an HIV/AIDS-Sensitive Curriculum
As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. Indeed, the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up ramparts around you and surround you, and hem you in on every side. They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave within you one stone upon another; because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God.” (Luke 19:41-44)
The HIV/AIDS epidemic has ushered in a new kairos for the world in general and for the African continent in particular. But that is only one dimension of it. The other dimension is that it is a kairos for and of the church – the local as well as the worldwide church. While we in the church may not all be infected, we all can be infected and once one member of the body is infected we are certainly all affected!
Although only about five percent of the world’s population live in southern and east Africa, up to 50 percent of the world’s HIV sufferers live there. It is now estimated that 60 percent of those who have died of AIDS-related illnesses are from this part of the world. Similarly, it is estimated that in 1999 90 percent of the world’s 11 million AIDS orphans were in sub-Saharan Africa. The situation is grave and each African country has its own tale of woe. Today those knowledgeable about HIV/AIDS prevalence in southern Africa inform us that these statistics have long been superseded.1
This essay seeks to explore and share some insights into the challenges posed by HIV/AIDS for theological education in Africa. I first conceived the basic ideas in a paper for a conference on the same theme in Nairobi in 2000. Without attempting to provide a complete “new” curriculum for theological education, I will try to outline, in broad strokes, some of the methodological and theological issues at stake if such a curriculum is to be drawn up.
Although I am not engaged directly in setting up an HIV-sensitive curriculum for theological education, the issues raised here would influence such a curriculum. I am in fact reluctant to plunge into actual curriculum design. Such a task requires highly specialized and specific skills, and the whole subject of HIV/AIDS is new and daunting for many theologians, myself included.
He learned German, Greek, French, Latin, Hebrew, in addition to English, church history, systematics, homiletics, exegesis and pastoralia, as one part of the requirements for his degree. The other part, the dissertation, he wrote on some obscure theologian of the middle ages. Finally, he got what he wanted: a doctorate in theology...
He was anxious to reach home as soon as possible, so he flew, and he was glad to pay excess baggage, which, after all, consisted only of the Bible in the various languages he had learned, plus Bultmann, Barth, Bonhoeffer, Brunner, Buber, Cone, Küng, Moltmann, Niebuhr, Tillich... At home, relatives, neighbours, old friends, dancers, musicians, drums, dogs, cats, all gather to welcome him back. The fatted calves are killed; meat is roasted;... [He] is the hope of their small but fast-growing church. People bear with him patiently as he struggles to speak his own language, as occasionally he seeks the help of an interpreter from English.
Suddenly there is a shriek. Someone has fallen to the ground. It is his older sister, now a married woman with six children and still going strong. He rushes to her. People make room for him, and watch him. “Let’s take her to hospital,” he calls urgently. They are stunned. He becomes quiet. They all look at him bending over her. Why doesn’t somebody respond to his advice? Finally a schoolboy says, “Sir, the nearest hospital is fifty miles away, and there are few buses that go there.” Someone else says, “She is possessed. Hospitals will not cure her!” The chief says to him, “You have been studying theology overseas for ten years. Now help your sister. She is troubled by the spirit of her great aunt.” He looks around. Slowly he goes to get Bultmann, looks at the index, finds what he wants, and reads again about spirit possession in the New Testament. Of course he gets his answer: Bultmann has demythologized it [i.e. according to Bultmann such a thing does not exist in reality]. He insists that his sister is not possessed. The people shout, “Help your sister; she is possessed!” He shouts back, “But Bultmann has demythologized demon possession! [It does not exist].”
The bottom line is that this impressively trained graduate was, to borrow from the title of Mbiti’s essay,3 “theologically impotent”. This is one of several essays and books that called for the “African context” to become the most serious item on the theological agenda of African churches and African theological institutions. The “theological impotence” that Mbiti and his contemporaries lamented and depicted so comically and so aptly was meant to highlight the importance of doing theology in ways that speak to the situations in which Africans find themselves. Mbiti also used this anecdote to highlight the inadequacy of allowing only the Western tradition to influence theological education.
If those were the terms in which “theological impotence” could be stated thirty years ago, the challenge of HIV/AIDS aptly highlights a dimension of theological impotence for theological education today. The “theological impotence” of African theology graduates is most acute in the challenge posed by HIV/AIDS. What strikes down our sisters and brothers is no longer only spirit possession but also HIV/AIDS. My sense is that little in our theological training prepares us to combat this challenge meaningfully and constructively. Whereas Mbiti’s imaginary graduate could “go to Bultmann” for inspiration and information – however misguided such a ploy was – today’s theology graduates have few gurus to refer to when it comes to HIV/AIDS. Indeed, theological material on the subject remains scarce.
Nor do we seem to have developed a theological language with and within which to discuss challenges raised by the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Suddenly even our newly found theological fads and shibboleths no longer suffice. In fact, just as we were becoming comfortable in our new-found voice for black and African theologies; just as African evangelicalism and Pentecostalism was declaring this to be the century in which all Africans will be “reached” for Christ; just as some Africans were celebrating the end of the cold war and the end of apartheid – the AIDS pandemic comes along and makes a mockery of many of our hopes and claims, sending us all into a deep crisis. Churches and theologies alone cannot address the challenge: all sections of society need to join hands. However, there may be issues and aspects of the challenge for which churches and religions are best suited.
Taking a leaf from the book of African theologies
Fifty years after Tempels, we have thousands of essays and dozens of books on the subject. Staunch and devout churchmen of deep Christian convictions, such as Okullu,6 Mbiti,7 Tutu, Buthelezi,8 Nthamburi, Idowu,9 Dickson10, and a few churchwomen, such as Oduyoye, Kanyoro and Njoroge,11 have been notable in the development of African theologies. African theology has not developed “outside of” or disconnected from the lives of African Christian communities and African churches. Though the campaigns have not been completely successful and the “mission” has not been finally accomplished, African theological issues have been put squarely on the agenda of theological education in many parts of Africa – however unevenly or inadequately.
We now face a new kairos – one that is epitomized by the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Can we use our fifty years’ experience of putting such “third-world theologies” as black and African on the theological curriculum in the present crisis? I think so. We must remember that there were few curriculum-design conferences called in order to consider how to introduce contextual and liberation theologies in theological curricula. At one level, we could say that contextual and liberation theologies erupted into theological faculties, schools and seminaries by the sheer force of their timeliness and relevance. Given the devastation and havoc that HIV/AIDS is causing in much of Africa, it is amazing that the curricula of institutions of theological education in Africa have not been “invaded” by HIV/AIDS issues in a powerful way. What could be more relevant for theology in Africa today than the question of HIV/AIDS?
Yet at another level we have to acknowledge that contextual and liberation theologies owe their introduction into mainstream theological education to the tireless and diverse efforts of (theological) educators all over the world who dared to make aspects of these theologies part of their research and teaching. Though the situation differed from context to context, there were places where liberation theologies could only be introduced in a surreptitious and clandestine way – and often not openly named as such. These tactics and strategies may be instructive as we search for a way of introducing an HIV/AIDS-sensitive curriculum for theological institutions in Africa.
It may not be feasible to wait until every faculty/seminary/Bible school board studies and approves of a new HIV/AIDS-aware curriculum. Those of us who are awake to the crisis may need to begin introducing HIV/AIDS issues in our courses even if our colleagues or the powers-that-be look askance at such attempts. We need not wait until we can introduce a course that bears the words “HIV/AIDS” in its title before we start introducing HIV/AIDS issues into our curricula. Indeed, one basic thrust of this essay is to argue that there is now no theological discipline that can afford to ignore HIV/AIDS issues in one way or another. How can theological education in Africa be conducted in a “business-as-usual” manner when thousands and millions of Africans are dying of HIV/AIDS?
The new kairos
A crisis is a judgment that brings out the best in some people and the worst in others. A crisis is a moment of truth that shows us up for what we really are. There will be no place to hide and no way of pretending to be what we are not in fact. At this moment in South Africa the church is about to be shown up for what it really is and no cover-up will be possible.12
With these words, a group of South African theologians began their now-famous theological comment on the apartheid state in the mid-1980s – the Kairos Document. I would like to suggest that these very powerful opening words of South African theologians should be said again today, not in relation to apartheid – which has thankfully been dismantled, even though its legacy is still with us – but to the challenge of HIV/AIDS. The epidemic has ushered in “a crisis that is shaking the foundations and there is every indication that the crisis has only just begun and that it will deepen and become even more threatening in the months to come”.
It is shaking the very foundations and meaning of life, individuality, family, culture, community, religion and church. In much of Africa, people are living under the heavy cloud of the HIV/AIDS scourge. Those who are not themselves infected usually know someone who is. In this way, very few are not living in dread of HIV/AIDS. Indeed, theologians should be trying to establish the theological significance of this moment in the history of humanity in general and the history of Africans in particular.
It is in terms such as these that I regard the HIV/AIDS epidemic as a kairos. The writers of the Kairos Document explained kairos in terms of “crisis”, “moment of truth”, “moment of grace and opportunity” and a “dangerous time”. All these “definitions” of kairos fit the challenge posed by the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Indeed, this epidemic presents us with a critical and dangerous time, a moment of truth as well as a moment of grace and opportunity. The AIDS crisis catapults us into a “moment of truth” because it brings us face to face with the failure, sinfulness, frailty and interdependence of human beings. It reveals the “truth” about the limits of human knowledge, the inability of science and technology to save us.
Like a spotlight, HIV/AIDS exposes and reveals the frailty of aspects of our personal and communal lives – things that until now we have been unwilling to confront. It forces human beings to confront death and the meaning of life in a way that few other human illnesses do. In facing the death or deaths of those living with HIV, we are all confronted with our own frailty. Furthermore, it would be dishonest not to admit that a large part of what gives HIV/AIDS a kairos-like quality is the alarming rate at which it is spreading on the continent.
The challenge for theology
Many of these issues remain implicated in the incidence and spread of HIV/AIDS. The “new” kairos is not totally new. To the extent that HIV/AIDS is becoming more and more an African and “third-world” disease the issues of race, class, gender and culture remain relevant to our discussions. However, we now know that awareness of race, class, gender and culture issues does not automatically translate into HIV/AIDS-awareness. If it did, the past ten years would have seen a surge in theological reflections and conferences on AIDS.
To be fair, these past ten years have seen some important innovative developments on the African theological scene. There have been serious attempts to address the new post-cold-war situation and to embrace it creatively.13 However, when it comes to the question of the challenge of HIV/AIDS, our theologians have been slow and silent – and we have reason to suspect that, differences from country to country notwithstanding, the churches have been slow and quiet too. While short journalistic articles on AIDS in Africa – often superficial if not misguided – abound in magazines and newspapers, very few in-depth theological treatises and books on this issue exist. Nicolson paints the picture:
It is very important that a theology of AIDS should be developed which arises out of our own context. There has not yet been nearly enough theological attention given to AIDS in South Africa. There have been three articles in the Journal of Theology for Southern Africa,14 one in Missionalia,15 one in Theologia Evangelica,16 and one in Koers.17 Only one book about a theology of AIDS has been published in South Africa.18
I am afraid things have not improved greatly since Nicolson wrote this in 1995. If I am correct in my reading of the situation, at least in South Africa, this lack of preparedness is not only one of the most serious indicators of the problem we face but also a stumbling block in the development of HIV/AIDS curricula for theological education in Africa.
Towards a theology of AIDS
Theologians are, usually, a literary people. We like books with a beginning and an end, and by the end we expect to know what the point of the book was. AIDS does not fit into this category. It represents the frightening world of chaos – disorder and non-meaning from which we hoped our faith had delivered us. AIDS is a plague in the modern era where plagues should have no power. The AIDS pandemic recreates for us the frightening world of the earlier church where we do not control the elements and are in a place between creation and redemption, in what the old Salve Regina prayer used to call a “vale of misery”.19
Maybe our silence in the face of AIDS is also because, when faced with it, we have to confront two issues which our modern churches and our inherited cultures, both Western and African, have been unable to handle openly and constructively: death and sexuality. Or are we silently waiting for science and technology to save us – not wanting to disturb the high priests of these “trades” while they silently work out our saving vaccine?
Perhaps we need not dismiss the silence as emptiness. To the extent that it is an admission of failure and a sign of a loss of words and plans, even the silence might be a sign that this is a kairos time. The first step in the construction of a theology of AIDS might just be a recognition and exploration of the silence, not only in Africa but also in the whole world – particularly in theological education circles – twenty odd years after the “discovery” of HIV/AIDS. Yet the silence is not complete, because those with full-blown AIDS are “speaking” loudly and clearly. They are speaking to us and speaking in us. How could we not see, how could we not hear? Is self-righteous bigotry the only alternative response to denial and silent pretence? Are the “safe” and usually patronizing ways of some Christian groups the best response we can muster in the face of so massive and so fundamental a human crisis?
This means that our often unnamed and sometimes unconscious theological and ideological assumptions about illness, gender, sex, sexuality, God, the Bible, the church, and so on must be unmasked and opened up for rigorous and vigorous debate and discussion. It is mostly at the level of theological, cultural and ideological assumptions and starting points that the battle against HIV/AIDS is “lost” and could be “won”. For example, we cannot hope to change the action or non-action of the church without understanding and seeking to change its assumed, professed and lived theology.
2. I have intimated some affinity and even continuity between the erstwhile and enduring African theology themes of race, class, gender and culture and the needed theology of AIDS. The continuity is real but a little complex. To begin with, as in the case of these themes in African theology, a theology of AIDS must be construed as an activist and advocacy theology. HIV/AIDS is the new “site of struggle” against death and dehumanization and, as with all true struggles, mere verbal and written theological constructions will not suffice. A theology of HIV/AIDS can therefore never be merely a “book” or “pulpit” theology. It must encompass the book, the pulpit and the brain, for sure, but it must be more encompassing, more activist and more missionary (adjective, not noun) than that.
3. A theology of HIV/AIDS will recall aspects of the fifty-year inculturation project of African theology. Like that project, it will affirm the need for Christian theology to speak powerfully and relevantly to the African cultural milieu. Unlike the early African theology of inculturation, however, a theology of HIV/AIDS will seek to do more than merely inculturate; it will fearlessly and creatively engage in a critique of culture, as some African women theologians and some African-American womanist theologians are doing, for example Mercy Oduyoye.20 It will do so, however, without being biased against Africans as people created in the image of God. A theology of AIDS will seek to go beyond cultural clichés so that the weapon of criticism – the African culture that was used in the critique of Western culture and Western Christendom – becomes also an object of criticism. If anything, the HIV/AIDS epidemic demonstrates the fallibility of all human cultures – African included.
4. The question of gender and the powerlessness of women is key to the development of a theology of HIV/AIDS. In many parts of Africa, the spread of HIV/AIDS among women and children is greatly enhanced by the cultural and economic powerlessness of women. Even when women are not themselves HIV-positive, they still bear the brunt of caring for those who are. If we ever doubted the relevance of a whole range of women’s theologies – feminist, womanist and African women’s – the HIV/AIDS epidemic should rouse us from our slumber. The powerlessness of women in culture, economics and religion has a direct impact on their vulnerability to HIV infection. This issue must therefore be addressed at all these levels. Although the WCC’s Decade of Churches in Solidarity with Women has afforded women a firm foundation on which to launch more struggles, it is also true that many of the themes of the decade were not always purposely linked to the challenge of HIV/AIDS, if they were linked at all.
5. If economic exploitation leading to the reduction of human beings to non-persons was seen to be grave enough by a considerable number of Latin American churches and theologians for them to initiate what has now become known as liberation theology, I submit that the HIV/AIDS epidemic poses an equally grave challenge. It is also not unrelated to economic exploitation. Although no one is immune from AIDS, it is the poor in the world’s poorest sections who are most at risk. Africans are no more promiscuous than, for example, Europeans, but they are much poorer and therefore much more vulnerable to the pandemic. It might not be far-fetched to suggest therefore that a theology of HIV/AIDS is the face of a new “theology of liberation”.
6. In the same way that black theologians in both South Africa and North America launched a concerted theological assault on pseudo-Christian racist heresies, we now need to launch a similar campaign against the heretical self-righteousness of those who discriminate against HIV-positive people and people with full-blown AIDS, even those who do so subtly. If racism attacked the integrity of the children of God by making them doubt that they are indeed children of God, discrimination against HIV-positive people does essentially the same thing. We share the same humanity and the same human frailty as HIV-positive people and to treat them otherwise is as bigoted as being racist or sexist. How can those of us who were excluded from the communion table, from the ministry of Christ, and from participating in the economic and political affairs of our countries – on account of our skin colour and gender – forget the pain of exclusion so quickly?
7. The HIV/AIDS epidemic brings issues of personal and individual ethics and morality to the fore once again. Few issues expose the importance and implications of personal morality and personal choices more than this epidemic. Here, our interdependence as human beings is displayed in all its destructiveness. Here, the personal is devastatingly communal and political. What ethic shall guide our discussion of the AIDS epidemic? Or shall we merely be practical about it? Shall we simply advise people to use condoms and then leave them to their own devices? Will it be the ethics of reinvented racism and cultural arrogance of yesteryear – where AIDS is seen to be the disease of blacks, third-world people and women because of their moral “infancy”? Or will it be an ethic informed by a view of the world as consisting of the saved versus the unsaved – the saved being the HIV-negative and the unsaved being the HIV-positive and those with full-blown AIDS?
Towards a theology of HIV/AIDS: some broad objectives and agenda
1. The first objective of an HIV/AIDS curriculum for theological education must therefore be to engage both students and educators at the levels of theological and cultural assumptions and motivations – even if such a curriculum fails to provide any final answers. Scholars such as James Scott21 and Michel de Certeau22 have highlighted the fact that in social analysis a distinction should be made between “public transcripts” (i.e. actions taken and words said in full view and for the benefit of the “powers-that-be”) and “hidden transcripts” (actions taken and words said behind the backs of the “powers-that-be”); between coded resistance and open resistance. Strategies for combating the spread of HIV/AIDS will have to be based on more than mere observation of human behaviour at the “public transcript” level.
In almost every human society, for a variety of reasons, there are things said and things done; things said-and-done and things said-but-seldom-done; and there are things simply done and seldom said. The complex interplay between things said and things done is not a phenomenon exclusive to African societies. In order to stem the tide of HIV/AIDS we will have to penetrate the elusive and complex interplay between things said and things done. For example, our prevention campaigns as well as our pedagogical methods will have to be pitched at a level that covers both the things said and the things done as well as their slippery intersections.
To give a banal example, it is possible for teenagers to be highly active sexually without an accompanying verbalizing and articulating of matters sexual. There could be a variety of reasons for this situation. The teenagers may simply lack the verbal “grammar” and wherewithal to articulate their sexual activities. They could also be succumbing to societal taboos about matters sexual. It is also possible to find another group of teenagers where the verbalization of matters sexual comes easily and yet one may find that there is little vigorous sexual activity accompanying the rhetoric. It seems to me that as educators we need first and foremost to understand the spaces between, the intersections, the dialectics and rhythms of the interplay between things said and things done, much more than simply to bring down the walls between things said and things done.
In other words, more than getting parents and children to talk about sex; more than getting ministers of religion to deliver shock-therapy sermons in which they preach about matters sexual; more than giving lessons on facts about sex and human anatomy; we need to understand the “logic” behind the partnership of doing and not saying or saying and not doing. The answer is not simply to say things seldom said – however necessary that might be. Nor is it simply to get people to “do the right thing”. We need to understand the logic – however warped – of why people do not say certain things and why they do not do certain things. It is as we seek to gain understanding in these realms that we will begin to construct an adequate pedagogy for the HIV/AIDS epidemic. A theology of AIDS must penetrate the thick and complex veil of things private and public in human cultures. It is in these realms that AIDS thrives.
2. Following on the preceding discussion, we must not be too optimistic about the role of knowledge and cerebral consciousness in the changing of human behaviour. The prevailing assumption that the availability of information will automatically influence human behaviour needs to be questioned. Non-governmental AIDS organizations all over the world are beginning to conclude that the AIDS prevention campaigns have not met with the success that would equal the effort and money put into them – country-to-country differences notwithstanding. Perhaps we need to redefine what we mean by “knowledge” so that “knowledge” and awareness move beyond the cerebral. Knowledge needs to affect the complex interplay between said and done things.
HIV/AIDS curricula must search for creative ways of tackling this complex matter. It is not always useful simply to insist that people need to include in their index of said things particular statements about sex and HIV/AIDS, unless we have first tried to understand the logic behind the reluctance to “speak” things left unspoken even as they “do” them. Similarly it is not useful simply to insist that people must “do” things not done even if it is “for their sake” – people need some understanding of why. Perhaps the HIV/AIDS epidemic, by its sheer violence, will break down all the walls and all the dialectical rhythms between done and said things, public and hidden things. But if this break down is “forced” and “knee-jerk”, it will not necessarily inspire alternative ethical behaviour or choices. As soon as an AIDS vaccine is found, people may revert to old behaviours. The point I am making here is that there always seems to be some gap (or deliberate discrepancy) between what people know and what people do – and we must seek to close the gap.
3. My remarks about said things and done things as well as those about the limits of information in influencing human behaviour must not be construed to mean that I do not see the need for basic information. When people flatly deny the existence of HIV/AIDS or when people hold untenable, ridiculous and dangerous beliefs about HIV/AIDS prevention strategies, it becomes necessary to provide the most basic information about sex and HIV/AIDS. There is a need for and value in information campaigns – even if these campaigns will not suffice in and of themselves. A theology of HIV/AIDS cannot be built upon the foundations of ignorance about AIDS any more than it can be built on theological illiteracy. For us to develop a theology of AIDS we need to take our theology most seriously. We need to recognize the “power” of doctrines and theologies over people.
4. A theology of HIV/AIDS must aim at the building of character – individual character and community character. Only mature Christian individuals and communities can construct and practise a theology of AIDS. If social arrangements were important for many Protestant theologies during the 20th century, what is equally important now is the character of communities and individuals. Such building of character must not be based on theological short cuts. This means that ethics must become more central to theological education than ever before.
5. In developing HIV/AIDS curricula for theological education, we must avoid certain pedagogical traps experienced by all new “subjects” or emphases in curricula. One such trap is that of benevolent marginalization, so that the course or module on HIV/AIDS becomes some “special” if not obscure optional course or module – a non-consequential option aimed at good-hearted or guilt-ridden volunteers, a course to be taught by the least qualified, least respected or most eccentric member of staff. The second trap is one where HIV/AIDS issues will haphazardly be “mainstreamed” into all theological subjects in a laissez-faire manner so that each lecturer is encouraged to do what he or she can with it. A third trap is where HIV/AIDS becomes a brief but compulsory immersion course either at the beginning or end of the academic year – so that, like a painful injection, all students get it over and done with once in their training.
If we are serious about HIV/AIDS in theological education, we will have to look out for these traps and see how we can take the best out of each scenario represented in the “traps”. One thing is clearly urgent: we need to produce a lot more theological material on HIV/AIDS – from the various perspectives of theological disciplines – than is currently available. Every educator knows that the availability of material is key to the teaching of any subject, just as every researcher knows that it is difficult to research a topic on which little or nothing has been written.
6. An HIV/AIDS curriculum in theological education must have practical, measurable and identifiable ends. The epidemic is far too serious a matter for us merely to philosophize about it. It must not just lead students to orthodoxy, but equip them for orthopraxis skills. For this reason the curriculum must be holistic, encompassing both rigorous thinking and rigorous actions. For this to occur effectively, HIV/AIDS pedagogy must be linked to communities of faith. Basic to the introduction of HIV/AIDS issues in theological education is the existence and significance of the church and other faith communities in African society. Therefore many of the actions and measurable objectives of HIV/AIDS curricula in theological education must be situated and inserted into the lives of actual Christian churches and communities. Active prevention strategies must feature prominently in such a curriculum because while we are talking people are contracting the HIV virus and many are dying!
7. HIV/AIDS is not just a virus that afflicts individual human bodies. It is a condition of life – a condition in which millions of Africans find themselves, whether their individual bodies are HIV-positive or not. In this condition, people live in fear, suspicion and tremendous insecurity.
We cannot construct credible theologies of healing until we have taken the time to understand the total condition – and not merely the individual human body under attack by the HI virus – which calls for healing as creatively, carefully and deeply as possible. This is the one great challenge I see facing the churches of Africa and African theologians. The spiritual, ideological, material and religious chaos into which Africa has been thrown as a result of HIV/AIDS has yet to be understood comprehensively. Like the woman with the flow of blood, whose condition was misunderstood, trivialized and distorted so that she lost much money and faith before she took the decision to “steal power” from Jesus, Africa’s own flow of blood is misunderstood, trivialized and understood mainly in bio-medical terms.
Part of the hindrance to a creative exploration of the HIV/AIDS condition is the air of taboo and stigma that permeates the entire subject – just as was the case with the biblical woman’s flow of blood. By taboo, I mean to highlight two realities – it is taboo to speak of HIV/AIDS openly in church and in society and, if the debate between Mbeki and certain Western scientists is anything to go by, HIV/AIDS is a taboo subject for discussion even among the so-called enlightened. There seems to be resistance to discussing its ideological and spiritual implications. A theology of healing can only be born out of a lucid analysis of the HIV/AIDS condition in all its dimensions.
Saayman and Kriel23 lament the prevailing philosophical model behind the anti-HIV/AIDS campaign that assumes and subscribes almost exclusively to an understanding of the human body and human illness in purely physical and biological terms. I concur. Many resources have been poured into tracing and following up the HI virus which causes the “machine” called the human body to malfunction. The aim is either to kill the virus or intercept it. But the human body is not just a network of nerves and veins with blood flowing in them, and sex is not merely an exchange of bodily fluids. Inside the human body is to be found the soul, the conscience and the metaphorical heart, and sex involves these as well. Similarly, the HI virus upsets much more than the physical immune system – it affects the psychological, cultural, religious and economic immune systems. It is at these levels where theology might have more to offer than the bio-medical approach.
8. I join those who have suggested some broad outlines of themes that need to be tackled in an HIV/AIDS-sensitive curriculum for theological education. Nicolson24 makes an important proposal for the construction of a theology of HIV/AIDS. His proposal encompasses six broad themes: (1) AIDS and our picture of God, (2) AIDS and the Bible, (3) AIDS and sexual ethics, (4) AIDS and the church, (5) AIDS and being human, (6) AIDS and women – the latter receiving the shortest treatment. Whatever its shortcomings in detail and emphasis – and there are many – this is a fairly comprehensive agenda. In their work, Saayman and Kriel25 devote a chapter to a discussion of the matters of sickness, health and healing. This is another important item on the agenda of an HIV/AIDS-sensitive curriculum. Together with the themes of death and sexuality, all these items would be crucial in the construction of an HIV/AIDS-sensitive curriculum.
Reflecting on and learning from the nature of theological education
Tracy helps us to recognize the multifaceted intent of theology. Theological education is not only an academic discipline among others; it is a service to communities of faith. Yet, theological education cannot be exhausted in the service of the needs of the church or denomination. Similarly, theological education must be and mean much more than some technical training for Christian activism where the emphasis is more on going and doing and less on reflection. Theological education should indeed be academic and ecclesiastical in its focus and practically oriented – but it must be more than each of these. The challenge then is one of integration so that the one “public” does not command all of the attention of theological education to the neglect and detriment of the others.
Furthermore, theological education must involve some discomfort and critique of each of the three publics. While it must strive for the highest intellectual and academic rigour, theology cannot buy completely into the rationality of the modern academy. Theology will maintain an awareness of the distinction and intimate relationship between faith and truth/knowledge for example – “unless you believe you shall not understand”. Unlike other disciplines, theology is not merely interested in questions of understanding, but in questions of existence – questions of meaning and truth. With respect to the second public, namely the church, theological education has such various objectives as: the formation of the priestly character, imparting the right theological conviction to candidates, grooming candidates for service to the denomination, teaching those skills that are required for the proper management of the church and the training of a group of professionals, called pastors, to serve the church.
The weaknesses of each of these objectives notwithstanding, what is clearly important is that theology and theological education – whether at university or seminary – cannot be detached from the life of communities of faith. In recent times, no “public” has become more important for theology and therefore for theological education as society at large. The rise of liberation theology and its various manifestations was built on the clear distinction between orthodoxy (which was churchy and inward-looking) and orthopraxis, which was oriented towards the role of the church in the larger society. Thus it was recognized that it was not enough for theology to be geared towards the servicing of the church and its members – the challenge was out there in the world where faith must be lived out in practice.
What has any of this to do with HIV/AIDS curricula? My suggestion is that it is only when theological education is very clear about its nature and vision that HIV/AIDS issues can be effectively grafted into it. More than that, I am suggesting that the challenge of the HIV/AIDS epidemic is such that we must do more than some quick curriculum patchwork. We need to work the curriculum into the heart and soul of what theological education is all about. The epidemic is a challenge for us to revisit our inherited visions of theological education. Next to culture, nothing governs our choices and attitudes more than our inherited, often subliminal and unconscious notions of the nature of theological education.
Finally, unless our HIV/AIDS curriculum is geared towards an integrated vision of Tracy’s “three publics”, it too might not be effective. The dangers of ignorance about theological education’s responsibility towards each public are applicable to a poorly thought-out HIV/AIDS curriculum. As we read the following quote from David Bosch, let us imagine that he was talking not only about theological education in general but about an HIV/AIDS curriculum in theology:
Theology and theological education, then, involve a dynamic interplay and creative tension between theoria, poiesis and praxis, between head, heart and hand, between faith, hope and love, between the cognitive, the constitutive and the critical, between the intellectual, the relational and the intentional. It combines knowing, being and doing and seeks to communicate what is true, what is of God and what is just. Unless theological education succeeds – however inadequately – to embody these dimensions, it will not be credible to any of its three publics. In the world of academia, it will be viewed as an atavistic enterprise, a throwback to a bygone era. The church will regard it as peripheral to its life, as diffuse and cafeteria-like, lacking a unifying vision. Society will perceive it as pedantic, irrelevant and doctrinaire. In each of these instances our students will, in their search for an integrating world- and life-view, feel obliged to look elsewhere for help in respect of what really matters even if they comply formally with our degree requirements.27
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