Washington, D.C. -- On World AIDS Day today (Dec. 1) in Washington, D.C., interfaith leaders held a vigil at the U.S. Treasury building and press conference at the Old Ebbitt Grill to send a prophetic, moral call to President Bush and Treasury Secretary John Snow for greater leadership on global AIDS and debt.
In letters addressed to both Snow and Bush, leaders call for an increase in funding to at least $5.4 billion for global AIDS, TB and malaria in the President's ‘05 budget request along with full debt cancellation for impoverished nations in order free up resources to fight the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Leaders specifically urged the Bush administration to live up to the promises made in the President’s State of the Union address around global AIDS.
Brenda Girton-Mitchell was among religious leaders addressing the news conference. Her statement follows.
World AIDS Day Statement
Delivered by Brenda Girton-Mitchell
Associate General Secretary for Public Policy
At Interfaith Vigil and News Conference
December 1, 2003, Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C., Dec. 1, 2003 —The National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA is the leading force for ecumenical cooperation among Christians in the United States of America. The NCC is comprised of 36 Protestant, Anglican and Orthodox member denominations, which consist of more than 50 million persons in 140,000 local congregations in communities across the nation.
The National Council of Churches and Church World Service, our humanitarian organization, call on churches throughout the world to actively join in the effort to end the stigma and discrimination associated with HIV/AIDS by speaking out to help educate people of faith about this preventable and treatable disease.
Today we are sharing in the observance of the 16th World AIDS Day. Today is an anniversary for those of us assembled here. Such commemorative days are special times to look back over what we have experienced and give us an opportunity to address the challenges ahead.
And, there are many challenges. Last week the United Nations reported that globally there are about 40 million people infected with the human immunodeficiency virus. About 5 million were infected in 2003 including 700,000 children. There were also about 3 million deaths of which 500,000 were children under age 15. The statistics will continue to escalate if people of faith do not break their silence and begin to become active participants in the battle against this worldwide epidemic and its devastating consequences.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ compels those of us who profess to be Christians to speak out on the issue of HIV/AIDS as an act of compassion. We speak out to share the love of God. We speak out in prayer, remembering many loved ones who have died. We speak out for healing for those living with AIDS throughout the world. We speak out on behalf of those who are now impoverished and orphaned as a result of this illness.
The NCC also speaks out as an act of justice—seeking government assistance, medical research, and financial resources to help bring hope to the millions of families and people living with HIV/AIDS throughout the world. We speak in opposition to the stigmatization and discrimination against those who are living with HIV/AIDS. Unfortunately, there are people in our congregations who have faced the stigmatization and discrimination that fear, ignorance and silence about this illness bring. 1 Corinthians12:26 reads, “If one member suffers, all suffer together with it.” As a community, what affects one of our brothers and sisters, affects us all; therefore, figuratively speaking, each of us is living with AIDS.
But each of us has the power to break the silence and help fight this illness. The church knows the power of stories. We can share our personal stories about how our lives have been impacted by the existence of the HIV/AIDS pandemic. If you need stories, I commend to you the NCC/CWS website feature “Facts Have Faces.” Go to www.churchworldservice.org .
And finally, each of us must remember the commandment to love one another as Christ has loved us. Love is an action word. Saint Augustine said: “What does love look like? It has the hands to help others. It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has the eyes to see misery and want. It has the ears to hear sighs and sorrows. That is what love looks like.”
The NCC urges each of us to look at ourselves and make the decision to share the responsibility of speaking out and bringing hope to the world as we fight to overcome the AIDS crisis. It is what the Lord requires of us.