Today is the day for AIDS Walk DC. Since I work downtown, I saw literally thousands of people walking the streets right by my office to benefit Whitman Walker Clinic. There was even a marching band -- actually it was the drum corps of a marching band -- taking part in the walk.
According to the Clinic's website, there have been 15,132 cases of HIV diagnosed in the District of Columbia. Of that number, the majority (80%) are men and the majority of infections are from men having sex with other men (48% compared with 26% from Intravenous drug use, 14% from heterosexual conduct and less than 1% from contaminated blood products).
The majority of those infected are African American, and the largest age group is between 30-39 (41%). The second highest age group is 40-49 (32%). Of those infected, so far, 6,932 have died from AIDS or AIDS related infections. These stats were as of December 31st, 2002! There have been more infections and more deaths since.
In Virginia, it is predominantly white men having sex with other men who are infected and there have been more than 2,100 who have died. Those stats are from December 2003. The transmission through heterosexual contact was higher in Virginia vs. DC. The largest age group was 40-49.
Okay, so where am I going with this? The question that came across my mind while I watched the AIDS Walk DC was "I wonder if there are any Christians in that group, marching to support the Clinic?" Many times the so-called "Christian Right" seems to come off as judgmental, projecting the image that AIDS is the person's own fault -- they should not have been involved in whatever behavior (gay sex, sex outside marriage, drug use, etc) that got them exposed. Obviously this opinion does not extend to those who are exposed (like tennis great Arthur Ashe) through blood products or through pregnancy, like AIDS babies.
But I wonder if many of us would be willing to walk beside the homosexual or the others afflicted by HIV/AIDS? I have to confess being around really "out" gay men gives me the willies. That's because of my own woundedness. (There's some family history there that I can explain later). But I have a brother who is gay. And I sometimes wonder what I would do if he called and said he had been infected. Would I treat him differently? What would I do?
The gospel of Mark relates the story of a man who had leprosy who came to Jesus and begged to be healed. He said "if you are willing, you can make me whole." And what did Jesus do? He "reached out and touched him, and said 'I am willing, be healed.'" Wait a minute! Jesus TOUCHED him? You weren't supposed to TOUCH someone with leprosy! They were UNCLEAN! But Jesus touched him.
And why? Because He was "moved with compassion." The Greek word there is splagcnivzomai, which is defined as "to be moved as to one's bowels, hence to be moved with compassion, have compassion (for the bowels were thought to be the seat of love and pity). It was a gut-level compassion, a deep feeling.
So watching the AIDS Walk DC made me wonder, "where is my compassion? Can I watch all these people walk to raise money and then just go, 'Oh isn't that nice. It doesn't affect me, but it's nice that they are out there walking."
Somehow, I am not sure Jesus would assume that attitude. As a matter of fact, I know He wouldn't.