On discrimination and loving your neighbor

I’d like to look at an article about an anti-discrimination bill in Nigeria, and consider what it says about stigma and discrimination, and their remedies.

>> Nigeria: Naca Wants HIV Anti-Discrimination Bill Passed, This Day (Aug. 5)

According to this article, “The National Agency for the Control of AIDS (NACA) has advocated a quick passage into law of the Bill on ‘Discrimination Against Persons Living with HIV’, to ensure that such persons are saved from the wrath of employers, relatives and other members of the society.”

NACA’s Director General, Professor Babatunde Osotimehin “said despite sustained, massive public enlightenment on the need for society to show love to people living with the HIV virus, their relatives, employers of labour, landlords and other members of the society still take action to the contrary.”

Osotimehin noted that while HIV/AIDS advocates have morality  on their side, being able to challenge discrimination in the courts will “help the anti-HIV/AIDS fight in many ways.” 

According to John Ibekwe, the National Coordinator of the Network of People Living With HIV/AIDS in Nigeria, “When somebody gets tested positive to HIV, many things happen to him. He could be forcefully ejected from his house, sacked from his office, his children withdrawn from school and other challenges arise which he is expected to confront with the burden of making sure that they live above the virus.”  A widow of a man who died from AIDS-related causes will often face accusations from her in-laws, who may hold her responsible for her husband’s death.

This is a really good article.  It gives a lot of information about the ways in which many people living with HIV/AIDS in Nigeria are mistreated, and what that means for their lives.  Perhaps more significantly, I think it conveys the real heart of the anti-stigma, anti-discrimination message: it’s about “the need for society to show love to people living with the HIV virus,” to use Prof. Osotimehin’s words.

From a Christian perspective, that might translate to “we need to love our neighbors as ourselves.”  That’s one of the two great commandments on which all of Christian ethics are based (see Mark 28-32).

Last year the AIDS advocacy group at my (Christian) college did a major publicity campaign around World AIDS Day — lots of posters with stats on the number of people living with HIV/AIDS in different parts of the world.  Each poster tied into our theme for that year: “And who is my neighbor?”

This question prompts one of the best-known responses in the Bible.  It is asked by an expert in religious law who knows he’s supposed to love his neighbor but wants to know exactly what that entails.  So he asks Jesus: “who is my neighbor?”  Jesus replies with the parable of the Good Samaritan, which ends by turning the question back on the questioner:

“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead.  A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side.  So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.  But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him.  The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
      Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

(Luke 10:30-37, NIV)

The point is that your neighbor — the person you need to love — is anyone and everyone, especially those in need.  The Samaritan in the story had every reason not to help the man who was robbed: the injured man was a Jew, and the Jews and the Samaritans of that time period hated each other.  Yet he stopped and helped, even when the priest and Levite (respected religious leaders) couldn’t be bothered.

What does that mean for us?  In part, it means that people living with HIV/AIDS are our neighbors — are people we are commanded to love.  That means helping.  It means not discriminating.  As I see it, that’s the real, the most important reason.  We owe people living with HIV/AIDS the same love we owe anyone else.

I think this is an especially important message for Christians.  Taken as a whole, we have a pretty sorry track record when it comes to dealing with HIV/AIDS.  Christians have often done far more harm than good for people living with HIV/AIDS, especially in the early years of the epidemic.  This is a shameful and tragic reality.  Jesus’ words about loving our neighbor point out how wrong the Church has often been on this issue, and point us in the direction we should be going.  People living with HIV/AIDS — all of them, no matter where they live, how they live their lives, or how they contracted HIV in the first place — all of them are our neighbors, whom we must love.

I don’t want to come across as preachy here.  It’s not like I’ve got the “love your neighbor” thing locked down: the more I think about it, the more obvious that is to me.  I feel somewhat hypocritical even saying all this.  So let me be very clear that everything I’ve written here should be first and foremost a challenge to myself.  And for anyone who reads this, maybe it’ll help explain where I’ve coming from as I write this blog, and why I write this blog anyway.  And I hope it’ll help you think about some of these issues, maybe in a new or fresh way.


~ by h.e.g. on August 10, 2008.

One Response to “On discrimination and loving your neighbor”

  1. Well said. Thanks for the perspective.

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