In twenty-two years, HIV has infected 40 million people who are now living with the virus, and orphaned 14 million children. It infects 5 million people a year and has already claimed millions of lives.1 Beyond these staggering numbers, there are two aspects of this epidemic which have transformed it from being merely an individual health issue to a social issue that affects all aspects of human life.
First, HIV/AIDS works through social injustice. It is an epidemic within other social epidemics of injustice.2 Thus where there is poverty, gender inequality, human-rights violation, child abuse, racism, ageism, HIV/AIDS stigma, classism, international injustice, violence, ethnic and sex-based discrimination, HIV/AIDS thrives. While it is undoubtedly true that anyone can get HIV/AIDS, the most marginalized groups – who are subject to the above social conditions – are more vulnerable and likely to lack quality care when infected or sick.
Second, the HIV/AIDS epidemic affects all aspects of our lives: cultural, spiritual, economic, political, social and psychological. It weakens economies as productivity is reduced and expenditure goes up. It raises spiritual questions: Does God care, does God hear prayers or heal, is God punishing us? It highlights both strengths and weaknesses of a culture. It reveals the structures of our social institutions – how they are constructed and how they affect the well-being of individuals and the community as a whole. It affects the psychology of individuals and communities as people begin to be afraid and to lose faith in the future. Politically, it calls for national and international relations of justice. In this way, the onslaught of HIV/AIDS is an apocalyptic event which reveals starkly the existing social evils and the most terrible forms of suffering. As an apocalyptic event, however, HIV/AIDS also underlines the urgent need for transformation and justice in the society and the lives of individuals.
Given that HV/AIDS affects everything and, I want to believe, everybody,
the strategy adopted for the struggle against this epidemic is “a
multi-sectoral approach”. This means that HIV/AIDS is everybody’s
business. Each individual, institution, community, religion, department,
sector, ministry, discipline and, indeed, each nation must address the
following questions in the struggle against HIV/AIDS:
The area of religion, like all others, was immediately brought to the fore by the advent of HIV/AIDS, since it raised spiritual questions in the lives of the affected and infected. The religious bodies and faith communities were immediately confronted by the question of the origin of HIV/AIDS, the reason for the new epidemic, the suffering, the search for healing, and the meaning of life in an age of an incurable disease. All these burning issues needed attention. Like all other disciplines, religious communities were dealing with a new phenomenon, one with which they had no past experience but which called urgently for their attention. The sick and affected needed counselling and support. They had questions that demanded answers. Individuals, families, communities and nations needed healing from the scourge of HIV/AIDS. Religious bodies and communities and their theologies were unavoidably affected and called into service to the suffering.
In response to the urgent needs of the moment, it became clear that the answer to the question, “Is religion part of the problem?” was yes. This took many forms. It included silence and indifference, and a lack of response by both faith communities and their training institutions. It became even more evident in the explanation of the origin of the epidemic. The disease was associated with punishment for sin and immorality of those who are suffering. This perspective contributed towards creating a second epidemic, namely, stigma and discrimination of those with HIV/AIDS, intensifying the suffering of the infected and affected through social isolation, rejection, fear and hopelessness. Before we knew it, the stigma of HIV/AIDS had carried the epidemic to a greater depth – from just a physical disease that had infected some parts of nations to a social epidemic that affected us all. As individuals and communities we were gripped by fear, hopelessness and lack of faith in the future, and confronted by the meaninglessness of life. We died even as we were alive – regardless of our HIV/AIDS status. We were and, indeed, we still are preaching to our own dry bones to hear and live out the message of hope – to be resurrected.
Religious communities were also a problem in the sense that they so reduced HIV/AIDS to individual immorality that its social face was obscured. That HIV/AIDS was an epidemic like other social epidemics escaped the eyes of many religious leaders. Consequently, the strategy preached by many leaders of faith communities was abstinence before marriage and faithfulness in marriage. This approach tended to associate the spread of HIV/AIDS with sexual impurity. In the process, the importance of preserving life was subjugated to the gospel of sexual purity. Religious communities did not even have the language to speak explicitly about human sexuality. Breaking the silence surrounding HIV/AIDS and finding a language to speak about human sexuality was essential. Clearly, religious communities, their leadership and theology needed further dialogue, self-examination, reflection and education, and were challenged to undertake a prophetic ministry in the society and the world as a whole.3
Turning to the question of whether religion and faith communities can become part of the solution in arresting the spread of HIV/AIDS and in providing quality care, again the answer was yes. However, as the above shows, it became clear that training and education was needed in all religious areas – biblical, African religions, ethics, theology, mission, counselling, programme-project management, etc. Those working in the area of religion and spirituality, like all other fields that have been challenged by HIV/AIDS, also needed to research, train and educate themselves on the social evils that encourage HIV/AIDS such as poverty, gender inequalities, violence, human-rights violations, child abuse, racism, youth, powerlessness, racism, wars, national corruption, international injustice, ethnic and sexual discrimination, because any serious attempt to address the problem had to take into account the accompanying social epidemics.
This collection of essays makes no claim to any academic astuteness. Rather, it represents our efforts in the continent of Africa to contribute towards the struggle against HIV/AIDS. As religious scholars we have worked with communities of faith and with people living with HIV/AIDS, and have tried to equip ourselves to be part of the solution. The papers here show how we have tried to address the major challenges confronting communities of faith and to give them tools to face the epidemic. They represent our efforts, however small, to become prophets of life in the valley of death, and to undertake a multi-sectoral teaching – i.e. teaching in all areas of life – in this era of HIV/AIDS.
The collection began as religious scholars, ecumenical bodies and UN agencies took on the responsibility of developing a theological education that responded to the context and a world devastated by HIV/AIDS. As the curriculum says, theological educators of southern and eastern Africa met in 2000 in Kenya, with the full involvement of people living with AIDS, to discuss how theological institutions could equip the churches to respond adequately to HIV/AIDS. All educational institutions responsible for training church workers and theological personnel were urged to take up the responsibility. The curriculum was designed to assist institutions to integrate HIV/AIDS in their programmes for their current students who will graduate and serve the community and the church, and also to organize short courses for church and community workers already in the field. It seeks to assist lecturers in various fields, such as human sexuality, biblical interpretation, theology, counselling and programme design in light of the context of HIV/AIDS. Each of these areas could now be examined in relation to HIV/AIDS, to assess how it is part of the problem as well as how it can become part of the solution. These areas thus form the five units of the curriculum. The curriculum also tries to assist lecturers to deal with some issues central to the HIV/AIDS epidemic and found in all the units: poverty (class), gender inequalities, culture, age (children, youth, the elderly), persons living with AIDS and stigma.
A year later, in 2001, HIV and AIDS Curriculum for Theological Institutions in Africa4 was made available. The second stage was then to train theological educators themselves. Training-of-trainers workshops for theological educators and administrators were held at regional and national levels, to prepare academic theological educators and leaders in how to integrate HIV/AIDS in their programmes. In 2001, three regional workshops, one in eastern Africa and two in southern Africa, were held, training up to eighty-five academic religious scholars. Those who were trained had the responsibility of returning to their countries and training their own nationals, as well as integrating HIV/AIDS training in their own programmes. Thus national workshops were held in Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Namibia in 2002. The year 2002 also saw the translation of the curriculum into Portuguese and French to make it accessible to Francophone and Lusophone countries of Africa.
The year 2003 thus began with extending training-of-trainers’ workshops for theological educators in these regions. Two regional Francophone workshops were held, in Cameroon and in Benin, training a total of about eighty theological educators. One national workshop was held in Mozambique, training fifteen national scholars. Both regional and national training-of-trainers workshops are still continuing today. But what is gratifying is that church denominations have now begun organizing such workshops for their own theological educators and institutions. This indicates that church leadership is affirming this project and supporting policies for the integration of HIV/AIDS training in their institutions.
While the aim of drawing up the curriculum and of training workshops was to equip theological institutions and educators by giving them the technical skills of “how to”, that is, with methods of integrating HIV/AIDS training in the curriculum, none of us who resourced these workshops were specialists. This curriculum and this book, therefore, largely represent the urgent response of theological institutions and their attempt to be part of the solution in the fight against HIV/AIDS. We were driven by a critical situation – the situation of death, fear, hopelessness, suffering, stigma and discrimination. The curriculum and these papers that were written to accompany it, therefore, represent creative, dream, virgin or war work, because for most of us who wrote them, whether on the Bible and HIV/AIDS or theology and HIV/AIDS, it was the very first time. Although some efforts have now been made to produce and publish HIV/AIDS theological literature,5 at the time of writing these papers most of us had hardly any other theological works to refer to. Lastly, most if not all of us had no training on HIV/AIDS theology in our graduate schools. These papers, therefore, do not pretend to be the ultimate word. At best, they serve as stimulation to further and deeper reflection on African religions/mission/theology/Bible/counselling and programme design in a context of HIV/AIDS. As the reader will note, there are more questions than answers in this journey. The reader will also realize, from the tone of these essays, that they are conversations, activist speeches, designed to rouse the heart and mind of their listeners into action in defence of life. As Tinyiko S. Maluleke holds,
A theology of AIDS must be constructed as an “activist” theology of advocacy. AIDS is the new “site of struggle”, and as with all true struggles sheer verbal and written theological constructions will not suffice. A theology of 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.6
Specifically, this collection came out of workshops to train theological educators on how to implement the HIV/AIDS curriculum in their educational institutions. We called on various scholars to give key papers on each unit. Participants would then meet groups to work on the process of integrating HIV/AIDS practically into their programmes. The practical exercises often involved discussing key concepts, rewriting the available course descriptions to include HIV/AIDS, or designing new courses on such subjects as human sexuality and HIV/AIDS; reading Job, the gospels and Mark in the HIV/AIDS context; African theology and HIV/AIDS. In the process of training, it became clear that while we gave educators a copy of HIV and AIDS Curriculum for Theological Institutions in Africa, questions always came up about an accompanying textbook which could make the task easier. This was particularly important given that most libraries had hardly any resources on the subject. The easiest way of producing such a textbook was to compile the papers given in HIV/AIDS theological training workshops, and the presentations in this volume come out of the southern Africa regional workshops. Papers from Francophone regional workshops are being published in their region.
The papers are arranged according to the five units of the curriculum. Agrippa Khathide’s paper focuses on unit 1, human sexuality and HIV/AIDS, and the need to break the silence and find a language to speak about human sexuality in this time of HIV/AIDS. Unit 2, on biblical studies and HIV/AIDS, features four papers: a poster presentation on methods of teaching the Bible in an HIV/AIDS context; Johanna Stiebert’s paper on the question of the Hebrew Bible and HIV/AIDS; Madipoane Masenya and myself on prophecy in both testaments and how it can become a framework of teaching in HIV/AIDS. The papers on prophecy seek to address the fact that HIV/AIDS is an epidemic within other social epidemics. The need to recapture a framework that would encourage theological educators to bring into being a socially engaged church that seeks transformation led to the exploration of prophecy in both testaments.
For unit 3, on teaching theology in a context of HIV/AIDS, there is a paper by Tinyiko S. Maluleke and another by Moji A. Ruele. Maluleke’s paper, “Towards an HIV/AIDS-Sensitive Curriculum”, was given in its first version when the HIV/AIDS curriculum in Nairobi was drawn up, and we updated it for our training-of-trainers workshops in southern Africa. Unit 4, on counselling and HIV/AIDS, features papers by Larry Colvin and André de la Porte, both notable for their efforts to provide practical methods of counselling.
Since HIV/AIDS is an epidemic within other social epidemics, it was also important to give participants tools to help them be analytical. In particular, since gender inequalities have been identified as a major force in the spread of HIV/AIDS, it was important to include an educative paper on gender. This section features two of my papers. Lastly, since HIV/AIDS is a highly complex disease that leaves in its wake orphans, widows, over-burdened grandmothers, home-based patients, and which makes the poor poorer, skills of programme/project design and management are essential for faith communities; Prisca Mokgadi’s paper seeks to provide them. The “HIV and AIDS Curriculum for Theological Institutions in Africa” forms the last chapter.
This book, therefore, is aimed at those who have begun grappling with
the issue of integrating HIV/AIDS in their theological programmes. It
is also for those who are thinking about it, but who are finding it difficult.
Lastly, it is also for those in the church who need to deal with HIV/AIDS
in their preaching, Sunday-school sessions and liturgy. It is for those
who realize that, in a world where millions of people have died, perhaps
our greatest challenge in pedagogy is how our teaching can help our students
and communities to stay alive. The question of how our teaching can become
part of the solution by helping the church and society in general to reduce
the spread of HIV/AIDS and to provide quality care to those who are infected
and affected is urgent. What is the point of our teaching if it cannot
save lives and improve communities that are living under the shadow of
death and hopelessness in this time of HIV/AIDS?7
This volume, therefore, invites every reader, and particularly theological
educators in their various academic fields, to ask themselves the questions
with which I began:
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