Catherine Murombedzi HIV Walk
In the face of HIV in Africa, however, whether to take or not to take anti-retroviral treatment has life and death implications.
Theologians Tabona Shoko (Zimbabwe), Lovemore Togarasei (Botswana), Mussa Muneja (Tanzania), Priscille Djomhoue (Cameroon), Domoka Lucinda Manda (Malawi), Nontando M Hadebe (South Africa), Susan Mbuda Kilonzo (Kenya), Pascal Fossouo (Rwanda), Marcellin Setondji Dossou (Benin) and Paul Lekholokoe Leshota (Lesotho) have come together and contributed to the book “In the name of Jesus: Healing in the age of HIV”.
The book, one of many in the EHAIA series, looks at the global threats to health, critically at HIV and Aids and what is the role of faith in healing?
The volume forged in Africans’ experience with HIV, searches for a new and positive Christian perspective on healing, rooted in biblical traditions yet informed by contemporary medicine and pastoral care.
Tensions created by faith healing practices, the availing of anti-retroviral therapy, the healing traditions of African indigenous religions, the advent of a new generation facing HIV and the variety of Christian approaches to sickness and health all come into consideration as theologians pastors, historians of religion and other lay people address the most existentially pressing issue for the church in Africa.
The tension between adherence to anti-retroviral treatment and faith healing has been felt in diverse settings in sub-Saharan Africa as individuals and families face HIV.
Some pastors have been discouraging their members from adhering to anti-retroviral treatment claiming that they can effect miraculous healing in the name of Jesus.
This has left many Christians living with HIV in a dilemma. On the one hand, they are being encouraged to ensure that they take their medication on time, on the other hand some of the spiritual leaders are encouraging them to abandon the treatment altogether.
The book argues that it is a replay of the old debate between science and faith. The debate has many interesting academic dimensions. For those keen to be objective and academic there are many intriguing aspects that require further scrutiny and analysis. In the face of HIV in Africa, however, whether to take or not to take anti-retroviral treatment has life and death implications.
On many television channels across sub-Saharan Africa, images of people living with HIV being “miraculously healed” are aired. In some instances, people living with HIV form their own line carrying placards that indicate their specific health challenge.
The “Man of God” will then touch the person living with HIV and declare them delivered “in the name of Jesus”.
In many instances the person living with HIV will stop taking treatment on the basis of this “healing”.
Similarly, numerous healing crusades are being held in different parts of the region promising “instant healing” from all afflictions, HIV included.
Does this imply that God operates only exclusively through dramatic healing interventions? Can there be room for both “miraculous” and “mundane” healing in the time of HIV? Is it possible to bring these two paradigm shifts together in the struggle for wholeness in the era of HIV?
The World Council of Churches through the Ecumenical HIV and AIDS Initiative in Africa (EHAIA) has been actively involved in the struggle to equip churches to become competent in handling HIV issues.
The WCC is keen to promote anti-retroviral therapy because of its clear benefits. Quoting from people living with HIV the benefits of ARVs reaffirm that they have “become beautiful again” referring to their recovery from physical emaciation as they put on weight and gained strength, individuals who had been “written off” are “written back” because of anti-retroviral therapy.
The book gives out the benefits of the life prolonging ARVs as wellness for the affected and their families. Reduction of AIDS related deaths and opportunistic infections, lowering of the time and expense for funerals and nursing, reduction in the number of orphans, preservation of the workforce and increase in food security etc.
The book addresses the theme of anti-retroviral therapy and faith healing by placing emphasis on the need to regard ARVs as a positive intervention by God in the struggle for life.
The book looks at individuals’ claims and a couple testified that their pastor had suggested they stop treatment.
For example: “Our pastor suggested that if we had true faith in God, we would throw away our anti-retroviral medication and rely on the name of Jesus for our healing. He said that using ARVs was a sign that we did not have total faith in the power of God. We disagreed with him. We told him that he would do us a lot of good by praying for our anti-retroviral medication so that they drugs would become more effective in our bodies.”
The book shows that prayer is complementary to medication and thus should be used together. Shoko unravels the traditional link that claims to heal all sorts of illness and disease including HIV.
The Shona believe that spirits are primarily responsible for their health and welfare and are in contact with the spirit to get rid of illness and other ills of life. The spiritual realm dominates the Shona society as a powerful source of illness.
HIV is a complex socio-economic and cultural phenomenon that must be considered in the perspective of the Shona traditional religion and culture. Despite Christian influences traditional beliefs still persist in Zimbabwe. Togarasei looks at what is healing according to the bible. What diseases could be healed and what could not be. In defining healing he considers that there is no cure for HIV.
It is this lack of cure that seems to have overshadowed healing of HIV. No distinction is made between healing and cure. Those that claim to have been healed of HIV are still HIV positive as they have not gone for further tests to establish their “new status”. Another aspect is that their viral load could be now undetectable but one is still HIV positive.
The World Health Organisation defines health as a “state of complete physical, mental and social well-being not merely the absence of disease or infirmity” (Pilch 200:24). This definition sums up the biblical concept of health. The biblical context is summarised in the word “shalom” meaning peace which covers the idea of well-being in the widest sense on aspects that can be used for reflecting on healing in the context of HIV.
The Old Testament premises that God is the source of illness and health. (Deut.7:15) Also in the book of Job this is shown. However, in the New Testament, Jesus rejects this theology in John 9 when his disciples wanted to know if a man born blind was due to his parents’ sins. The New Testament attributes some diseases to demonic possessions. (Mark1:26)
But whatever the source of the disease is – the New Testament agrees with the Old Testament that God is the healer. Thus because Jesus is the son of God, he heals those with diseases. Even his followers are able at the call of his name to heal those with diseases. (Acts 3:1-10)
The biblical accounts of healing show that healing was not thought of only for the physical body. It included the right relationship with God, with oneself and with others. There were some illnesses that could not be healed biblical. Lepers were healed. Timothy had an illness that could not be cured. Paul therefore advised him to take some wine for his relief. (1 Tim 5:23)
Paul also writes that he was not healed of an undisclosed ailment that he called “a thorn in the flesh” (2 Cor.12:7-10)
Thus the Bible bears testimony that there were some diseases that could not be healed. The authors in this book thus help us reflect on healing in the context of HIV and AIDS.
Kilonzo sees healing encompassing a wide range of issues, relief from emotional, social, psychological and spiritual stress: emotional and psychological healing because the mind is at peace and persons living with HIV have accepted their situation, social healing because the persons find acceptance in their family and society, spiritual healing because the society does not condemn them and especially the church as having “the disease of prostitutes”.
Kilonzo espouses that Jesus embraced the “outcasts” and the church could take a cue from this.
Manda focuses on women as they play multiple roles in the communities and the church. Malawi which is extremely androcentric, the male norm is the human norm. Patriarchal practices “legitimise and reinforce relations of dominance by males” as women are not viewed as equals. The expression: “Till death do us part” is seen in this manner as she has fulfilled both her obligation as a woman and mother to the vows she took in church. This shows a woman has to be a care-giver and this ought to give her pride. The provision of health care services in the community is what makes them prophetesses in the African Indigenous Churches.