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October 27, 2005
Today's eMo is really two different meditations on texts that will be read in many churches this Sunday. The first is the usual sermon preparation eMo. The second is intended for preachers who wish to focus their congregations' attention on the Church's ministry to the poor and victims of natural disasters or war, through the work of Episcopal Relief and Development. As with all the eMos, preachers and teachers are welcome to borrow, with the usual attribution. No further permission is necessary.
When You Hear "The Lord is on Our Side"-- Run.

Its rulers give judgment for a bribe, its priests teach for a price, its prophets give oracles for money; yet they lean upon the LORD and say, "Surely the LORD is with us!
Micah 3:11

Now, wait a minute -- are we sure this is really from the Bible and not from today's paper? There's something awfully familiar in this recitation of ancient venality -- Micah is talking about Israel 2500 years ago, but it feels quite modern. Little has changed.

Traditional family values. Virtue. And, of course, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, who always seems to dislike the same people we dislike and to endorse the things we want to do. We are in a fair way of losing the communal sense what it is to be a moral human being, substituting instead the ridiculous notion that my tunnel-visioned pursuit of my own interest will somehow lead to the well-being of everyone else, and we are being led into this impoverishment by the very people we look to for a sound expression of our moral consensus. Our current moral bankruptcy makes me want to steer clear of religious politicians altogether.

The current nominee to the Supreme court is under constant attack, even before she has had a single confirmation hearing. Her boss says she's a fine woman and a good Christian and I don't doubt that for a minute. I spend a fair amount of time in church too, though, and wouldn't choose that fact as my opening volley if I were going for a job in government. Ms. Mier may or may not be confirmed, but she's going to have to stand or fall on besides other the criteria we would use to choose a Sunday School teacher.

"Sure the Lord is with us" is the scariest thing a public official can say. It's the beginning of a process that will end in blinding ourselves to the very parts of us we most need to see: the dark corners of us, limitations of our moral vision, the faults that will soil our best plans.

God is on our side. But God is on the other side, too, active in everything that happens, standing by to extract usable good from whatever evil we can birth. God is with all of us. But beware -- that has never meant the automatic baptism of every fool thing we might want to do.

Micah 3:5-12
Psalm 43
I Thessalonians2:9-3,17-20
Matthew 23:1-12

And here is the ERD meditation:

Easy to Say

They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them.
Matthew 23:4

Well, they've got to change their lifestyle, for heavens' sake! someone says at dinner when the conversation has turned to the high incidence of HIV/AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa. I mean, obviously -- if they practiced proper family values and abstained from sex outside of marriage they wouldn't get AIDS. Am I right or wrong? We're doing nobody any favors by complicating this -- that's just the bottom line, and we need to be kind but firm about it.

The deaths of parents from AIDS will leave 18 million orphans in Africa by the end of 2010, UNICEF predicts. It also calculates that, somewhere in the world, a child dies from AIDS every minute, and every minute another child is infected. Mother-to-child infection, mostly, although thr rough trade of the sex industry contributes to the steady stream of directly infected children. Unicef reports that only 5% of all HIV-infected children get any medical treatment at all.

I'm not so sure it's that simple.

It is true that you won't get AIDS if you abstain from sex with an infected partner. To do that, though, a person must be free to abstain. In the worldwide HIV/AIDS pandemic, poverty almost always comes before infection, and is the most accurate precursor to the disease.

Women shouldn't be prostitutes. But if they can't feed their children or themselves in any other way, they will. And they will not be in a position to negotiate for safe sex. Or for anything else.

And if a husband comes home from working far away, his wife cannot refuse him just because she fears he may have become infected while he was gone. She and her children need the money he brings home. And nobody where she lives has ever suggested that a wife can do anything but obey her husband. Not ever.

And if a girl is given by her father into marriage with an older man, she can't refuse him. This is a frequent occurrence: a popular myth holds that intercourse with a young virgin is a sure cure for AIDS.

Medical workers should use only disposable needles in hypodermic syringes, never needles that have been used before. But in some places they can't get new needles. So they clean the only ones they have as well as they can, and hope for the best.

It is easy for us to prescribe behavior for others, behavior available to us because we are prosperous. We have the right to say yes or no. We have options. It is easy for us to remain safe, so we are apt to think it's just as easy for everyone else.

The most potent way to prevent the further tragedy of HIV/AIDS in Africa is to empower the poor. To give them something to sell besides themselves. To educate women and girls and give them the means to stand up for themselves in societies unaccustomed to their doing that. To offer new explanations and new ways of thinking about illness that encourage people to demand treatment and their societies to respond without fear and shame.

ERD walks both sides of this line, assisting local dioceses throughout sub-Saharan Africa in providing direct services to the infected and the dying and to their surviving families, and by looking to the future in educating adults, young people and families to prepare for a time when they really do have a choice.

To learn more about ERD's work or to make a donation, visit or telephone 1-800-334-7626, ext 5129.
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