Youthful 23 year old, Jackson Musime, was desperately ill in a side-room of a busy hospital ward, in Uganda’s Mbarara Hospital, in 1996.
He was anxious, sweaty and panting for breath. His hands gripped the sides of the bed with fear. His thin face was covered with an oxygen mask, his chest was covered in wires and tubing. He was alone and about to die as he succumbed to the HIV/AIDS virus.
His death came so fast because the Ugandan Government had not yet introduced ARV drugs. Debate ranged at the time as to the cause of this deadly disease and how its spreading could be stopped.
Of concern to me since witnessing the death of young Jackson, is the role that the church has played over the years in the whole HIV/AIDS discourse.
Some churches remain conservative influenced by traditional cultural norms and values to do with what it means to be a ‘good Christian’ - remnants of Victorian prudery.
Every time as a Christian, I hear the church hesitant to apply all means that would help people from catching the HIV virus, including use of condoms, I shudder.
I feel more touched as I get a sense of a moralistic yet empty rhetoric that is not applicable to the reality of the situation on the ground, for the average citizen to be helped to fend off this disease.
From the moment of Jackson’s death, I found I was not only touched - but involved. Here was a human being, made in God’s image and in great need.
How could I respond other than to care and help, laying aside any personal feelings I might have had about lifestyles, morals and the means by which he had become infected.
I offered my hand by staying in the hospital where I fed him like a baby, but still he died painfully. That is why today, I have great concern when it comes to saving people from catching the deadly disease.
That is why I do not agree with churches that promote primitive fundamentalist views that discourage the use of condoms.
Views based on a misguided assumption that promoting condom use will only increase promiscuity – therefore spreading the disease more. However, only the reverse is true.
This position flies in the face of Governments ABC policy which advocates Abstinence, Being faithful and the use of Condoms.
Advising people to protect themselves has nothing to do with being immoral or promiscuous but rather a matter of social responsibility, it is about saving lives.
The church is influential and can play a decisive role in stopping the spread of the HIV virus without it being part of the problem.
The Government has set the tone and context in responding to the HIV scourge by introducing the ABC policy whose success can only be augmented through a positive response from the church.
The war against the spread of the Virus can only be won by the church and our Government working together. It is ridiculous when in the work place or public life the gospel is safe sex through condom use and then when you got to church on Sunday you are branded promiscuous for just accepting a gospel that will ultimately save your life and a whole generation.
Thus the relevance of the church to the debate is questionable if it sees it morally wrong for a priest to stand up in public and advice people to use condoms.
Religious leaders therefore, have to stand firm between their beliefs and the reality on the ground, otherwise their followers will remain in trouble.
A ‘fundamentalist’, may argue that who ever cannot be faithful or be able to abstain, then, is not part of their church.
Nevertheless, such an argument would not be realistic.
Consequently, this is actually, the basis of the dilemma religious leaders are facing, dealing with the urgency of the HIV/AIDS crisis while maintaining their moral high ground.
For, if they do not, they will find themselves in a more complex situation that will not give them space and time to serve their communities as they promise to the almighty, on a daily basis.
The church has been found on the wrong foot historically during colonialism, recently during the genocide and so cannot afford once again to be on the wrong foot in the HIV/AIDS debate.