ELCA Presiding Bishop Washes Feet of HIV-Positive Women

8/4/2008 12:00:00 AM

     MEXICO CITY (ELCA) -- Engaging in an act of "humility and
repentance," the Rev. Mark S. Hanson, presiding bishop of the
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), Chicago, and
president of the Lutheran World Federation, Geneva, began an
Aug. 1 presentation here by washing the feet of two HIV-positive
women.  Hanson spoke during the Ecumenical Pre-Conference,
July 31-Aug. 2, an event focused on the response of the faith
community to HIV and AIDS.
     More than 500 people from throughout the world attended the
conference, which the Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance, Geneva,
organized.  The conference was one of several that preceded the
International AIDS Conference here Aug. 3-8.
     Hanson washed the feet of Herlyn Marja Uiras and Sophie
Dilmitis.  Uiras, Churches United Against HIV and AIDS in
Southern and Eastern Africa, and Dilmitis, World YWCA, Geneva,
were presenters at the conference.
     Hanson spoke during a plenary session addressing
stigmatization and discrimination against people living with HIV
or AIDS.  He said washing the women's feet was the only way he
could begin his remarks with integrity.  "I am absolutely
convinced that we as religious leaders and we in the religious
community that so shunned and shamed people with HIV and
struggling with AIDS ... must begin first by engaging in public
acts of repentance," he said.  "Absent public acts of repentance,
I fear our words will not be trusted."  Jesus Christ washed the
feet of his disciples on the eve of his Crucifixion as a reminder
that they were called to serve others, Hanson said.
     Many participants expressed appreciation to Hanson for his
act, but Hanson told the audience the point of his actions was to
focus attention on Uiras, Dilmitis and people living with HIV or
AIDS.  In humility we are called to become Christ to our neighbor
and "to believe that Sophie and Herlyn have today become Christ
to us," Hanson told the audience.  "What a sign of hope you are."
     Hanson related the story of an HIV-positive woman who became
a Lutheran pastor.  He said he hoped for the day when her story
would be an expectation not an exception.  "Ending discrimination
and stigmatization means we are committed to move from exceptions
to expectations of the full participation of people living with
HIV in our communities of faith," he said.
     Male heterosexual religious leaders must be willing to talk
about their own sexuality rather than talking about the sexuality
of people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered, and
they must break their silence on gender-based violence, Hanson
said.  Human sexuality must not be a "church-defining, church-
dividing issue," because the "good news" of Jesus Christ defines
the church, he said.
     At the International AIDS Conference, Hanson took part in an
Aug. 3 panel discussion on how faith-based organizations respond
to people who are marginalized.  To live a life centered in
Christ means a Christian will always find herself or himself with
"people at the margins," which calls for a compassionate
response, he said.
     "But that's only half of the call.  The other half of the
call is to stand with people at the margins so that they will no
longer be marginalized.  I think too often Christians have found
their comfort zone in acts of charity, compassion and love,
rather than the struggle for justice and the full inclusion of
marginalized people," he said.
     Religious communities must be introspective and ask
themselves how people of faith perpetuate and contribute to
structures and values that continue to marginalize people,
he said.
     Information about the Ecumenical Pre-Conference and the
involvement of faith communities in the International AIDS
Conference is at http://iac.e-alliance.ch/ on the Web.

For information contact:
John Brooks, Director (773) 380-2958 or news@elca.org
ELCA News Blog: http://www.elca.org/news/blog


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