HIV/AIDS and our Christian responsibility

November 30, 2018

As a public health professor, Christ follower, and public health practitioner, I am consistently forced to reflect upon the intersection of faith and protecting the needs of the population. One of the most pressing areas of intersection is the HIV/AIDS related stigma and discrimination that exists worldwide.

World AIDS Day is commemorated each year on December 1, since its inception in 1988. It is an international day that is intended to raise awareness of the AIDS pandemic, which is caused by the HIV virus. World AIDS Day is also reserved as a time to grieve the loss of those who have lost their lives due to AIDS. Government and health officials, nonprofit organizations, and many individuals around the world observe the day, oftentimes with health education and promotion programs that are specifically directed at both prevention and control.

What is HIV/AIDS?

HIV, or Human Immunodeficiency Virus, is the virus that, if untreated, leads to Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS). Unlike other viruses that may infect an individual, the human body is unable to completely combat the HIV virus without treatment. The virus attacks the body’s immune system, specifically its T cells. Eventually, the virus can destroy so many of these cells that the body’s immune system becomes unable to fight off infection and disease. Due to a compromised immune system, infected persons are susceptible to life-threatening opportunistic infections and cancers.     

HIV is only transmitted through specific activities and the transmission of certain bodily fluids. Although it is most commonly known as a sexually transmitted infection, it can also be transmitted through breast milk and blood. These bodily fluids must come into contact with a mucous membrane, damaged tissue, or be directly injected into the bloodstream (needles or syringe) for person-to-person transmission to occur.  

The current state of the pandemic

Currently, 36.9 million people worldwide are living with HIV/AIDS, including 1.8 million children. Most of these children acquired the disease from their HIV-positive mothers during pregnancy, childbirth, or breastfeeding. The vast majority of those living with HIV are in low- and middle-income countries. In 2017 alone, 53 percent of those living with HIV were from eastern and southern Africa, 16 percent from western and central Africa, 5.2 percent from Asia and the Pacific, and 6 percent were from Europe and South America.

Despite a greater understanding in recent scientific advances related to HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention, as well as years of laborious efforts by the global health community, a vast number of individuals still do not have access to prevention, care, or treatment. There is still no cure for the disease. With that being said, antiretroviral drugs are able to control the virus so that individuals can lead healthy lives and reduce their risk of transmitting the disease to others.

The HIV epidemic not only affects the health of individuals, it impacts households, communities, and the economic growth and development of global nations. Many of the countries that are most affected by the burden of the HIV/AIDS epidemic are also those that suffer from other diseases, food insecurity, and many other public health issues.

Despite these challenges to addressing the epidemic, there have been some successes and promising signs of progress. Due to new and innovative methods that have been implemented to target the epidemic, the number of HIV/AIDS related deaths has decreased over the years. Additionally, although still a pressing issue, the number of individuals receiving HIV treatment in underdeveloped nations has also increased.

Overall, despite the availability of an array of HIV-prevention tools and methodologies, there has not been a sufficient decrease in the rate of new infections, globally, and there is still much work that needs to be done.

HIV/AIDS, stigmatization, and our Christian responsibility

HIV/AIDS stigmatization certainly manifests itself differently across countries, communities, and religious groups. The fear surrounding the emerging HIV/AIDS epidemic in the 1980s largely persists today. At that time, very little was known about HIV/AIDS transmission, which exacerbated fear of those who were infected due to the concern of contagion. This fear, coupled with the vast array of misinformation that persists to this day, are catalysts for a growing trepidation and exclusion of the HIV/AIDS population.   

Regardless of how you may perceive those who have been infected with HIV/AIDS, our first cause for concern is not the fight against the global burden of disease. As Christians, it is the gospel of Jesus Christ. I would encourage you to not be fearful or apprehensive of these individuals. As followers of Christ, we must not be selective of who we love well. It is imperative that we re-examine ourselves to ensure that we are consistently reflecting the hands and feet of Jesus (Eph. 5:1-2). We must not allow the stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS to cause us to neglect those affected by this disease, regardless of how it may have been contracted. Compelled by God’s love, we have a glorious opportunity to embrace human dignity in the midst of a fallen world as we minister with grace and compassion.

Caring for this vulnerable population is not an endorsement of unbiblical sexual activity or the use of illicit substances; it’s a commandment of the gospel. As an individual who has had the incredible privilege of working with HIV/AIDS populations in underdeveloped countries, I would urge Christians to view opportunities to serve this population as a chance to live out the Great Commandment and the Great Commission.   

Supriya G. Reddy

Supriya G. Reddy currently serves as a children's ministry volunteer at Creekstone Church and was an active member at The Church at Brook Hills for many years. She currently resides in Cumming, Georgia, and is an assistant professor of Public Health at The University of North Georgia. She has used her vocation and … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24