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Faith-based attitudes impact HIV, say religious leaders & scholars

Religious leaders and scholars from diverse faiths discussed how faith-based attitudes and religious beliefs impact HIV. “Religious leaders and faith communities say that they don’t reject homosexuals, but just don’t be active. This doesn’t make sense,” says Rev. Phumzile Mabizela, executive director of INERELA+.

This is part of Outrage Magazine‘s coverage of the 2014 International AIDS Conference in Melbourne, Australia.

AIDS 2014

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA. At the Interfaith Pre-Conference of the 2014 International AIDS Conference in Melbourne, Australia, religious leaders and scholars from diverse faiths discussed how faith-based attitudes and religious beliefs impact HIV. This is in relation to stigma, discrimination, access to health services, and sexual behavior and identity.

According to Rev. Phumzile Mabizela, executive director of the International Network of Religious Leaders Living with or personally affected by HIV and AIDS (INERELA+), sacred texts that were supposed to give life have stigmatized people living with HIV (PLHIV), men who have sex with men (MSM), and the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) community.

“Religious leaders and faith communities say that they don’t reject homosexuals, but just don’t be active. This doesn’t make sense,” Mabizela said.

As such, the Church of Sweden is looking into ways to respond more positively to gender and human sexuality, particularly in the Abrahamic faiths (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam).

“The current mainstream Christian Biblical interpretation lags far behind Jewish biblical interpretation. While much of mainline Christian Biblical interpretation still struggles with the Genesis account of Sodom & Gomorrah, all but the single most conservative Jewish expression today reject the Sodom & Gomorrah account having any reference to homosexuality,” said Rev. Fr. JP Mogkethi-Heath, policy advisor on HIV, Human Sexuality, and Theology of the Church of Sweden.

For Mogkethi-Heath, “the world still uses words derived from this interpretation of Sodom and Gomorrah; Sodomite, sodomy, et cetera.”

Discussing research presented by K. Renato Lings in his 2013 book “Love lost in Translation”, Mokgethi-Heath showed how poor and inconsistent Biblical translation led to gender disparity.

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“Most English translations of the Bible reflect that God removed Adam’s rib and used it to create Eve. But nothing could be further from the truth. The Hebrew in no way uses a word which can even loosely be translated as rib, rather the word means side. In effect, when God took Eve from Adam’s side, God separated the sexes. One could say the first earthling was intersex, and so male has no greater authority that female as both were created together,” Mogkethi-Heath said.

Meanwhile, responding to homophobia and HIV-related stigma of Islamic leaders and faith communities, the Asia Pacific Coalition on Male Sexual Health (APCOM), in its discussion paper on Islam, sexual diversity and access to health services, argued that Islam, in essence, does not condemn anyone due to sexual orientation. The Quran does not prescribe punishments for homosexuality.

“The attitudes of the global Muslim community regarding MSM and transgender people have been strongly influenced by secondary religious sources such as Hadith, Ijima and patriarchal interpretations,” said Dédé Oetomo, chairperson of APCOM.

He added that Islam is very diverse and has different approaches, namely Orthodox, Progressive, and Alternative approaches. In a gist, Orthodox considers MSM and transgender people as unnatural and are abominations and should be punished or sentenced to death.  Remedialist Islam believes that MSMs and transgender people who need help in order to become “normal”.  Progressive Islam believes that MSM and transgender people are unnatural, but also believe that God is the sole judge and that the sin should be hated and not the sinner. Meanwhile, Reformist Progressive Islam believes that MSM are natural, and the Shariah Law needs to reform to accommodate sexual minorities.

APCOM recommends that human rights organizations, human rights defenders, gender activists and policy makers should support Passivist/Reformist views.

Religious leaders and scholars emphasized that the LGBTI community is part of the faith community.

“It is our business as faith communities to make sure that they continue nourishing and developing their relationship with God, and also that they don’t feel judged just because they are homosexual,” Mabizela said.

INERELA+ is one of the organizations that help LGBTI people and PLHIV embrace “who they are, and help them understand that they were created in the image of God.”

“We help them understand the roots of the stigma that they experience within the faith community. We challenge the attitudes of the faith community by using the sacred texts and help them to understand the rights of the LGBTI and PLHIV community,” Mabizela ended.

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