Greater NW Pride: Learning to Be Body of Christ in the Age of AIDS and COVID 19



Learning to be Body of Christ: The AIDS Crisis and COVID 19


Living in this time of a world-wide pandemic of Coronavirus COVID 19, one of the similar stories that has come forward to teach us about how to survive this pandemic where we live are stories of the early days of AIDS, when no one even knew how it was transmitted. A picture of the AIDS virus is above. People like activist Peter Staley and playwright Larry Kramer, along with many others, with much of their stories captured in books, plays like “The Normal Heart,” and the documentary “How to Survive a Plague,” and “The Last Men Standing.” 
In those early days of the AIDS crisis in 1980s, people were frightened to each touch each other. Handshakes were forbidden, let alone hugs, embraces, a kiss. I remember going to the dentist during those days, in which the hygienist and dentist alike wore paper disposal yellow gowns and face masks, for fear that even spit from a person could infect another person with AIDS. As a closeted gay man, while I yearned to touch and be embraced with another man, this was a time in which we didn’t want to be needed by one another. Simply getting tested for HIV/AIDS took a huge emotional toll. Distrust and fear of each other and medical professionals surrounded us. Many people didn’t go to certain restaurants and other eateries, bars, clothing shops and department stores, movie theaters, theaters, music venues, beauty salons, art galleries, bookstores, or ride and visit certain parts of cities, because gay people worked there or frequented the same places. Dying and death felt like they were stalking all of us. When we let our imagination get the better of us, we seemed to only imagine the worst-case scenario. Our imagination was fierce, and the death count was overwhelming. 
And still our community of LGBTQ+ people rose. 
The LGBTQ+ community fought back with truth, science, and time. Groups like ACT UP weekly meetings in cities like New York, protests at National Institute of Health, FDA, political-guerrilla theater, were all pivotal in getting AZT to become the first FDA-approved drug to treat HIV. People still fought to still embrace one another rather than treating each other as pariahs. None of us dare play the part or wear the costume of victimhood. Instead, the LGBTQ+ community became and are the victors.

In light of the recent outbreak of the Coronavirus COVID 19, a great unease has embraced the world (COVID 19 virus above). Sadly, there is a distrust of what the Federal government is saying, partially due to the mixed messages of the various departments, and the lack of leadership at the top. As a result, there is great fear spreading in the air. We are still in the beginning phases of learning how this virus is transmitted, how long it lives on hard surfaces, the ways it spreads in the air, how touch from hard surface to touching one’s face is a social “no-no,” along with washing hands, wiping down surfaces and hand sanitizers wherever you can find it. 
And the deleterious rise of radical individualism has been loosened upon this world, again, in which people are thinking primarily of “me,” and “I,” of themselves, individually, or only their significant partners or family, and not as a living, breathing social network in which all of our lives are tethered together as one, moving, breathing, dying, surviving, thriving, denying, entity. 

For the church, it is time (if not past time) to reframe this entire COVID 19 event as body of Christ-time, and how the body of Christ—our primary context—is working for not our good only, but the good of all creation. What Paul wrote in Romans and 1 and 2 Corinthians and the Pauline-like phrases in Ephesians and Colossians matter now, and are a blue-print of how we are to respond to this crisis as the body of Christ.
You see, in the end, if we take the necessary precautions now, today, as a more unified social gathering, we will make the change that was made with the HIV/AIDS crisis earlier in our world.  Surviving and rising above COVID 19 will continue to take truth, science, and time. And, with time, tomorrow, we will rise above the challenges today and be heroes, all of us, tomorrow. With God in Christ “with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ in me, Christ beneath me,” as the prayer of St. Patrick reminds us, and the Spirit leading us, we will rise up and go forward on this pilgrimage of faith. We do not do this alone, as individuals, but as the body of Christ. This is a time for us to learn to lean into and embody the practices of being body of Christ for and with one another. In this COVID 19 crisis, we each play a role and function as the body of Christ in action and motion. After all, there is always a tomorrow, and it needs for us to be courageous, strong, hopeful, practicing charity for and among all. 
And if you need any instructions, church, of how to act as a community, as the body of Christ, just like at how the LGBTQ+ community finally responded to the HIV/AIDS crisis.
May it be so.

Brett Webb-Mitchell
Rev. Dr. Brett Webb-Mitchell is an openly gay Presbyterian pastor in the Portland area serving as the part-time LGBTQ+ advocacy coordinator for The Oregon-Idaho Conference of the UMC. He can be reached at brett@umoi.org. Become a subscriber to the Greater NW Pride blog to get Greater NW Pride in your email box!