South African Pastor Xola Skosana who pastors a non-denominational church in South Africa recently preached a three part sermon series in which he declared that Jesus was HIV positive. Among other things, Skosana said, “One of the most powerful things we can do as a church right now is to say Jesus was and is HIV-positive.”

Pastor Xola Skosana

As one might imagine, this has caused some controversy and angered some conservative Christians in South Africa. But the pastor was speaking bluntly to make a point. He has reason to be invested in raising awareness. Skosana’s two sisters died of AIDS. Today more than 5.7 million people in SA live with HIV/AIDS.  The pastor was reminding people that Jesus put himself in the place of the marginalized and the destitute. Jesus choose to eat with sinners and rejects and spent time with the sick and the lonely.  You can read more about what Pastor Skosana had to say and what others had to say about it by visiting this link.

While Skosona may have been more direct about this than some would like, his point was to drive home the incarnational love of God.  It is often forgotten that the Incarnation was so very much about God descending into the depths of all aspects of humanity. What makes the incarnation (the Christmas story) so powerful is the notion that God becomes one with us.  That means that God identifies and relates with us in a manner unlike any other relationship in our lives. GOd knows it all…the good, the bad, and everything in between. God knows all of our brokenness and identifies with it entirely.  In our wider community, we can be certain that Jesus indeed calls upon us to be in solidarity with the weak and the broken.

For pastor Skosana, there can be no more socially rejected group than the many millions who are living with HIV/AIDS.  As surely as Jesus embraced the leper, the tax collector, the Samaritan woman at the well, he embraces those who HIV positive. In order for things to get better is SA, people need to become more comfortable with talking about AIDS and sexuality. People need to be reminded that if they test and discover that they are HIV positive, that God does not abandon them.

The good pastor had a powerful message!  The fact that it was picked up by news agencies around the world and that people are talking about it even here in North America is evidence of that. His message was also a call to action. He concluded his series by being tested for HIV/AIDS in front of his congregation. The article linked above says that 100 of his parishioners followed his example. I declare that his witness was a good one if it encouraged others to act responsibly.  I feel comfortable saying that Jesus would certainly approve of witnessing to others responsible behaviour. By encouraging others to be tested the pastor was not just offering spiritual pabulum.  He was offering faith that is alive in action.  Indeed Jesus would work with those in SA and those in the West who are left on the fringe because of HIV/AIDS.

According to The AIDS Committee of Toronto estimates over 68 000 people in Canada were living with HIV/AIDS in 2008. Those numbers are likely over 75 000 today.  Stigma continues to be an issue. We need to remind those living with HIV/AIDS that they are loved, embraced and welcomed into the community of Jesus.

Pastor Skosana told the BBC that there is ‘no scientific evidence that Jesus had HIV in his blood stream.’   That is not his point. What the pastor is seeking to highlight is danger of continuing to stigmatize HIV/AIDS. The castigation of those who suffer with HIV/AIDS, whether in Africa or in Windsor, exacerbates the problem and does nothing to encourage harm reduction.  “The best gift we can give to people who are HIV-positive is to help de-stigmatise AIDS and create an environment where they know God is not against them, he’s not ashamed of them,” said Pastor Skosana. I could not agree more.