From an interview with Canadian diplomat and philanthropist Stephen Lewis:
allAfrica.com: Africa: Activist Praises Europe, Slams U.S. on Aids (Page 1 of 2)
What is your view of the President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief (Pepfar), the 50-billion-dollar initiative of the Bush administration in the United States?
Everybody is so shocked at getting a sizeable amount of money that they forget that there are tremendous flaws in Pepfar, most of which are destructive towards women. The amount of money is not sufficient and they should be clamoring for much more instead of this endless acting as a cheerleader for the administration.
Do you have some specific examples of ways in which you say it falls short?
Pepfar still insists that up to 50 percent of the preventative monies be spent on abstinence and fidelity when abstinence clearly isn’t a choice for so many women, not only young women who are already sexually active, but women in marriage. Fidelity isn’t the problem of the women in marriage; it’s the problem of the men in the marriage … It’s an outrageous continuation of an ideological weapon wielded by an administration which is reactionary and out of touch with the real world.
Then there is the prostitution gag rule, where you can’t work with sex workers when in fact they are a high-risk group with whom organizations must work. That’s another attack on women. And then there’s the fact that you can’t do reproductive and sexual health in conjunction with work on HIV/Aids when obviously the two are inexorably linked. That’s another attack on women.
Here you have a piece of legislation where the money is inadequate and the flaws are all rooted in misogyny… in attacks on women. People are applauding it as if it’s some sort of contemporary Marshall Plan. That’s crazy and it should be seen for what it is – both inadequate and irresponsible in many respects.
I am a Christian. I have noted this before. Part of being a Christian is doing God’s work on Earth. And yet, I do find critiques on religion, like the one below, well-founded for reasons like what Lewis cited above; motivated by religion, we sometimes add little caveats that undermine what we’re trying to do.
LETTERS; Faith, Politics, and the Good Deed Factor – New York Times
To the Editor:
Yes, evangelical groups do excellent antipoverty work. They are often the first into and last out of the most dangerous, poor and abjectly miserable places on earth.
But we notice that there’s a different character to evangelical involvement on the issues of H.I.V.-AIDS and sex trafficking. When evangelical groups fight those problems, they do so by curtailing rights (usually women’s) and limiting options (usually women’s).
As a result of policies lobbied for by the religious right, 33 percent of American financing for AIDS prevention must now be directed to abstinence-only programs. Organizations receiving financing must take an anti-prostitution pledge, hamstringing their ability to provide condoms and education to at-risk sex workers.
Evangelical work on trafficking has focused more on punishing prostitution than on helping men, women and children avoid the circumstances that lead them to be trafficked into debt bondage.
Liberals are right to reject an approach that is dismissive of individual rights, prolongs suffering and hinders AIDS prevention.
New York, Feb. 4, 2008
The writers are the authors of a human rights blog.
God gave us hearts, but God also gave us brains. We have to listen to these criticisms and use our heads when we attempt to do God’s work. Remember, Jesus did not look down upon the prostitutes and tax collectors that were outcasts from society, but worked among them, as an equal, as a friend, not name-dropping his daddy or trying to needle anyone out of the way they lived. Jesus’s lessons are for everyone, and before we condemn the acts of people we do not know and are not connected to, we need to look inside ourselves and see what we need to clean up in our own behavior.
It often doesn’t help, when ministering to someone, to pretend you know the way, the only way, and you’re going to help them get there. Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that you do know the way, and the only way this person is going to live is by listening to your advice. You will never accomplish you goal of turning someone around if you browbeat endlessly the people you’re trying to help, telling them how and why they should change. You need to help them where they are, finding what they need and giving it. For instance, in the long term, homeless kids do need showers, clean clothes, and job skills. In the short term, however, what they need is love, understanding, and companionship. With that–and as long as you are ministering to them and not at them–the “cleaning up” part will come from them and not from you.
Sexual activity and prostitution are both complicated issues that defy easy moralization on either side. I do not think, though, that Jesus’s rigid moral codes, as expressed on the Sermon on the Mount and in his parables, kept him from ministering to and loving people he disagreed with. In general, if someone is sexually active, and you wish they weren’t, you should recognize that it’s their choice and not yours, and the best you can do is prevent them from something that is unequivocally bad, like disease, abuse, or coercion. Even if you view (and I don’t) that sex is merely a step on the way to such bad behaviors and situations, your goal should be the other steps from happening, rather than pursue an all-or-nothing strategy that fosters disease and abuse.
God gave us hearts to love, and brains to think, and when rigid ideology impedes our efforts to help people, we are failing to use both.