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Friday, January 4, 2013

White House AIDS meeting pairs unlikely partners

Sec. Sebelius at White House AIDS event

The odds of pro-life, faith-based  representatives attending separate meetings with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius in the same day--and actually agreeing on something-- may seem astronomical.
Yet that's exactly what happened on the recent World AIDS Day, when I joined several other faith-based organization representatives to attend meetings at the White House and at the State Department that included presentations by both women on one of the very few goals we share in common--ending AIDS.
The reasons that political opponents with such vastly divergent worldviews even landed in the same room together are simple and pragmatic. In places like sub-Saharan Africa, a World Health Organization survey found that faith-based organizations provide up to 70 percent of the health care, and a Gallup survey of 19 countries in this region found that Africans trust religious institutions the most.
That means no government can achieve its AIDS-related health goals in such countries without engaging the faith community.
Key officials in the Obama administration have been quietly reaching out to a number of faith-based groups working with AIDS patients overseas. We have enjoyed candid and civil discussions with administration officials including Ambassador Goosby, Global Health Initiative Executive Director Lois Quam, and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Administrator Rajiv Shah, abo­­ut how to join together to combat AIDS and how religious liberty and conscience rights impact faith-based health care. Such conversations recently resulted in the development of a new written USAID policy to help protect conscience rights to insure competition without discrimination for government funding for AIDS projects.
I have explained during these conversations that faith-based professionals and institutions cannot separate the faith motivation that compels them to make incredible sacrifices to care for the needy and marginalized from the faith motivation that compels them to provide care according to biblical and Church standards. Evangelical and Catholic groups provide significant and compassionate care to AIDS patients in the U.S. and overseas, and the government can multiply the benefits of those efforts with grants to help achieve worldwide health goals such as the new blueprint for an AIDS-free generation.
Such efforts may come as a surprise to some AIDS activists and LGBT individuals who view the faith community as an adversary rather than as a partner. Some of this wariness may be warranted, of course, if an individual has experienced judgment or stigma from someone within the faith community.
Yet negative perceptions about the faith community can also arise from the same kind of stereotyping and misinformation that AIDS activists and LGBT individuals themselves fight to counter. Automatically labeling as homophobic anyone who holds faith-based or traditional values regarding sex and marriage is like labeling anyone who opposes human cloning as technophobic. It is entirely possible to deem certain actions morally or ethically impermissible--as we all do--and still accept, serve and love individuals who engage in these actions.
As our society becomes more sharply divided on social issues, we all need to embrace more civil dialogue. Otherwise, our democracy will morph into a form of totalitarianism, with whoever has political power eliminating all opposition by fiat. Given our history and current trends, the faith community should be among the first to recognize and resist such threats to freedom and tolerance.
We all share the same human frailties and harmful inclinations, and we will each answer individually to our God. Meanwhile, we can accentuate our commonalities, engage each other respectfully on our differences and work hard to find those areas in which we can work together.
Laboring together for an AIDS-free generation is a good starting point.

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