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Whose side are you on?
is becoming clearer and clearer that the Churches are fighting a
losing battle in their quest to blinker the world from the reality
of the HIV and AIDS situation. Their campaigns are based on the
word "abstinence". This is a term loaded with moral and
religious connotations of chastity, purity and avoidance – all lofty
standards for erring human beings existing in 21st century
churches risk losing their position when they insist on painting
an utopist picture of the world where sexual intercourse occurs
only between a couple that has been joined together in holy matrimony!
Otherwise how do we explain the high prevalence of HIV and STDs
in Zimbabwe, the teenage pregnancies and extra marital affairs that
are becoming the ‘in thing’ in this era of the "the small house
of advocating for the preservation of human ‘life’ and exercising
‘love’ for mankind, the churches are slowly but surely becoming
public enemies through their adversarial sentiments of discouraging
the use of condoms. Gone are the days when only one discourse ruled
the day and dictated how people should live their lives, what they
should believe and whom they should love. The postmodern world has
brought with it multiple narratives and the holy Christian doctrines
can be criticized and rejected when they prove a threat to human
existence such as in ‘anti-condom’ campaigns.
this furor over a thin latex sleeve made from natural rubber used
to protect oneself from contracting HIV and sexually transmitted
diseases makes me want to ask the Churches – "Whose side are
you on?" Religious anti-condom sentiments reduce the war between
morality and rationality into a simple case of life and death. Pardon
me if I am biased, but I choose life.
Using A Condom Is Like Walking On a Tight Rope, One Slip Could Kill
You" reads a big banner put up outside the Seventh Day Adventists
General Conference of East Africa Division at Newlands shopping
center in Harare. To say I was shocked is an understatement of my
true feelings. I was overcome by feelings of dejection, loss and
helplessness. How could this be? I took a second glance just to
make sure I had seen it right and there it was in bold red letters
on a white sheet so clear and visible so the thousands of people
who use that route wouldn’t miss it. This banner was screaming out
to the public to read it, comprehend it and perhaps discontinue
the use of condoms in their sexual encounters in a country where
almost a quarter of the adult population is infected with HIV and
at least one fifth of the country’s children have lost at least
has been plagued by bloodcurdling HIV/AIDS statistics in recent
years and is considered to be one of the countries in the world
with the highest prevalence in relation to the population. A UNICEF
report estimates that almost 2 million of the Zimbabwean population
is living with HIV while AVERT Organization states that 2,3 million
people in Sub-Saharan Africa died of AIDS in 2004.
calling against condom use, the churches are encroaching in a domain
that is not theirs . . . out of curiosity why haven't churches spoken
against treatment of Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs)"says
SAfAIDS Executive Director Lois Lunga.
a country where an estimated one in three adults is living with
HIV/AIDS and where sexual intercourse frequently takes place between
people of widely different ages, young people in Zimbabwe are at
great risk of acquiring HIV. A large number of adolescents are sexually
active by their late teens while young women commonly engage in
sex with older men, who, for a variety of reasons, may insist on
unprotected sex. Some young men have their first sexual encounter
with sex workers.
with the knowledge of these statistics, anti-condom sentiments are
tantamount to ‘mass murder’? Let’s remember that two thousand five
hundred people die of AIDS every week in Zimbabwe. The virus has
transcended all groups in society stretching from villagers in rural
areas through to urban dwellers. Funerals now occur on a daily basis
and funeral homes are a big business illustrated by the burgeoning
of different funeral homes established to cater for the growing
the churches do not see this!
moralistic approach taken by the Churches draws associations from
the bible as well as from stigma associated with casual sex. One
should not forget that the world is dynamic and transitional. The
values of yesterday do not necessarily refer to the values of today
and generation gap should not be ignored. The Zimbabwean youth of
today are growing up in a world where they are exposed to sex, violence,
nudity and vulgar language at a tender age. Youths lose their virginity
at a very young age. It is not their fault that there are exposed
to the "world" through their television screens. One cannot
ignore that due to new media and information technology, the world
has become a global village. Although the local broadcaster ZBC
is now disseminating local content meant to instill a sense of morality
into the youths, however, the local broadcaster is also responsible
in the immorality discourse in the local and regional suggestive
lyrics and dances that grace our screens every now and then – again
– the churches must realize that the damage has already been done
must accept the fact that the youth have casual sex and therefore
potentially expose themselves to HIV/AIDS. It is our mandate to
seek practical solutions that will make a difference in the lives
of all Zimbabweans. Anti-condom sentiments are a death sentence
because they confuse the youth, especially, as their options are
limited. Abstinence is a noble suggestion but it is unrealistic.
it all be a fallacy, an act of fiction where good triumphs over
evil? Could it be a fairytale where the villain is destroyed and
the prince in shining armor saves the day? Perhaps a bad dream,
which I would really like to wake up from? The thought of corpses
piling up in mortuaries, those heart wrenching skeletal images of
suffering children and women in areas where the disease has ravaged
leaves me heartbroken.
would like to see all those tears on people’s faces wiped away and
smiles taking the place of all those frowns . . . I would like to
submerge myself into this fantasy world that the Churches are creating.
I would like to turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to reality and continue
to condemn the one thing that can save lives. I would like to ignore
statistics and the smell of suffering in the terminal illness wards
at Harare Hospital and Parirenyatwa Hospital and still insist that
condoms should not be encouraged. I would like to ignore the fresh
earth mounds sprouting up by the hour at Warren Hills and the infamous
"Kumbudzi" cemeteries because of HIV/AIDS. How I would
want to be consumed by such positivism and hope the rest of the
Zimbabwean population also come along too. Old memories erased –
the Garden of Eden relived.
I know that this cannot be. I am incapable of suspending my disbelief
and submerging myself into this fantasy world. I cannot forget and
I am sure nor can many other people!
condom debate roars on as different organizations and institutions
disseminate parallel messages on condom use thus leaving the poor
public confused about whether to be moralistic or to be realistic.
The ultimate question being – "To use or not to use!"
where one is forced to choose between following the Christian discourse
and risking contraction and re infection by the HIV or by totally
disregarding these moralistic discourses. The controversy around
the use of condoms was sparked by claims by the Catholic Church
that condoms do not stop the spread of AIDS. An online report from
Good Vibrations magazines says the Church made its claims on a BBC
program, Sex and the Holy City. The president of the Vatican's
Pontifical Council for the Family, Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo
said: "The AIDS virus is roughly 450 times smaller than the spermatozoon.
The spermatozoon can easily pass through the 'net' that is formed
by the condom." However scientists have shot down these claims leaving
the Catholic Church hard pressed to adequately substantiate its
is a notable failure by these institutions to integrate reality
into their policies by accepting the dynamics of globalization and
its effects on behavior. Instead of condemning them and insisting
on abstinence, which is almost impossible to achieve, Churches must
open their eyes and engage with reality. Meanwhile, the Seventh
Day Adventist Conference President, Pastor Jonathan Nzuma responds,
"We speak from a spiritual point of view and not from a scientific
point of view. Anything man made is not 100 percent safe unless
if it is made by God". I asked the Pastor if he drove a car
and he said yes but again insisted that because it is man-made,
then it is not 100 percent safe. Ironically he still uses a car
as a means of transportation.
main problem with Christian discourse of this nature is its selectivity
of suitable facts and biblical quotes that would serve to provide
support for any given argument. Such discourse is separatist as
most preachers sift through the bible searching for suitable quotes
that enhance their argument. Anti-condom sentiments stem from "though
shalt not commit adultery", which seemingly give the necessary
justification for these claims.
Churches should not confuse issues. Condom use is purely a public
health issue and not a spiritual issue. If the Church had succeeded
at this mandate we would be in an AIDS free society . . . Given
that the church has not succeeded at that, the public health fraternity
which has the mandate to ensure that the populace access
sufficient treatment and prevention solutions has championed for
the use of condoms to prevent HIV infection." - SAFAIDS
HIV/AIDS has become a part of our existence. The core weapon is
to accept your status and to practice safe sex. The use of the condom
is said to reduce the spread of HIV and STD’s by 97percent according
to different studies and surveys. However, many Christian organizations
choose to remain blinkered from reality by discouraging the use
of condoms. One cannot ignore the level of irresponsibility being
propagated by these influential institutions as they choose to stand
aloof to the ideals of human existence.
Mukonyora is a Masters student at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan
University in South Africa (formally University of Port Elizabeth).
Her research focus is mainly on the Political Economy in Zimbabwe.
The HIV and AIDS situation is another research interest. This article
was sparked by a banner (on picture) which was put up at the Seventh
Day Adventist General Conference of the East Africa division at
Newlands Shopping Centre. The representations in the article represent
my feelings and opinions towards the stance taken by churches in
the fight against HIV and AIDS and how these sentiments are likely
to lead to the detriment of the fight against AIDS in Zinbabwe and
in the world as a whole.
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