For several years I have volunteered as director of a ministry of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and I have rubbed elbows with leaders at the high levels. I have had private conversations with our GMP, I have broken bread with no less than six Presidents of General Ministries of our beloved movement. I have received early morning phone calls from past Moderators and spent time waiting for airline flights chatting with a former GMP. I have preached at six congregations and a seminary and have spoken over a thousand times as a representative of our movement.
I have conspired with my friend “Fake Sharon” to blanket our General Assembly in Nashville with t-shirts and pins to remind Disciples that there are people who identify as LGBTIQ among us. I’m the guy who put the “Make the DOC Gay Okay!” t-shirt on the Billy Graham statue in Nashville. I’m the guy who convinced the host hotels in Indianapolis and Nashville to put condoms in our rooms the week of Assembly. My current pet project is bringing an ‘Open & Affirming’ Resolution to General Assembly in Orlando.
I have been a member of a congregation as it underwent the Open & Affirming process and I have been a member of the first congregation in a southern region to call a person who is openly LGBTIQ to the pulpit. I have given of time and talent as well as gifts of money and other equipment necessary for our movement to continue to become a movement for wholeness in a fragmented world.
My work is with those living with HIV and AIDS. I walk with them, talk with them, feel their pain, am one of them. In the time I have volunteered with Disciples HIV-AIDS Ministry I have worked to try to spread the good news of Christ to those who need it. But, to be honest, I’m not sure how good a lot of people think our news is. Sure, some people know what we are saying and ignore it, or reject it because they believe it requires a change in life, but I’m not sure that’s true for everyone. In some ways, I think, we have lost the core of what is really good about the news we bring, and with this we have lost the ability to effectively reach out to the world in which we live.
What was the sign of the Messiah? When John the Baptist asked Jesus if he truly was the one predicted Jesus responded that (Luke 7:22) The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.” Jesus did not have to convince people with good salesmanship that his news was good. The goodness in the news he taught was evident to see for itself, which allowed him to also preach things that were harder to hear. If we, on this day have to work at convincing people our news is really good, is it really that good?
In the 1980’s a disease appeared that was mysterious, contagious, and life-threatening. It quickly became identified as being related to behavior, behavior that was generally condemned by the church. To get this disease meant you were probably doing something you shouldn’t have, and God had cursed you for your sin. You got exactly what you deserved. This disease started panic, in society in general, but nowhere more so than in the conservative Evangelical world where well-known leaders used this disease to preach fear, paranoia, and rejection. The news about this disease was very bad, and Christians made sure everybody knew how bad this news was. Others who had compassion and sought to help, to comfort and to heal often found themselves rejected by the church for doing so.
I wonder what society would be like now, what voice the Church would have in countless areas of our culture if instead of preaching fear and rejection, our ministers had preached comfort, love, and news that was good for those who were facing the worst news of all. I wonder if what we say is good news would be better accepted as being really good, if we acted in a way which showed our goodness. Because we rejected in action, we are now faced with a society that is spiritually eager and starving, but not interested in what we in the church have to say. Though we preached good news, we did not bring good news.
Today, we stand at another crossroads as our movement responds to this disease. With the loss of a major funder Disciples HIV-AIDS Ministry stands to lose Malachi, our mobile HIV Education and Testing unit. Though this disease has spread across the full fabric of our planet, nowhere has it hit harder in the United States than in the gay population. The loss of this program is devastating to our movement. With the loss of our programming budget, Malachi sits, parked at a local Disciples congregation, as another ministry of the church covers our monthly note until we find a buyer for this one of a kind vehicle.
I wrote to my mentor that I was deeply saddened that we had failed in this ministry so soon into it. I was encourage to look ahead, at how we could transform our ministry into something else and even as I try to do so I drive past Malachi everyday on my way to work at my new job and I wonder what will happen. Where will we stand on the issue of HIV and AIDS in years to come?
What will be the message of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) to those living with HIV and AIDS? Is it possible that God can see past my history, my disease, to see who I really am, and still want to reach out and touch me? These are questions I asked myself and found the answer to in the Disciples movement. These are questions we at Disciples HIV-AIDS Ministry are helping others answer every day. As a gay man, living with HIV, I found love, hope, acceptance, and a family I so desperately wanted at Central Christian Church in Terre Haute, Indiana. The love and compassion I feel from my fellow Disciples will give me strength to continue to help others as our ministry is transforming.