AIDS, homosexuality and drugs are issues that churches need to face and deal with, Utah religious leaders were told Monday.
Clergy and pastoral-care providers from throughout the state met Monday and Tuesday to learn about AIDs during the International Conference on AIDS at the University Park Hotel."Churches often do not think of homosexuals as humans," said the Rev. William Swing, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of California and the conference's keynote speaker.
He said one of the biggest problems clergymen and the community at large have is the tendency to "ghettoize" people with AIDS. Many say, "Those are the gays, those are the druggies, leave them in their ghetto," but such people cannot be ignored. Churches must reach out to them, he said.
To people who think their family has escaped the effects of AIDS, "you miss what God is all about. It's not their epidemic, it's our epidemic." he said.
"There is a spiritual cure for AIDS, and that cure is love," Swing said.
"As a bishop in San Francisco, I had to learn a lot about the 85,000 homosexuals that lived in town," said Swing, who added he came from a very "heterosexual, macho background."
He said while some tauntingly call him the bishop of Sodom and Gomorrah, he has become acquainted with the homosexual members of his congregations, and said they are also children of God with great struggles in self-esteem.
"It dawned on me that the homosexuals in San Francisco were not born in San Francisco. They were born in Salt Lake City, in Huntington, W.Va. . . . disowned by their parents, kicked out of their synagogues and churches and fired from their jobs," he said.
Homosexuality may or may not be a sin, "but the far greater sin is the sin of the Christian parents who have been punitive and cruel to their kids who have discovered they're homosexuals," he said.
Swing told the story of a gay man in a small town who one day told his parents he was gay and moved to a big city where he could find support and acceptance. Some time later he called home to say he had acquired AIDS. He flew home to visit his family and his father took him to the local cemetery.
Next to a tombstone of a family member was a tombstone with the man's name on it. The tombstone had his birth date and the date of death as the day he announced to his parents that he was gay. The father left him at the graveyard, Swing said.
"Society and church must venture into the drug community," Swing said.
Pastor Greg Anderson of the Zion Lutheran Church in Salt Lake City said he hopes the conference will help religious leaders learn how to better deal with the effects of AIDS - including death and dying - both spiritual issues.
"There will be a time when no congregation will be untouched by AIDS," he said.