I hardly ever gave HIV/AIDS a single thought. In the rare moments I saw a news report about it, I concluded that those who were sick probably deserved it since they had put themselves at risk. I didn’t know anyone who was HIV positive, so it wasn’t personal to me in any way. I was completely occupied with raising my family, attaining personal goals and investing in the ministry of our church. But in a single moment, all of that changed.
One afternoon I sat in my comfy living room with a cup of tea, casually browsing through a weekly news magazine. An article on AIDS in Africa, accompanied by horrific photographs, caught my attention. I was stunned to learn that (at that time) nearly 40 million people were living with an incurable disease that destroyed their immune system, causing a certain painful death, leaving 15 million children orphaned. I went to bed that night haunted by the photographs of skeletal men and women, the cries of abandoned children echoing in my dreams. I woke up the next morning still tormented by this new reality that had suddenly invaded my comfortable world.
I became a seriously disturbed woman.
I found my focus and interests shifted away from a primary concentration on me and my aspirations for my life to the needs and interests of those the Bible calls “the least of these.” I was disturbed by the pain, agony, rejection, loneliness and suffering endured by those infected with a tiny – but lethal – virus. I had to witness it for myself; reading, studying, watching documentaries on the subject were not enough. I was still so naïve and out of touch that I didn’t realize how desperate my brothers and sisters in the United States were; I thought I had to go to Africa to see it up close. Within a few months, I made two trips to Africa, and came back not only seriously disturbed, but gloriously ruined as well.
What is awful about this, a testimony of commitment to compassion and advocacy? Why, the simple fact that this woman had to see pictures of the ravishes of HIV/AIDS, especially children, before she realized that this wasn't something people "deserved". In other words, until she became aware this disease wasn't some plague visited upon gay folks for their perversion, she was happy to keep her eyes closed to the suffering they, too, endured. Indeed, she confesses she had to go to Africa to understand the suffering of those with HIV/AIDS; where is the awareness that thousands, tens of thousands, suffered here in the US precisely because people like her believed they deserved it for their perversions?
While I know there are some who think Kay Warren should be applauded for her advocacy for people with HIV/AIDS, don't count me among them. Even if her mind has changed; even if she no longer believes that gay men and intravenous drug users "deserve" what they get with HIV/AIDS, she wrote whole sections of the human race out of her list of those in need of compassion and fellow-feeling, and the dead piled up because people like Kay Warren had to see pictures of "innocent people" with the disease before she felt compassion.
When she confesses that she not only works for people living with HIV/AIDS, but atones for her gross lack of compassion for those who suffered with the virus and died because of the way it ravaged their bodies, then we might be getting somewhere. Until then, I think I'll just hold my applause.