A pastor has angered Christians in South Africa by preaching a sermon entitled “Jesus was HIV-positive” in an attempt to break what he regards as a conspiracy of silence by the South African church.
Xola Skosana said that HIV is stigmatised as evil and a sin in the country that has the world’s biggest caseload.
Skosana (43) underwent a HIV test in front of his congregation last Sunday at the non-denominational Way of Life church in Khayelitsha, Cape Town. The test was also taken by 100 young people from the impoverished township.
The pastor said he chose the title for his three-part sermon to draw attention to “a very serious issue”.
“In many parts of the Bible, God put himself in the position of the destitute, the sick, the marginalised,” he said. “When we attend to those who are sick, we are attending to him. When we ignore people who are sick, we are ignoring him.”
Skosana cited a passage in the Bible where Jesus says: “I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.” But he has had a hostile reaction in some quarters.
“The scathing attacks I’ve received from Christians are unbelievable,” he said. “They’re saying you can’t reconcile Jesus and Aids. They assume it means Jesus was promiscuous and had a louche lifestyle with many sexual partners.”
Skosana lost two sisters to HIV/Aids. One died last month at the age of 44. The other died in 2003 in her early 20s.
He condemned the national church for failing to tackle the issue when nearly 1 000 people are dying from Aids-related causes every day. The South African government had been accused of Aids “denialism” but has more recently been praised for its prevention and treatment programmes.
“It baffles me why in the church this is the most untalked-about subject,” Skosana said. “If I went to church and never heard the pastor talk about this, I would assume I must go home and die in silence. The message is that it’s an unpardonable sin and we must just forget about HIV/Aids.
“My responsibility as a pastor is to open a Bible and paint a picture of a God who cares for people and wants the best for them, not who judges them and is ashamed of them.”
He called on other churches to be more open about the subject. “I hope this will change the paradigm, especially in the Pentecostal background. I come from the Pentecostal background and I know this discussion is totally alien there.”
Skosana will not disclose the result of his public HIV test in case it puts pressure on the churchgoers who followed his example. They had heard him explain the virus, possible treatments and the importance of knowing their status and were given professional counselling.
Skosana’s stance was praised by South Africa’s National Aids Council. Mark Heywood, its deputy chairperson, said: “I applaud his actions. It’s very important that church leaders set an example, destigmatising HIV and encouraging testing so people know their status.
“There are many churches that have done a lot to combat HIV. The problem is that the church as a whole has not been vocal enough. It’s often been left to individual church leaders and organisations. We would like to hear a clearer message.”
The South African Council of Churches was unavailable for comment. – guardian.co.uk