A South African pastor set off a recent furor by saying in a three-part sermon that Jesus was HIV-positive, deliberately using the metaphor to highlight the stigma and danger of the HIV/AIDS pandemic. “Wherever you open the scriptures Jesus puts himself in the shoes of people who experience brokenness,” Pastor Xola Skosana explained to the BBC. “Of course, there’s no scientific evidence that Jesus had the HI virus in his bloodstream…[but] the best gift we can give to people who are HIV-positive is to…create an environment where they know God is…not ashamed of them.”
The controversial metaphor has outraged some Christians, who claim that Skosana is “dragging the name of Christ to the ground,” or say that such statements will allow non-Christians to mock Christ. But for others, the pastor’s message is a powerful one, and has the potential to encourage real action. Pastor Skosana concluded his three-part sermon by getting an HIV test in front of his congregation, inspiring 100 churchgoers to follow his example.
An Anglican priest voiced his support, saying, “What Pastor Skosana is clearly saying is that Christ at this point in time would be on the side of the people who are HIV-positive – people who are being sidelined by the very church that is attacking him.”
And even secular AIDS activists have vocally supported Skosana’s message. Professor Jan Glazewski, who has been HIV-positive for 15 years, wrote in a letter to a Cape Town newspaper that one of the most powerful things the church could do is to emphasize Christ’s fight for the poor and marginalized.
I have to say, I also find Pastor Skosana’s metaphor to be compelling. Christ surprised many people during his lifetime because of his tendency to associate with prostitutes, thieves and tax collecters; even his family was upset and confused by the way he reached out to the most vulnerable. And certainly, this has been a theme that has drawn Christians to social justice; it was the foundation of liberation theology and the social gospel movement, and continues to be influential in contemporary Christianity, as evidenced by people like Pastor Skosana. Although it may be a stretch to say that Christ actually had HIV, the idea that Christ would want his followers to break down the stigma and barriers surrounding people with HIV is certainly true.
Photo from Flickr.