What happens the shepherd turns on his flock?
Church leaders are generally regarded as shepherds, and the congregation their flock. Their sacred duty is to ensure the safety and welfare of the flock, that is, ensure they are well fed, watered and protected from wild animals.
But what happens when a shepherd turns against his own flock? I am posing this question in relation to the world ravaged by HIV and AIDS.
Globally, 33 million people were living with HIV in 2007. Two-thirds of those affected by the pandemic live in sub-Saharan Africa, which represent 67 percent of all people living with the virus. And 75 percent of AIDS-related deaths in 2007 were recorded in sub-Saharan Africa.
In sub-Saharan Africa, nearly 12 million children under the age of 18 have lost one or both parents to HIV. National adult HIV infection levels are highest in southern Africa, including Swaziland, Botswana, Lesotho, South Africa and Namibia.
In Namibia, almost 90 percent of its citizens identify themselves as Christians being guided by the Bible’s Ten Commandments on a daily basis. But regardless of that, the country faces many challenges, with infidelity the most serious issue. Normally, the perception is that adultery is committed by common people, like an estranged or promiscuous lover. But there are extreme cases where preachers engage in these ungodly acts.
For the past few weeks, the issues of preachers and priests impregnating young women from their congregations have been making headlines in daily newspapers, something that I think needs to be addressed as soon as possible if we really want to achieve an HIV-free generation.
Cases like the one of an Evangelical Lutheran pastor at a church in Omusati Region, who is being accused by congregants of bringing more than just the Word of God to female parishioners living in the church-owned flats and has left one of them pregnant, are abound.
Last year, a self-proclaimed pastor of an apostolic church at Olulongo, a village near the northern town of Ondangwa, appeared in the Oshakati Magistrate’s Court for allegedly raping a female member of the church.
There have been many similar cases; most of them have gone unreported. These are classic examples of shepherds turning against their flocks.
Society should shun and condemn such acts if we really want to achieve an HIV-free generation.
The principles of compassion, leadership and moral responsibility that we embrace must be a yardstick to halt the spread of HIV.
Unlike other institutions, a church has the power of influence, credibility and is grounded in community. So, this offers church leaders the opportunity to make a difference in combating HIV and AIDS.
Instead of protecting, and watering their flocks, some church leaders are using their influence in the church to sleep with young women. They should use this trust and authority they have in their communities to change the course of the pandemic.
Churches should encourage women to step out and publicly reveal their HIV status and speak out about what happened to them, so that younger women do not end up falling into the same trap.
As we are all aware, countless women have died from catching something that their men brought home after fulfilling their “interpersonal needs” someplace else.
Unfortunately, the shame brought on “the good Christian girl” with a venereal disease keeps many of these stories from ever being told.
Also, modern feminist thinking sometimes leads women to think that it is OK to run through as many sex partners as the very worst of men. Many of these women end up paying a heavy price for this mentality.
By their very nature as communities of faith in Christ, churches are called to be healing communities. This call becomes the more insistent as the AIDS pandemic continues to ravage communities.
Many churches, indeed, have found that their own lives have been enhanced by the witness of persons living with HIV/AIDS.
Despite the extent and complexity of the problem, the church can make an effective healing witness towards those affected by HIV/AIDS.
Healing is fostered where churches relate to daily life and where people feel safe to share their stories and testimonies.
Through sensitive worship, churches help persons enter the healing presence of God.
The churches exercise a vital ministry through encouraging discussion and analysis of information, helping to identify problems and supporting participation towards constructive change in the community.