Christian theology regarding all people as created in God’s image can help overcome the HIV/AIDS pandemic. This and other views on the impact of HIV in Africa, its gender dynamics and the role of people living with HIV, were shared by Musa W. Dube, a former consultant of the Ecumenical HIV and AIDS Initiative in Africa (EHAIA) in a recent interview.
Dube, a feminist theologian from Botswana and author of several books on HIV, Christian theology and justice issues, worked with EHAIA, a project of the World Council of Churches, from 2000 to 2004. She helped publishing the EHAIA resource book Africa Praying which has been used extensively in Africa and beyond.
How is HIV affecting communities in Africa and what are its gender dynamics?
The HIV and AIDS trauma has written itself on the bodies and souls of African communities. Yet, I must say it has also awakened their compassionate and communal energies.
Gender is one of the structural dimensions of HIV and AIDS. The pandemic has brought gender inequalities forcefully to the forefront, forcing communities to think more carefully about male-centered gender relations and the need to re-imagine our relations from justice-loving perspectives that embrace all genders.
HIV and AIDS have made African communities begin difficult discussions about varieties of sexual identities that exist, beyond conventional understanding of gender relations. It has assisted men in welcoming conversations about the meaning of manhood and how to re-construct troubling masculinities.
What more do you think churches need to do in their response to HIV?
Churches need to commit to place HIV and AIDS at the top of their program agendas. This is because the struggle to overcome HIV is not over; rather, it continues. To respond to this pandemic, leaders in churches can engage the energies of lay persons in their congregations.
Theologically, churches can make a contribution by adopting perspectives that assist members in regarding all people as “made in God’s image and blessed to be fruitful”. The creation perspective can put an end to the long persistent ghost of HIV and AIDS stigma and discrimination. The theology of creation can assist in embracing adherence to antiretroviral drugs.
What do you think is the most significant impact of the EHAIA project?
EHAIA has persevered in its commitment to build HIV and AIDS competent faith-based organizations. They have done this through training and accompanying the trainers in the production of resources. Consequently, EHAIA has trained African scholars of religion and faith leaders to think theologically and strategically about HIV as well as to produce contextually relevant theological materials.
In this process, EHAIA has opened up many ecumenical spaces for difficult dialogues concerning the causes behind HIV and AIDS and their social roots in poverty, gender inequalities, dominant masculinities, intimate partner violence, intolerance towards homosexuality and international economic injustice.
Can you explain what the Africa Praying initiative is about?
Africa Praying is an articulation of a continent that stands at work in prayer, seeking to fully understand the healing powers inherent within its own body ― and working to release these powers for the healing of its communities through concrete strategies. Africa Praying is thus the call to recognize “the God with us and the God in us” and the implications of tabernacling in God, and in becoming the tabernacle of God.
Being Africa at prayer is thus the art of fulfilling the responsibility of living with God among us in the HIV and AIDS context. The Africa Praying initiative is the journey to realize that God’s kingdom must come on earth as it is in heaven. This initiative, therefore, calls for prayers and acts of translation and crossing of boundaries in birthing a world of justice in the face of suffering.
What is a way forward for the WCC in its response on HIV beyond its upcoming 10th Assembly?
The concrete commitment to keep HIV and AIDS in the top drawer of the ecumenical movement is important. This should be done through advocacy of various leaders, highlighting voices of people living with HIV and allocating adequate budgets that enable faith-based organizations to remain HIV and AIDS competent.
These efforts need to be a call for the churches to be sensitive and intolerant towards all forms of social, economic and political injustice caused by HIV. One way to do this is to ensure that voices of people living with HIV and AIDS, activists and programme workers, seamlessly permeate the WCC’s upcoming assembly in Busan, South Korea.
What is the future of the ecumenical response to HIV?
The future of the ecumenical response to HIV lies in the capacity to remember to “keep walking the talk” and to keep the talk alive in saving and serving God’s creation. This is particularly significant as HIV remains a major assault on God’s beautifully created life. It lies in articulating commitment in concrete acts: annual budgets that enable the work of HIV to be done, in revisiting our previous plans of action and drawing up new ones.