Sunday, May 27, 2007

A Faith-Based Approach to Ending of AIDS


It's a worthy goal: To end extreme poverty and AIDS in our lifetime.

I'm a practical theologian. I believe that it's more important to practice your beliefs than to believe in right doctrines for their own sake. I think that humility, compassion, and right action in the spirit of Jesus are the distinguishing marks of a true beliver; and that working for social justice and transformation in the world from a faith perspective and motivation is what matters most to God.

I’m Christian activist. I think actions speak louder than words. According to St. Francis, “the only gospel most people will ever read is the gospel written on your life.” The little man from Assisi also said: “Preach the gospel at all times. Use words if you have to.”

I use both words and actions in my teaching at Drew and ministry with CitiHope International.

Drew University is an historic Methodist institution of higher learning with a faith-based seminary committed to progressive Christianity and social justice. CitiHope International is a faith-based relief and development NGO focused on food security and health care in Central Asia, Africa and Dominican Republic, with a commitment to ending extreme poverty and AIDS.

What is “faith-based” and why is this approach any more effective than so-called secular and governmental approaches to education and social justice? “Faith (from fidere, ‘to trust’) is a fundamental trust in a person, Higher Power, or set of religious beliefs. According to William Saphire of the New York Times: "'Faith-Based’ signals religious motivation while separating practitioners from their sectarian institutions. Like broad-based, space-based, sea-based, based-based. It includes all theistic religions and the ultimate Power in the Universe.”

Faith-based organizations, Saphire recognizes, share the common assumption that the problems addressed are not just systematic [fixed by a funded program] but include social pathologies and ‘conditions of the soul’; that treatment involves ‘a fundamental transformation of character’.” (William Saphire, “Why does ‘religious’ suddenly need a synonym?” NY Times Magazine, June 27, 1999).

The guiding principle of faith-based, non-government organizations (NGO’s), according to the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, “is that faith-based charities should be able to compete on an equal footing for public dollars to provide public services…within the framework of Constitutional church-state guidelines…” President George W. Bush, who organized the Faith-Based Initiative soon after he took office, recognized “that government can hand out money, but what it cannot do is put hope in people's hearts or a sense of purpose in people's lives. What I want to do is unleash the great compassion of America, by changing America one heart, one soul, one conscience at a time" (White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives).

While I'm skeptical of the Initiative, I believe in the concept and approach. I agree with President Carter that the current administration in terms of foreign policy has been the 'worst in recent history', I think GW got it right on the need for a level playing field so that faith-based organizations can compete fairly with their secular counterparts to serve those in need and thus fulfill their mission of putting “hope in people's hearts or a sense of purpose in people's lives.”

Providing help, raising hope, instilling faith, offering love in action—these are the tasks of faith-based aid and development aimed at ending extreme poverty and AIDS in our lifetime.