Written by Barb Powell
Highlighting the need for churches to be places of spiritual and physical wellness, UCAN, Inc. (United Church of Christ HIV and AIDS Network) has issued a statement encouraging condom distribution at places of worship.
The statement, presented to the UCC’s Wider Church Ministries joint board meeting in Cleveland March 19, comes on the heels of a renewed focus on the global HIV/AIDS epidemic.
Earlier in the week, Pope Benedict XVI spoke in Cameroon, Africa, saying that condoms were not effective at preventing the spread of HIV. “You can't resolve [AIDS] with the distribution of condoms,” he said aboard his plane Tuesday. “On the contrary, it increases the problem.”
UNAIDS reports that three-quarters of all AIDS deaths worldwide in 2007 were in sub-Saharan Africa, where some 22 million people are infected with HIV - accounting for two-thirds of the world’s infections.
The Rev. Michael Schuenemeyer, the UCC’s executive for health and wholeness advocacy, urges a more scientific and compassionate approach to the prevention of HIV. “The availability of condoms as part of a comprehensive approach to HIV prevention sends the right message and more importantly, it saves lives,” he said. “The message [UCAN is sending] is rooted in the belief that loving carefully is a moral responsibility. The practice of safer sex behavior is a matter of life and death. People of faith make condoms available because we have chosen life so that we and our children may live.”
UCAN’s complete statement follows:
Human beings are sexual beings and sex is a gift from God, to be shared with love and responsibility. As such, sex, sexuality and sexual behavior are concerns that must be addressed honestly and openly by people of faith. This is an evermore urgent concern because the world is living with a growing HIV epidemic. For those who choose to be sexually active, safer sex is more loving and more responsible – toward oneself and one's partner – than unprotected sex. There is a significant body of evidence that demonstrates that when condoms are part of a broader, more comprehensive prevention package, they play a key role in reducing HIV infections (UNAIDS, March 19, 2009.)
There is no evidence that making condoms available promotes sexual activity. In fact, condoms, when distributed with educational materials and integrated into a broader, more comprehensive prevention package, have been shown to delay sexual debut among those who are not sexually active. Among sexually active youth, HIV prevention education programs have resulted in a reduced number of partners and increased condom use.
A comprehensive approach to sexuality education and effective evidence-informed HIV prevention programs include affirming abstinence, monogamy and fidelity. Abstinence is always a viable and commendable choice, no matter the age or sexual experience of the person choosing it. Condom availability does not undermine abstinence, monogamy or fidelity as appropriate faith-based behavioral choices. And, it does not undermine effective HIV or sexually transmitted disease prevention.
At the same time, we cannot put our heads in the sand with “abstinence only” approaches. People can and do make other choices, and when they do, we must affirm and provide accurate safer sex information along with access to the means of protection. Making condoms available promotes honesty in sexual relationships and acknowledges the reality that people do have choices about their sexual behavior.
Making condoms available at houses of worship and faith-based educational settings provides opportunities to open conversations that can save lives. In this context, condoms become educational tools. Their presence encourages questions and discussions with individuals who are prepared to respond with factual and up-to-date information. Condoms are a sign that people of faith take sexuality seriously as a part of human life and that we endorse all options for preventing HIV infection and other sexually transmitted diseases.
The bottom line is this: safer sexual behavior can be a matter of life and death, so, when people choose to engage in sex we must affirm safer sexual behavior. Thus, it is our moral responsibility to make condoms available because doing so not only sends the right message about loving responsibly, it saves lives.
Further information on the UCC’s HIV and AIDS advocacy can be found at UCAN’s web site: <ucc.org/ucan/>
The United Church of Christ is a denomination of 1.2 million members in 5,600 autonomous local churches that are joined together in Christian mission through local associations, regional conferences and the biennial all-church General Synod.