Thursday, January 06, 2005

Unfortunate juxtaposition

USA Today ran a series of op/eds on Monday (January 3) that explored both the divergence of opinion about values in our country and the desire (in most cases) to find some common ground. An especially interesting op/ed came from a minister in Texas.

Congregation's values are broad and inclusive

I lead a predominantly white evangelical congregation of about 800. Each election, I urge our folks to vote their convictions. In November, most of them decided that the incumbent Republican best represented their values. Yet, for decades, these same folks have consistently voted for a Democratic congressman for the same reason.

Who doesn't vote their values? My first vote was cast for George McGovern because I wanted legalized marijuana. My values have changed, but I still vote my values. But my values and those of my brethren are much broader than those attributed to us.

Yes, we detest abortion, but our church collects furniture for young single moms. We also adopt children and serve as foster parents.

Yes, we believe that marriage is for one man and one woman, but we also have loved and cared for victims of AIDS.

A wonderful black man serves on our church board, and I cry against racial discrimination from the pulpit because we detest racism.

We are stewards of the Earth. I collect used copy paper from the office, bind the pages and reuse them as notepads to save a tree.

We care for the poor and therefore help to provide housing for homeless families.

In November, we chose the man who seemed to best resonate with our values, but please don't paint us with a Republican brush. If Sen. John Kerry had been running against McGovern, most of us would have given our vote to Kerry.

Jim Johnson, White Oak, Texas [emphasis added]

My personal values lead me to think that Jim Johnson must be a very fine person; I know a lot of people who seem to feel and act the way he portrays his congregation. My professional concern, however, is that Jim Johnson sets opposition to same-sex marriage right next to care for persons with AIDS as if the latter mitigates the other. Mitigation can only occur if the two are equivalent or nearly so. In this case, there is no equivalence, since the underlying assumption appears to be that AIDS is a gay disease, such that opposing equal rights for healthy gay persons is mitigated by caring for gay people who are ill or dying.

HIV in Texas is increasingly black or brown and increasingly heterosexual. In 2003, 35 percent of the HIV cases reported were identified as white. However, 41 percent were African-American and 22 percent were Hispanic. Of all the new cases of HIV reported in 2003, 26 percent were female. Of those cases where mode of transmission was known, more than 24 percent were due to heterosexual transmission. This rate of transmission is higher than that which can be attributed to IDU (18 percent).

While these numbers leave plenty of room to recognize that HIV infection is still a major concern to the gay community, those who are at risk for infection are increasingly people of color and women (who are often both). We increase their risk when we imply or allow others to imply that HIV is limited to the gay community.

The fine folks in Jim Johnson's congregation should be applauded for their compassion. There is great need of it in White Oak, which is located in Gregg County. Gregg County reported 21 new cases of HIV and 9 new cases of AIDS in 2003. There were 229 people living with HIV and AIDS in Gregg County on December 31, 2003. Many of them are undoubtedly gay, but there is every likelihood that some are women.

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