Striking the right tone on HIV/AIDS

It was one of those “good news-bad news” moments.

The United Nations reported this week that the number of people being tested and treated for HIV/AIDS had doubled in a number of countries, undoubtedly saving or at least prolonging countless lives.

Unfortunately, the number of new HIV cases remains high – an estimated 2.7 million in 2007 – which means too many remain uneducated about the disease.

One of the earliest champions of HIV/AIDS education and advocacy in The United Methodist Church was Cathie Lyons, who led the Health and Welfare Ministries unit of the Board of Global Ministries. Back in the days of creaky computer dialup connections, she and Charles Carnahan, another staff person, decided to launch an electronic bulletin board for HIV/AIDS ministries.

They asked Nancy Carter – who retired Sept. 30 as the board’s Webmaster – to oversee what became known as Computerized AIDS Ministries. After its launch in June 1993, CAM became a refuge for people looking for acceptance and support from the church. “Our ‘CAM-munity,’ as we called it, became a lifeline for people who were homebound or isolated for various reasons, not only from AIDS,” Carter writes in the September/October 2009 issue of New World Outlook.

The technology may seem antiquated now, but, to me, one of the most important aspects of CAM was that it set a tone for the denomination to follow. The early condemnation of AIDS sufferers by some in the church was wiped away.

“CAM was run on the principle of Christian hospitality,” Carter writes. “Our community guidelines included an affirmation from Health and Welfare’s ‘Covenant to Care’ program: ’If you have HIV/AIDS or are the loved one of a person who has HIV/AIDS, you are welcome here…’”

That tone now carries through in the denomination’s Global AIDS Fund and a variety of HIV/AIDS-related projects supported by the church around the world.

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