and a deeper understanding. We recognize the danger of using our theology as a tool of exclusion and condemnation, and we recognize the strength God gives us if we search for ever new and appropriate ways to proclaim and live His love in our given life situations.  

Based on the experiences and insights of the past four years, we declare the following basis for our Anti Aids Programme. 

2. Theological Frame

2.1. God's creation is good

Out of His mystery and free will, God has called our world into being. Time and again God said: "Let there be…" (Gen. 1) - and there was life, life in fullness and beauty. In Genesis 1 each act of creation is completed with the affirmative words "and God saw that it was very good".

 From the very beginning, God places God's beings into relationships: Humans are created in the image and after the likeness of God (Imago Dei, Gen. 1, 26-27), and in relationship towards one another, when God declares, "it is not good for the man to be alone…" (Gen. 2, 18). Likewise God creates human beings to be an integral part of the whole creation by putting them - according to Gen. 2, 15 - "in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it". Therefore, human existence is only possible in relationship to God, to fellow human beings, and to the whole creation.  

However, God also grants creation the freedom to make own choices. God does not force life and good relationships upon His creatures, but offers them as a gift in the form of life in its fullness. Thus, to live and act against God's good will is possible and part of our individual, the world´s and the churches´ reality. The Bible calls the broken and false relationship to God and to each other sin. We are experiencing in our lives and in human history many examples where men and women as well as entire nations have decided to pursue egoistic relationships for themselves rather than open relationships to God, their fellow human beings and the whole creation.  

The Bible gives account of this possibility in many texts and in Genesis 6 concludes: "Now the earth was corrupt in God's sight and was full of violence" (Gen 6,11). Yet, despite the existence of sin in creation, God reaffirms in Gen. 8,22 that "as long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest…. shall never cease". God extends his protection and sustaining power to the whole creation despite the existence of sin. In short, God wants the world to be a place where His creatures shall live and not perish. 

2.2. "We wait eagerly for… the redemption of our bodies" (Rom. 8,23)

Disease has always been part of life on earth existing in many different forms. At all times, this has led people to seek the cause for individual suffering and to search for a justification of disease or disaster. The Aids crisis has brought up the question for a reason in suffering in a specific way, because the prevalence of Aids has led to unprecedented stigmatisation and pain and to the death of so many people. Especially Aids with its strong link to sexuality has often been regarded as a direct punishment from God for individual (sexual) wrongdoings. 

The Bible reflects such reasoning in the book of Job. Job's conversations with his friends however indicate clearly that all attempts to find answers to the question why one person suffers while another remains healthy are made to no avail. Other biblical texts, too, such as John 9,3 ("…neither this man nor his parents sinned") state that a disease as such is not a sign for insufficient belief or a direct consequence of social dysfunction. In the African and Asian context where sickness is often looked at in this way or interpreted as punishment from God(s), such a statement and stance from the gospel bears specific significance. 

Any disease should be seen as part of the unredeemed creation which eagerly "waits for the redemption" (Rom 8,23). It is part of the "not yet" of life on this earth which will only finally be overcome by God. 

We have to admit that our understanding of evil, sin and sickness remains insufficient. We are to take Aids and any other disease as an appeal to us and our Christian communities to give care and to do all within our reach to further healing. ("…that the work of God might become manifest in him", John 9,3)  

2.3. The church as a healing community

In his life on earth and through his death on the cross, Jesus has reconciled and liberated us towards a new communion with God and our fellow human beings. Jesus has always shown compassion especially with the marginalized and the suffering. He has healed many and has preached and practised the restoration of relationships. 

We recognize that our churches are called to a ministry of healing - and we acknowledge that our churches, with their structures and cultures, are in need of healing themselves. (Moderator Bishop Kameeta in his pastoral letter to the UEM member churches, 2001: "Our churches have Aids"). We realize that while we need healing ourselves we are called to bring about healing. 

The ministry of healing implies prophetic, prophylactic, compassionate and curative dimensions and strategies. We see in the scriptures of the prophets that it includes to care practically for the sick and the marginalized, to fight exclusion and exploitation and to renounce sinful structures which bring about suffering. In this connection we refer to biblical texts such as Isaiah 58: 1: "Shout it out aloud, do not hold back. Raise your voice like a trumpet" and 58: 7: "…to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter…". 

It should be stated that we regard healing in a holistic view: Healing is more than a complete physical cure. It can be experienced on different levels, e.g. when a person feels spiritually, socially or psychologically restored and reintegrated, and when a person comes to terms with her or his sickness. We have witnessed with gratitude in our communities such healing, also among those of us who are living with HIV or Aids.

Healing can also occur on a structural level, when the dynamics of exclusion and stigmatisation within a community or church are overcome and give way to a spirit of solidarity and communion.  

According to 2 Cor. 12 ("my power is made perfect in weakness") people who are weak, marginalized or suffering are a special strength of our Christian communities. Those of us who live with HIV or Aids therefore are central for all efforts to fight Aids. All activities in our programmes shall be done with them, not only for them. 

2.4. Sexuality

In the biblical narrative of creation, God introduces women and men to each other in a very special relationship of love. Erotic love and sexuality are a way to express this love. They are God's good gifts and a central part of the creation. 

Sexuality in all its meaning however remains a mystery. In the Song of Songs the Bible describes in an astonishing way this love, desire and longing.  

Sexual relationships are the most intimate kind of relationships, which require reciprocity, trust and respect for each other. In sexuality, men and women are most vulnerable. There are many examples where sexuality is misused for cultural, industrial, ideological or even religious reasons and where people exploit each other, especially by linking sexuality with violence or by denying people the right for sexual self-determination and -expression. Even the Bible gives account of such stories, e.g. in 2. Sam 13, 1 - 21, the story of Amnon and Tamar. We underline our desire to live the gift of sexuality in a responsible way and therefore value sexual self determination and exclusively covenanted relationships based on love and trust. 

However, in the churches we have often found it difficult to speak appropriately of sexuality as a gift from God, but have rather related it to sin in many ways. The existence of Aids can reinforce this attitude on the one hand, since it links sexuality with disease and consequently with death. On the other hand, the existence of Aids could be an "opportunity" of liberating us from such an attitude. 

Due to the prevailing silence, we have also often failed to clearly name and renounce the different forms of sexual violence that exist around us. This has left many victims alone and has reinforced the atmosphere of taboo and silence. We have to look for ways to overcome this. 

The Aids crisis challenges us with urgency to strive for a better understanding of human sexuality, to identify harmful taboos or destructive cultural traditions and to search for appropriate ways of communicating about sexuality in the church and world-wide.  

The strong link between HIV/Aids and homosexuality in Europe has challenged churches in a profound way. It has set in motion a serious and thorough search for theologically based answers. This has led some churches in Germany to the conviction that homosexual relationships, if lived in a responsible way based on love and trust, cannot be condemned and need attention as well as spiritual care and support within the church. 

2.5. Human Dignity

The Aids crisis reinforces the question of Human Rights in a specific way: Wherever Human Rights are disregarded, Aids is spread easily, e.g. when women are marginalized and denied equal rights; when children are violated; when people are exploited; when violence and poverty become almost a way of life and in many cases result in civil and international wars.  

At the same time, human dignity and human rights are violated when medical care and antiretroviral drugs are provided in some few countries, but access to basic medical treatment is not available or is insufficient in the vast majority of other countries - or when in countries health care is not treated as a priority for the citizens. 

People who live with Aids often experience that they are excluded and stigmatised and thus denied their basic rights. However, there are also traditions in our cultures which aim at furthering healing and inclusion. These traditions need to be valued and developed.  

In many countries there are harmful cultural practices that underline violence e.g. against women and children.

There is a growing number of orphans and vulnerable children who need special support and attention in order to be raised to a life in dignity. 

As churches we are called to maintain our prophetic voice and the ministry of advocacy wherever human dignity and human rights are violated each day. Churches should ensure that the service for human dignity and human rights is embedded in the message of God's love as contained in the gospel.  

Jesus has called us to strive for dignity for all human being e.g. in Mt 25, 40: "…whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me". 

Faced with the numerous suffering and pain brought about by HIV and Aids we remind each other of God's promise that one day He will wipe away every tear from our eyes and that "there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away" (Rev 21, 4). This is the hope that binds us together and on which we rely. May God our creator, redeemer and sustainer bless and guide our endeavours. 

3. Goals of the programme

The UEM Council statement 2001 gave the Anti-Aids-Programme its direction by defining five major goals:

  1. To help churches find appropriate ways of responding to the Aids crisis and developing programmes by

  • Organising trainings (e.g. through specific training courses or workshops for programme leaders or others)

  • Facilitating ecumenical learning (ecumenical team visits to models of good practice)

  • Supporting planning- and capacity development in churches (through workshops and planning seminars)

  • Offering consultancy (by local experts, e.g. in francophone Africa)

  1. To raise awareness on root causes of HIV and Aids (e.g. in workshops on overcoming violence and Human Rights or on overcoming harmful cultural practices, women's programmes etc.)

  2. To strengthen theological and pastoral reflection and practice as outlined in chapter 2 (e.g. in sermon workshops)

  3. To advocate for the rights of people living with or affected by Aids with the respective governments in the countries of our member churches (e.g. through membership in the German Aids Alliance Aktionsbündnis gegen Aids" or the Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance)

  4. To raise funds for programmes and projects (e.g. UEM project booklet 2004/2005, Aids work report 2000 - 2004) 

In order to achieve these goals, several programmes and activities have been implemented and are running. Their aims and approaches vary according to the different capacities and resources the churches have to address the HIV/AIDS epidemic. They also vary according to the underlying epidemiological, social, political and cultural situation and the specific situation of the church in a given country. There are, however, some principles that apply to all situations, and strategies that have shown to be effective in the fight of churches against HIV/AIDS. The following principles emerged from the experiences of the past four years:  

4. Principles

4.1. Mainstreaming

The issue of HIV and Aids has various aspects which are cutting across all areas of the churches´ and UEM´s work. A response to HIV/Aids only through a separate Aids programme has turned out to be insufficient. It is also necessary to create awareness about the underlying issues, and these should be taken up in the different areas of the churches´ and UEM´s work. At the same time it should be clear where within the organisations the coordination of all efforts is done.  

4.2 Theological reflection and education

Biblical and theological-ethical reflection should be central in churches´ Aids programmes. The approaches of the Aids programmes of a church and the message proclaimed e.g. in sermons or in theological education on all levels should not contradict each other. 

The issue of HIV/Aids should be taken up on all levels of the theological training and education, be it formal or informal. The churches´ institutions of theological training and Aids programmes should cooperate with each other.  

4.3. The need to address taboo issues and underlying aspects

Churches have felt the need to address issues like sexuality, death and dying in order to adequately fight the pandemic, to raise awareness and to create conditions that will enable people to choose responsible sexual behaviour. There is still the need to go beyond the issues identified, and to address gender based violence; the choice of prevention methods such as condoms; harmful traditions and values, poverty as a root cause, the empowerment of vulnerable groups, above all young women and girls who have traditionally been the weakest groups in society and churches and who are the most vulnerable to HIV infection.  

4.4. Critical reflection of culture and tradition

There are traditional values, habits, norms (like patriarchism) which are increasing the risk and the spread of HIV/AIDS. At the same time there are traditions and cultural elements which support the value of communal life based on care for each other. All these still have a strong influence on the way people live, feel, think and behave in a community. It is necessary to critically reflect tradition and culture on a biblical basis, to appreciate and develop the good elements and to identify the harmful ones.

This may require community based research.  

4.5. Promoting gender equity

Gender inequity is driving the spread of HIV/AIDS worldwide; women and girls are especially vulnerable to HIV infection and suffer disproportionately from the impact of the epidemic. Gender inequity shall be addressed as a cross-cutting issue.  

4.6. Orphans and vulnerable children and youth

Children and youth are a group of special concern for churches due to their high vulnerability. There is a rapidly growing figure of orphans and a large group of traumatized children and youth.

Wherever possible, Aids programmes should be developed in cooperation with youth - and children departments. Appropriate ways of communicating with the youth should be pursued. Trauma counselling should be organised.

Orphans need specific care. Efforts should be directed towards involving and supporting the communities and enabling them to provide care. Due to the high - and growing - number of children in need, institutional care (e.g. in orphanages) has turned out to be less sustainable and effective.

 

4.7. Advocacy

Advocacy and lobby work will aim at greater awareness of the global HIV Aids situation and its root causes and at the provision of adequate care and treatment for all people living with HIV and Aids worldwide. This includes lobbying nationally e.g. for adequate contributions to the UN Global Fund to fight Aids, TB and Malaria or for a reduction of prices for medicine with pharmaceutical firms. It can also include cooperating with the respective political organisations.

Cooperation will continue with the German Aids Alliance (Aktionsbündnis gegen Aids). In the regions Asia and Africa churches are encouraged to link up with organisations for lobby work (as e.g. the Campaign for access to treatment in Namibia).

Advocacy work can mean to educate and train people infected or affected by HIV/Aids to insist on their rights (see above). 

4.8. Involving people living with HIV or Aids

People who live with HIV and Aids are central in Aids programmes. Therefore, churches should endeavour to involve them actively in all stages of their programmes. Where wanted and possible, people living with Aids should be offered capacity building for this. (In Africa e.g. through the organisation ACCLIWA+).

Churches are encouraged to provide safety nets and networks for people living with HIV/Aids, be they lay people or clergy.  

4.9. Ecumenical Learning and Networking

Networking and information exchange shall be done ecumenically with other churches and Christian organisations, with international bodies and secular organisations wherever possible.

In the fight against HIV and Aids, the specific responsibility and chances of faith based organisations has been recognized. In multi-religious surroundings, networking with organisations of other faiths should be pursued where possible: Being faced with the Aids crisis unites us across our different religious beliefs. 

Networking is particular important in sharing information, advocacy and soliciting funds. 

Within the UEM communion, special emphasis is given to mutual learning and sharing of experiences. UEM churches shall continue to share their "good practices", i.e. programmes and activities that can serve as examples for other churches. This shall be done on all levels of the churches. 

4.10. The synergies of different elements of Aids work

It has been shown that HIV/AIDS prevention, care and the availability of medical treatment are interdependent and cannot be provided one without the other. To exclusively focus on care misses the chance of giving adequate information and education that will help in the prevention of new infections. To exclusively focus on prevention does not do justice to people's needs and looses credibility. The churches are in a special mandate to provide care for their sisters and brothers in need; this however entails also preventing new infections. Care refers to a comprehensive care including spiritual, material, social, and psychological care. It also refers to facilitating access to antiretroviral therapy, which is becoming more widely available in many countries. 

Furthermore, counselling is only credible if churches are also engaged in practical care and prevention. 

The availability of antiretroviral treatment again lessens the silence and stigma and reduces fear of testing.  

Advocacy has come to play a more important role in the work of many organisations, including churches. It means to stand in for the rights of the oppressed and the vulnerable who cannot fight for their own rights. This is particularly important in times of HIV/AIDS since the epidemic affects especially the poor, the marginalised, women, children and other vulnerable groups. Advocacy has to go together with care since it is a rather long term measure and some people may need assistance on an immediate basis. 

Above all, the theological message a church proclaims in sermons and elsewhere must not contradict what is being done in programmes. 

4.11. Specific approaches

As much as churches should try to pursue a comprehensive and holistic approach in their Aids programmes, each church should shape its activities according to the specific situation and need in its country and environment. Coordination with other locally active organisations and with government programmes is important to avoid duplication, competition and overlapping of activities. The churches as well as the UEM regions should carefully identify where their specific tasks are. 

5. UEM as an employing/sending/scholarship-organization: Personnel, scholarship holders and volunteers and visitors

5.1. HIV/Aids information, education and counselling for staff and exchange - co-workers

The provision of information and education on HIV/AIDS issues shall be given special attention in all programs dealing with volunteers, co-workers, exchange-workers, scholarships and partnerships. This shall be done in order to provide competence on issues relating to HIV/Aids and shall include information on HIV/AIDS in general and on individual prevention of HIV infection. It shall be intensified in the various preparatory processes. 

During their stay in their host churches, volunteers, co-workers and others working in countries affected by HIV/Aids shall be able to receive counselling for problems they face relating to HIV, such as deaths, fear or poverty, in order to help them cope with the situation. Counselling may continue upon their return from their assignments if they so wish. 

Church circuits hosting volunteers or co-workers shall receive adequate information on HIV/AIDS that equips them to approach the issue in a sensitive way. Special attention shall be given to decrease stigma and fear.  

5.2. Testing

HIV tests shall be encouraged for all in the context of voluntary HIV testing where people make an informed choice to be tested and receive appropriate counselling. Mandatory testing shall not be pursued by UEM as an employing/scholarship organisation. A positive HIV test shall be no absolute exclusion criterion for employment as staff, co-worker etc. Rather the situation has to be discussed and the appropriate place of work shall be found. 

5.3. Post Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP)

Volunteers, co-workers and staff shall have access to post-exposure prophylaxis for HIV infection. This applies especially to occupational exposure of health care workers, and to situations of rape or violence or other injury for staff and volunteers.  

5.4. Care for UEM staff and exchange coworkers infected with and affected by HIV/Aids

Co-workers in the north-south-, south-south- and south-north exchange programme have been included in health insurance programmes, or an additional grant was given to provide for health expenses in their host countries. This will have to be extended in order to provide for cases where co-workers are living with HIV/Aids. The principles of non-discrimination, destigmatization and providing care entail that access to specific treatment for HIV/Aids will be provided in case it is needed. Options to do this will be explored, such as to include treatment in health insurance schemes, to access government and church treatment programmes and others. 

For students receiving scholarships, taking care of chronic sicknesses including HIV/Aids is a matter of UEM´s ethical commitment. In this context, the options for the provision of adequate AIDS treatment will be explored (health insurance coverage, emergency fund, obtaining drugs in countries of origin). 

UEM seeks to create an environment that empowers people living with HIV/Aids to share their HIV status with others. In this line, co-workers living openly with HIV/Aids may be employed in order to bear witness and to encourage others to do so.  

6. Management of Programmes

The HIV/Aids pandemic increases the need for funds to develop meaningful programmes. These funds need to be additional to the other areas of work, as e.g. women's work, education, health etc. Moreover, they will be needed for a long period of time, not just as an emergency support. It is therefore of utmost importance for churches and organisations to be perceived as credible, honest and transparent organizations in the planning and implementation of their Aids work.

This concerns the handling of funds, the transparency in planning and implementation and the mobilisation of personnel.  

Requirements:

  • Churches should have contact persons or a coordinating committee for their Aids work.

  • Coordinators of Aids programmes need to have personal credibility and need to be adequately trained and/or experienced for the job.

  • In areas where there are UEM- or WCC consultants, these should be included in the screening and appointment process for leading personnel.

  • Likewise, all project proposals sent to UEM must be first discussed with the UEM consultant (where applicable) and must have his/her approval.

  • Planning, monitoring and evaluation of the programmes and activities within the Anti-Aids-Programme shall be done according to the UEM principles:

  • Annual work plans, budgets and half annual financial and narrative reports are required.

  • Generally, transfers of funds can only be made upon receipt of reports on the use of the previous installment of funds.

  • The use of funds for anti-Aids-programmes and activities shall be reported in accordance to the regulations provided (half-annual financial and narrative reports). Annual amounts less than 15.000 Euro shall be audited internally in the churches, amounts exceeding 15.000 Euro shall be audited externally.

  • There shall be annual activity plans for the ongoing church-programmes (funded by UEM) as well as for the UEM Anti-Aids-Programme.

Anti HIV/Aids Programme Policy
Adopted by the UEM General Assembly

Manila, Philippines
October 2004

1. Introduction

Since the 1980s the world has been confronted with HIV/Aids, a new illness which has grown into a global crisis rapidly and is still spreading throughout the continents. According to UN figures, there are presently 38 Million people world-wide living with HIV or Aids, the vast majority of whom live in poorer countries. Aids has far spread consequences: It affects individuals, families, communities and societies, but also national economies and social systems. The peak of the infection rate presently is in sub Saharan Africa with Botswana having the highest prevalence world-wide of 39 % of the adult population. However, infection rates in Eastern Europe and Asia are dramatically on the rise and new centres of the pandemic are expected there. 

UEM is a "worshipping, learning and serving" communion of churches (UEM-constitution §2). This communion is deeply affected with HIV and Aids, or, as our Moderator Dr. Kameeta has expressed it in 2001: "Our communion has Aids." This challenges us in manifold ways: 

The illness Aids is caused by the HI-virus and to date cannot be cured. Since the HI-virus is transmitted through body fluid - especially blood and sperm -, the disease has a strong link to human sexuality in its different forms - not only those generally accepted by our societies and churches but also those ostracized by many as unacceptable. HIV/Aids is caused also by blood transfusion and intravenous use of drugs and thus affecting people living at the fringe of societies and communities. Another cause for HIV and Aids is violence and rape. All this has created an atmosphere of stigma, silence and denial around the disease which has given way to a number of myths and taboos. They contribute significantly to the spread of Aids, as do poverty, violence and war, gender inequality in patriarchal societies, rapid social change or the deterioration of values as an effect of globalisation.  

We are part of the body of Christ, in which all parts suffer if one is suffering (1. Cor 12: 26). Trying to understand the situation of HIV and Aids we are faced with the question about the reasons for the existence of disease and suffering, sin and evil in God's creation.  

Aids also challenges the way we live as Christian communities. Looking at the situation of so many people who live with HIV or Aids we admit that many of us have taken too long to acknowledge the presence of Aids in our own lives and church communities. Out of fear, rejection or uncertainty we often have not cared sufficiently for those among us who were and are affected and infected. Thus, we have driven away many members from our communions who were in dire need of care and love. Moreover, we have frequently closed our eyes to life conditions of injustice or violence around us which speed the spread of the disease. 

We regret this and pray for forgiveness and healing in our societies and in our churches. We rely on God's word for orientation in finding our role as a real caring community. 

Having been part of the global fight against HIV and Aids however has also shown us our chances and possibilities as a communion of churches: 

We have seen that within our communion churches can help each other and learn from each other. This has happened in a number of cases where churches have supported each other in different ways to build up Aids programmes. 

We have seen that we are united with our brothers and sisters of other faiths in fighting the deadly disease. 

We have seen and received great encouragement from those among us who live with HIV or Aids and have dared to break the prevailing silence on it. 

The Aids crisis has caused strong controversial theological debates, but these have led us into new reflections and a deeper understanding. We recognize the danger of using our theology as a tool of exclusion and condemnation, and we recognize the strength God gives us if we search for ever new and appropriate ways to proclaim and live His love in our given life situations.  

Based on the experiences and insights of the past four years, we declare the following basis for our Anti Aids Programme. 

2. Theological Frame

2.1. God's creation is good

Out of His mystery and free will, God has called our world into being. Time and again God said: "Let there be…" (Gen. 1) - and there was life, life in fullness and beauty. In Genesis 1 each act of creation is completed with the affirmative words "and God saw that it was very good".

 From the very beginning, God places God's beings into relationships: Humans are created in the image and after the likeness of God (Imago Dei, Gen. 1, 26-27), and in relationship towards one another, when God declares, "it is not good for the man to be alone…" (Gen. 2, 18). Likewise God creates human beings to be an integral part of the whole creation by putting them - according to Gen. 2, 15 - "in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it". Therefore, human existence is only possible in relationship to God, to fellow human beings, and to the whole creation.  

However, God also grants creation the freedom to make own choices. God does not force life and good relationships upon His creatures, but offers them as a gift in the form of life in its fullness. Thus, to live and act against God's good will is possible and part of our individual, the world´s and the churches´ reality. The Bible calls the broken and false relationship to God and to each other sin. We are experiencing in our lives and in human history many examples where men and women as well as entire nations have decided to pursue egoistic relationships for themselves rather than open relationships to God, their fellow human beings and the whole creation.  

The Bible gives account of this possibility in many texts and in Genesis 6 concludes: "Now the earth was corrupt in God's sight and was full of violence" (Gen 6,11). Yet, despite the existence of sin in creation, God reaffirms in Gen. 8,22 that "as long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest…. shall never cease". God extends his protection and sustaining power to the whole creation despite the existence of sin. In short, God wants the world to be a place where His creatures shall live and not perish. 

2.2. "We wait eagerly for… the redemption of our bodies" (Rom. 8,23)

Disease has always been part of life on earth existing in many different forms. At all times, this has led people to seek the cause for individual suffering and to search for a justification of disease or disaster. The Aids crisis has brought up the question for a reason in suffering in a specific way, because the prevalence of Aids has led to unprecedented stigmatisation and pain and to the death of so many people. Especially Aids with its strong link to sexuality has often been regarded as a direct punishment from God for individual (sexual) wrongdoings. 

The Bible reflects such reasoning in the book of Job. Job's conversations with his friends however indicate clearly that all attempts to find answers to the question why one person suffers while another remains healthy are made to no avail. Other biblical texts, too, such as John 9,3 ("…neither this man nor his parents sinned") state that a disease as such is not a sign for insufficient belief or a direct consequence of social dysfunction. In the African and Asian context where sickness is often looked at in this way or interpreted as punishment from God(s), such a statement and stance from the gospel bears specific significance. 

Any disease should be seen as part of the unredeemed creation which eagerly "waits for the redemption" (Rom 8,23). It is part of the "not yet" of life on this earth which will only finally be overcome by God. 

We have to admit that our understanding of evil, sin and sickness remains insufficient. We are to take Aids and any other disease as an appeal to us and our Christian communities to give care and to do all within our reach to further healing. ("…that the work of God might become manifest in him", John 9,3)  

2.3. The church as a healing community

In his life on earth and through his death on the cross, Jesus has reconciled and liberated us towards a new communion with God and our fellow human beings. Jesus has always shown compassion especially with the marginalized and the suffering. He has healed many and has preached and practised the restoration of relationships. 

We recognize that our churches are called to a ministry of healing - and we acknowledge that our churches, with their structures and cultures, are in need of healing themselves. (Moderator Bishop Kameeta in his pastoral letter to the UEM member churches, 2001: "Our churches have Aids"). We realize that while we need healing ourselves we are called to bring about healing. 

The ministry of healing implies prophetic, prophylactic, compassionate and curative dimensions and strategies. We see in the scriptures of the prophets that it includes to care practically for the sick and the marginalized, to fight exclusion and exploitation and to renounce sinful structures which bring about suffering. In this connection we refer to biblical texts such as Isaiah 58: 1: "Shout it out aloud, do not hold back. Raise your voice like a trumpet" and 58: 7: "…to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter…". 

It should be stated that we regard healing in a holistic view: Healing is more than a complete physical cure. It can be experienced on different levels, e.g. when a person feels spiritually, socially or psychologically restored and reintegrated, and when a person comes to terms with her or his sickness. We have witnessed with gratitude in our communities such healing, also among those of us who are living with HIV or Aids.

Healing can also occur on a structural level, when the dynamics of exclusion and stigmatisation within a community or church are overcome and give way to a spirit of solidarity and communion.  

According to 2 Cor. 12 ("my power is made perfect in weakness") people who are weak, marginalized or suffering are a special strength of our Christian communities. Those of us who live with HIV or Aids therefore are central for all efforts to fight Aids. All activities in our programmes shall be done with them, not only for them. 

2.4. Sexuality

In the biblical narrative of creation, God introduces women and men to each other in a very special relationship of love. Erotic love and sexuality are a way to express this love. They are God's good gifts and a central part of the creation. 

Sexuality in all its meaning however remains a mystery. In the Song of Songs the Bible describes in an astonishing way this love, desire and longing.  

Sexual relationships are the most intimate kind of relationships, which require reciprocity, trust and respect for each other. In sexuality, men and women are most vulnerable. There are many examples where sexuality is misused for cultural, industrial, ideological or even religious reasons and where people exploit each other, especially by linking sexuality with violence or by denying people the right for sexual self-determination and -expression. Even the Bible gives account of such stories, e.g. in 2. Sam 13, 1 - 21, the story of Amnon and Tamar. We underline our desire to live the gift of sexuality in a responsible way and therefore value sexual self determination and exclusively covenanted relationships based on love and trust. 

However, in the churches we have often found it difficult to speak appropriately of sexuality as a gift from God, but have rather related it to sin in many ways. The existence of Aids can reinforce this attitude on the one hand, since it links sexuality with disease and consequently with death. On the other hand, the existence of Aids could be an "opportunity" of liberating us from such an attitude. 

Due to the prevailing silence, we have also often failed to clearly name and renounce the different forms of sexual violence that exist around us. This has left many victims alone and has reinforced the atmosphere of taboo and silence. We have to look for ways to overcome this. 

The Aids crisis challenges us with urgency to strive for a better understanding of human sexuality, to identify harmful taboos or destructive cultural traditions and to search for appropriate ways of communicating about sexuality in the church and world-wide.  

The strong link between HIV/Aids and homosexuality in Europe has challenged churches in a profound way. It has set in motion a serious and thorough search for theologically based answers. This has led some churches in Germany to the conviction that homosexual relationships, if lived in a responsible way based on love and trust, cannot be condemned and need attention as well as spiritual care and support within the church. 

2.5. Human Dignity

The Aids crisis reinforces the question of Human Rights in a specific way: Wherever Human Rights are disregarded, Aids is spread easily, e.g. when women are marginalized and denied equal rights; when children are violated; when people are exploited; when violence and poverty become almost a way of life and in many cases result in civil and international wars.  

At the same time, human dignity and human rights are violated when medical care and antiretroviral drugs are provided in some few countries, but access to basic medical treatment is not available or is insufficient in the vast majority of other countries - or when in countries health care is not treated as a priority for the citizens. 

People who live with Aids often experience that they are excluded and stigmatised and thus denied their basic rights. However, there are also traditions in our cultures which aim at furthering healing and inclusion. These traditions need to be valued and developed.  

In many countries there are harmful cultural practices that underline violence e.g. against women and children.

There is a growing number of orphans and vulnerable children who need special support and attention in order to be raised to a life in dignity. 

As churches we are called to maintain our prophetic voice and the ministry of advocacy wherever human dignity and human rights are violated each day. Churches should ensure that the service for human dignity and human rights is embedded in the message of God's love as contained in the gospel.  

Jesus has called us to strive for dignity for all human being e.g. in Mt 25, 40: "…whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me". 

Faced with the numerous suffering and pain brought about by HIV and Aids we remind each other of God's promise that one day He will wipe away every tear from our eyes and that "there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away" (Rev 21, 4). This is the hope that binds us together and on which we rely. May God our creator, redeemer and sustainer bless and guide our endeavours. 

3. Goals of the programme

The UEM Council statement 2001 gave the Anti-Aids-Programme its direction by defining five major goals:

  1. To help churches find appropriate ways of responding to the Aids crisis and developing programmes by

  • Organising trainings (e.g. through specific training courses or workshops for programme leaders or others)

  • Facilitating ecumenical learning (ecumenical team visits to models of good practice)

  • Supporting planning- and capacity development in churches (through workshops and planning seminars)

  • Offering consultancy (by local experts, e.g. in francophone Africa)

  1. To raise awareness on root causes of HIV and Aids (e.g. in workshops on overcoming violence and Human Rights or on overcoming harmful cultural practices, women's programmes etc.)

  2. To strengthen theological and pastoral reflection and practice as outlined in chapter 2 (e.g. in sermon workshops)

  3. To advocate for the rights of people living with or affected by Aids with the respective governments in the countries of our member churches (e.g. through membership in the German Aids Alliance Aktionsbündnis gegen Aids" or the Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance)

  4. To raise funds for programmes and projects (e.g. UEM project booklet 2004/2005, Aids work report 2000 - 2004) 

In order to achieve these goals, several programmes and activities have been implemented and are running. Their aims and approaches vary according to the different capacities and resources the churches have to address the HIV/AIDS epidemic. They also vary according to the underlying epidemiological, social, political and cultural situation and the specific situation of the church in a given country. There are, however, some principles that apply to all situations, and strategies that have shown to be effective in the fight of churches against HIV/AIDS. The following principles emerged from the experiences of the past four years:  

4. Principles

4.1. Mainstreaming

The issue of HIV and Aids has various aspects which are cutting across all areas of the churches´ and UEM´s work. A response to HIV/Aids only through a separate Aids programme has turned out to be insufficient. It is also necessary to create awareness about the underlying issues, and these should be taken up in the different areas of the churches´ and UEM´s work. At the same time it should be clear where within the organisations the coordination of all efforts is done.  

4.2 Theological reflection and education

Biblical and theological-ethical reflection should be central in churches´ Aids programmes. The approaches of the Aids programmes of a church and the message proclaimed e.g. in sermons or in theological education on all levels should not contradict each other. 

The issue of HIV/Aids should be taken up on all levels of the theological training and education, be it formal or informal. The churches´ institutions of theological training and Aids programmes should cooperate with each other.  

4.3. The need to address taboo issues and underlying aspects

Churches have felt the need to address issues like sexuality, death and dying in order to adequately fight the pandemic, to raise awareness and to create conditions that will enable people to choose responsible sexual behaviour. There is still the need to go beyond the issues identified, and to address gender based violence; the choice of prevention methods such as condoms; harmful traditions and values, poverty as a root cause, the empowerment of vulnerable groups, above all young women and girls who have traditionally been the weakest groups in society and churches and who are the most vulnerable to HIV infection.  

4.4. Critical reflection of culture and tradition

There are traditional values, habits, norms (like patriarchism) which are increasing the risk and the spread of HIV/AIDS. At the same time there are traditions and cultural elements which support the value of communal life based on care for each other. All these still have a strong influence on the way people live, feel, think and behave in a community. It is necessary to critically reflect tradition and culture on a biblical basis, to appreciate and develop the good elements and to identify the harmful ones.

This may require community based research.  

4.5. Promoting gender equity

Gender inequity is driving the spread of HIV/AIDS worldwide; women and girls are especially vulnerable to HIV infection and suffer disproportionately from the impact of the epidemic. Gender inequity shall be addressed as a cross-cutting issue.  

4.6. Orphans and vulnerable children and youth

Children and youth are a group of special concern for churches due to their high vulnerability. There is a rapidly growing figure of orphans and a large group of traumatized children and youth.

Wherever possible, Aids programmes should be developed in cooperation with youth - and children departments. Appropriate ways of communicating with the youth should be pursued. Trauma counselling should be organised.

Orphans need specific care. Efforts should be directed towards involving and supporting the communities and enabling them to provide care. Due to the high - and growing - number of children in need, institutional care (e.g. in orphanages) has turned out to be less sustainable and effective.

 

4.7. Advocacy

Advocacy and lobby work will aim at greater awareness of the global HIV Aids situation and its root causes and at the provision of adequate care and treatment for all people living with HIV and Aids worldwide. This includes lobbying nationally e.g. for adequate contributions to the UN Global Fund to fight Aids, TB and Malaria or for a reduction of prices for medicine with pharmaceutical firms. It can also include cooperating with the respective political organisations.

Cooperation will continue with the German Aids Alliance (Aktionsbündnis gegen Aids). In the regions Asia and Africa churches are encouraged to link up with organisations for lobby work (as e.g. the Campaign for access to treatment in Namibia).

Advocacy work can mean to educate and train people infected or affected by HIV/Aids to insist on their rights (see above). 

4.8. Involving people living with HIV or Aids

People who live with HIV and Aids are central in Aids programmes. Therefore, churches should endeavour to involve them actively in all stages of their programmes. Where wanted and possible, people living with Aids should be offered capacity building for this. (In Africa e.g. through the organisation ACCLIWA+).

Churches are encouraged to provide safety nets and networks for people living with HIV/Aids, be they lay people or clergy.  

4.9. Ecumenical Learning and Networking

Networking and information exchange shall be done ecumenically with other churches and Christian organisations, with international bodies and secular organisations wherever possible.

In the fight against HIV and Aids, the specific responsibility and chances of faith based organisations has been recognized. In multi-religious surroundings, networking with organisations of other faiths should be pursued where possible: Being faced with the Aids crisis unites us across our different religious beliefs. 

Networking is particular important in sharing information, advocacy and soliciting funds. 

Within the UEM communion, special emphasis is given to mutual learning and sharing of experiences. UEM churches shall continue to share their "good practices", i.e. programmes and activities that can serve as examples for other churches. This shall be done on all levels of the churches. 

4.10. The synergies of different elements of Aids work

It has been shown that HIV/AIDS prevention, care and the availability of medical treatment are interdependent and cannot be provided one without the other. To exclusively focus on care misses the chance of giving adequate information and education that will help in the prevention of new infections. To exclusively focus on prevention does not do justice to people's needs and looses credibility. The churches are in a special mandate to provide care for their sisters and brothers in need; this however entails also preventing new infections. Care refers to a comprehensive care including spiritual, material, social, and psychological care. It also refers to facilitating access to antiretroviral therapy, which is becoming more widely available in many countries. 

Furthermore, counselling is only credible if churches are also engaged in practical care and prevention. 

The availability of antiretroviral treatment again lessens the silence and stigma and reduces fear of testing.  

Advocacy has come to play a more important role in the work of many organisations, including churches. It means to stand in for the rights of the oppressed and the vulnerable who cannot fight for their own rights. This is particularly important in times of HIV/AIDS since the epidemic affects especially the poor, the marginalised, women, children and other vulnerable groups. Advocacy has to go together with care since it is a rather long term measure and some people may need assistance on an immediate basis. 

Above all, the theological message a church proclaims in sermons and elsewhere must not contradict what is being done in programmes. 

4.11. Specific approaches

As much as churches should try to pursue a comprehensive and holistic approach in their Aids programmes, each church should shape its activities according to the specific situation and need in its country and environment. Coordination with other locally active organisations and with government programmes is important to avoid duplication, competition and overlapping of activities. The churches as well as the UEM regions should carefully identify where their specific tasks are. 

5. UEM as an employing/sending/scholarship-organization: Personnel, scholarship holders and volunteers and visitors

5.1. HIV/Aids information, education and counselling for staff and exchange - co-workers

The provision of information and education on HIV/AIDS issues shall be given special attention in all programs dealing with volunteers, co-workers, exchange-workers, scholarships and partnerships. This shall be done in order to provide competence on issues relating to HIV/Aids and shall include information on HIV/AIDS in general and on individual prevention of HIV infection. It shall be intensified in the various preparatory processes. 

During their stay in their host churches, volunteers, co-workers and others working in countries affected by HIV/Aids shall be able to receive counselling for problems they face relating to HIV, such as deaths, fear or poverty, in order to help them cope with the situation. Counselling may continue upon their return from their assignments if they so wish. 

Church circuits hosting volunteers or co-workers shall receive adequate information on HIV/AIDS that equips them to approach the issue in a sensitive way. Special attention shall be given to decrease stigma and fear.  

5.2. Testing

HIV tests shall be encouraged for all in the context of voluntary HIV testing where people make an informed choice to be tested and receive appropriate counselling. Mandatory testing shall not be pursued by UEM as an employing/scholarship organisation. A positive HIV test shall be no absolute exclusion criterion for employment as staff, co-worker etc. Rather the situation has to be discussed and the appropriate place of work shall be found. 

5.3. Post Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP)

Volunteers, co-workers and staff shall have access to post-exposure prophylaxis for HIV infection. This applies especially to occupational exposure of health care workers, and to situations of rape or violence or other injury for staff and volunteers.  

5.4. Care for UEM staff and exchange coworkers infected with and affected by HIV/Aids

Co-workers in the north-south-, south-south- and south-north exchange programme have been included in health insurance programmes, or an additional grant was given to provide for health expenses in their host countries. This will have to be extended in order to provide for cases where co-workers are living with HIV/Aids. The principles of non-discrimination, destigmatization and providing care entail that access to specific treatment for HIV/Aids will be provided in case it is needed. Options to do this will be explored, such as to include treatment in health insurance schemes, to access government and church treatment programmes and others. 

For students receiving scholarships, taking care of chronic sicknesses including HIV/Aids is a matter of UEM´s ethical commitment. In this context, the options for the provision of adequate AIDS treatment will be explored (health insurance coverage, emergency fund, obtaining drugs in countries of origin). 

UEM seeks to create an environment that empowers people living with HIV/Aids to share their HIV status with others. In this line, co-workers living openly with HIV/Aids may be employed in order to bear witness and to encourage others to do so.  

6. Management of Programmes

The HIV/Aids pandemic increases the need for funds to develop meaningful programmes. These funds need to be additional to the other areas of work, as e.g. women's work, education, health etc. Moreover, they will be needed for a long period of time, not just as an emergency support. It is therefore of utmost importance for churches and organisations to be perceived as credible, honest and transparent organizations in the planning and implementation of their Aids work.

This concerns the handling of funds, the transparency in planning and implementation and the mobilisation of personnel.  

Requirements:

  • Churches should have contact persons or a coordinating committee for their Aids work.

  • Coordinators of Aids programmes need to have personal credibility and need to be adequately trained and/or experienced for the job.

  • In areas where there are UEM- or WCC consultants, these should be included in the screening and appointment process for leading personnel.

  • Likewise, all project proposals sent to UEM must be first discussed with the UEM consultant (where applicable) and must have his/her approval.

  • Planning, monitoring and evaluation of the programmes and activities within the Anti-Aids-Programme shall be done according to the UEM principles:

  • Annual work plans, budgets and half annual financial and narrative reports are required.

  • Generally, transfers of funds can only be made upon receipt of reports on the use of the previous installment of funds.

  • The use of funds for anti-Aids-programmes and activities shall be reported in accordance to the regulations provided (half-annual financial and narrative reports). Annual amounts less than 15.000 Euro shall be audited internally in the churches, amounts exceeding 15.000 Euro shall be audited externally.

  • There shall be annual activity plans for the ongoing church-programmes (funded by UEM) as well as for the UEM Anti-Aids-Programme.