Almost forty years after the advent of HIV and AIDS, people around the world living with HIV still endure assaults on their dignity and basic human rights—from stigma and discrimination to denial of legal protection and even medical care.
Bringing together people living with, working with, researching, or personally affected by HIV or AIDS, a new volume developed by the World Council of Churches - Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance (WCC-EAA) and its global partners draws directly from on-the-ground experiences of frontline actors in the churches and agencies.
In a session at the Ecumenical Centre, the volume was introduced last week by an expert panel, including co-editor Gillian Paterson of Heythrop College, University of London; World YWCA programme manager for sexual and reproductive health Hendrica Okondo; the UNAIDS liaison with faith-based organizations Sally Smith; and contributor JP Mokgethi-Heath of the Church of Sweden.
A major task of the volume, panelists explained, is bridging the sometimes conflicting languages of human rights—the standard framework of international and civil-society agencies--and the more religious framework of human dignity rooted in the image of God, a notion deeply held by Christian churches.
Paterson welcomed people to “the conversation” acknowledging that this dialogue is often difficult for people to hold because of fear, ignorance, associations with sin, and criminalization of many of those particularly vulnerable to HIV.
“We knew that if we were to do this job properly we would need first to understand what was going on and then to hear the different voices with respect,” said Paterson. “Which means that, if we have succeeded in what we’ve tried to do, you will not agree with everything that’s said here. What you can hope for, though, is that you will gain some understanding of why it is being said.”
The 23 contributors’ insights and reflections--always lively, sometimes uncomfortable, often deeply moving—search for common ground in combatting HIV.
The volume broaches the truly tough questions faced by those with HIV and those who work directly or programmatically with them. It offers strong, substantive discussions of the meaning of human rights, its relation to the more religious language of church traditions, the contextual wisdom of key populations most at risk for HIV, and best practices and theological reflection of Christian churches.
“This book brings together the issues and insights that have been raised since the EAA intentionally began these conversations in 2011,” says Manoj Kurian, WCC-EAA coordinator. “By combining personal experience, historical and practical background, and theological insights, we hope the publication can help individuals and groups find the words and the space to talk together, and find common ways forward because AIDS is not over yet, and will not be until stigma and discrimination is overcome.”
The Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance, an initiative of the World Council of Churches, is a global network of churches and related organizations committed to campaigning together on common concerns for justice and human dignity. Current campaign issues are HIV and AIDS, food security, and sustainable agriculture.
Development of the project and the volume was supported by the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (Norad) and UNAIDS, along with the World Council of Churches.
Dignity, Freedom, and Grace: Christian Perspectives on HIV, AIDS, and Human Rights, edited by Gillian Paterson and Callie Long will be available later this month from bookstores and from WCC Publications’ distributors in North America (isbs.com) and UK/Europe (albanbooks.com), as well as online retailers.