Franklin Graham: In response to people living with HIV/AIDS, like Jesus, we have to reach to them, love them and heal them

Sarah L. Voisin WASHINGTON POST WASHINGTON, DC – JULY 22: Event-goers look at AIDS quilts on display. Thousands gathered near … Continued

Sarah L. Voisin


WASHINGTON, DC – JULY 22: Event-goers look at AIDS quilts on display. Thousands gathered near the Washington Monument for the “Keep the Promise on HIV/AIDS” Rally and March on Washington Sunday July 22, 2012. The event occurred on the opening day of the International AIDS Conference.

In many ways today, HIV/AIDS has the same stigmas as leprosy did in Bible times. Leprosy was considered a death sentence. Victims were considered unclean and shunned by their families and communities. Yet, Jesus reached out to them, touched them, loved them, and healed them. This is the perfect representation of how the church should respond to people living with HIV/AIDS.

Samaritan’s Purse, the organization I have the privilege of leading, has been helping victims of this deadly virus since the 1980s. In 2002 in Washington, D.C., we organized an unprecedented global conference on the Christian response to HIV/AIDS. Much like this week’s AIDS 2012 conference in Washington, we brought together Christian leaders, political leaders, medical researchers and grassroots workers from 87 countries to discuss the issue and hear from people whose lives had been devastated by HIV/AIDS.

One of our speakers was Sen. Jesse Helms. I remember when he first called me to talk about AIDS, he felt that it was a homosexual disease and that federal money should not be used to help those who were infected. I pointed him to Scripture where Jesus was always full of compassion, even if a person’s sin had caused their circumstances. Instead of asking the sinner what he did wrong, Jesus as the Son of God, used his power to heal their bodies—telling the person to go and sin no more.

View Photo Gallery: Images of the early years of the AIDS epidemic, by Washington Post photographers.

Senator Helms soon reversed his position. At our conference, he said, “I think it’s about time that I made a confession that I’ve been too lax too long in doing something really significant about AIDS. It’s been the kind of thing you can lay aside in your agenda. But I tell you, I’m not going to lay it aside on my agenda for the remaining months that I have in the United States Senate. You can’t avoid the seriousness of AIDS or HIV, whether it is in Africa or the United States. The treachery is the same. And the treachery is ignoring it.” Senator Helms became a strong, compassionate voice in the fight against the spread of HIV, and he was committed to getting federal funding to help those suffering from AIDS.

Unfortunately, there is still no cure for HIV/AIDS. But researchers have developed antiretroviral medications that can suppress the virus to the point where victims can now add years to their lives. It’s important that we make that help available to as many people as possible.

As the United States, United Nations and other organizations invest billions of dollars in the fight against HIV/AIDS, it’s crucial that they work with churches and faith-based organizations. In much of the developing world and particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, no other institution has more influence than the local church. Former President George W. Bush recognized this, and I am glad to see that he is a keynote speaker at AIDS 2012. The President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), launched in 2003, was a landmark in the international response to AIDS—not only because of the unprecedented funding, but also because it involved faith-based organizations in the grass-roots implementation of programs. Starting with PEPFAR, Samaritan’s Purse has reached 1.25 million people with information on how to prevent the spread of HIV. We’ve also provided 200,000 with HIV testing and counseling.

View Photo Gallery: By the time he was tested for HIV five years ago, Jerome Smith’s immune system was so weak doctors told him he’d probably been infected for a decade. But Smith says he’d been in and out of the hospital for various ailments, and no one had ever tested for HIV. At this week’s International AIDS Conference in Washington, organizers will call for big increases in HIV testing and treatment.

We need an army of young Christians who are willing to go to the remote areas in this world and show compassion and God’s love. We need to tell those suffering that no matter what they have done in life, God still loves them and He will forgive them. Like Senator Helms said, the treachery is in ignoring it.

It is vital that churches and the Christian community continue to work together to inform people of the truth about how HIV spreads. Education about abstinence and marital faithfulness has proven to be extremely effective. For example, a two-year study by Johns Hopkins University of Samaritan’s Purse HIV/AIDS programs in Mozambique found that abstinence among young females rose from 34 to 49 percent after they received information about how HIV/AIDS is contracted. Every percentage point represents many young women who have made positive decisions to avoid behavior that could put them at risk of HIV.

I am not an advocate of passing out condoms to fight the spread of HIV/AIDS. We should not condone sex outside of marriage. When a crowd dragged the adulterous woman in front of Jesus and prepared to stone her, Jesus forgave her and said, “Go and sin no more” (John 8:11). I cannot imagine Jesus giving her a condom and saying, “Keep doing what you are doing and try to protect yourself.”

We have to take responsibility for our lives and the decisions we make. That starts with the facts. And the fact is any type of sexual relationship outside a committed marriage between one woman and one man puts you at risk for contracting the virus.

Unfortunately, millions won’t be faithful to their spouses or accept God’s standards and will put themselves at risk just for a moment of pleasure. Christians are called to live by a higher standard. Like Jesus, we have to warn those who are putting themselves at risk and have compassion for those who are infected.

Franklin Graham is president and CEO of the international Christian relief organization Samaritan’s Purse and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association

View Photo Gallery: Robert Gallo and Luc Montagnier identified HIV — the virus that causes AIDS — in 1983. The three decades since have seen wide medical and cultural advancements in our understanding of the virus. The years have also brought much hardship and controversy. Here’s a photographic history of the AIDS epidemic in the United States.

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    If Franklin Graham is an example of what Jesus’s compassion has to offer, I’m pretty sure no one needs any of it. Jesus is dead, and Graham and his father are religious snake oil salesmen.

  • lifelongdemocrat

    Graham almost sounds compassionate.

    It’s his snarky talk about Obama that makes me dislike him.

    He’s a modern day rightwing Christian. The likes of Palin and Bachmann.

    No thanks.

  • Gail78

    Don’t agree with Graham on everything but he’s on the right track with this.

    Jesus taught love and compassion but he didn’t teach acceptance of immoral behavior. Graham’s beliefs about homosexual behavior and gay marriage are completely in line with Jesus’ own words, “‘ For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’?” (Matthew 19:5)

    Not only are Christians to love their neighbors, but first and foremost they are to love God. And he says, “If you love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15)

    Loving the sinner but hating the sin isn’t just a motto, It’s what God does with each and every person on this earth everyday.

  • DJWinMassachusetts

    Franklin Grham is a Christian activist and author whose work I always find interesting and instructive, but not for any of the reasons that you may think.

    I find him interesting because he and a small handful of other Christian leaders specialize in selling what are essentially Liberal causes, such as HIV/AIDS, to a fundamentally conservative constituency, white Christians, mostly Southern Baptists, mostly in America’s deep south. And he is successful at it. WaPo readers are not Graham’s target audience, Southern Baptists are. I find it instructive to watch what Graham and others do to sell the cause to the particular people they are selling it to. Watch carefully what he does if you want to learn how to sell your agenda across the aisle.

    If some of our liberal and progressive so-called leaders would make a similar effort to sell their ideas to Americans who are not already in their own leftie cheering sections, we could make some progress on a lot of inportant issues. But our so-called “leaders” would much rather shout and scream and throw mud pies across the aisle, which guarantees that nothing will be accomplished.

  • wt_rd

    Franklin Graham is a hate-mongering leader of a totalitarian ideology determined to destroy democracy and the beliefs of all other people. His words here mean nothing.

  • ZenGalacticore

    Jesus Christ is the “model” on how Christ’s church should respond to ANYTHING! For God’s sake! (pun intended)

  • ZenGalacticore

    Perhaps your words destroy “democracy”. I suspect that you lie, sir.

  • MudFlaps

    Mr Graham shouldnt forget :
    Mathew 18:17 If the person still refuses to listen, take your case to the church. Then if he or she won’t accept the church’s decision, treat that person as a pagan or a corrupt tax collector.

    Corinthians 5:12: For what business have I to judge outsiders? Judge the insiders.

    In this era of false Non-Judgementalism–we sure judge them awful phoba phobe people dont we– we shouldnt forget that its not judging to warn of ones path to no no land

  • alice-belle

    Franklin Graham and his father Billy: racist, homophobic, anti-semitic snake oil salesmen have successfully spread their message of hate and ignorance while fleecing their flock of millions of dollars. There’s nothing of value Franklin or Billy has ever or will add to any discussion of how humans should live honorably, ethically, and with compassion.


    Time Magazine with Einstein in his 50s:
    To what extent are you influenced by Christianity? “As a child I received
    instruction both in the Bible and in the Talmud. I am a Jew, but I am enthralled
    by the luminous figure of the Nazarene.”
    Do you accept the historical existence of Jesus? “Unquestionably! No one can
    read the Gospels without feeling the actual presence of Jesus. His personality
    pulsates in every word. No myth is filled with such life!”


    In the end the lost will call evil good and good evil!


    Secularization of church and state is ruining the country in a hurry! The macro evolution faith movement is the false religion our founders warned against and it’s taught to our kids as gospel! Takes much more faith to believe the missing links aren’t still missing and that matter was created from nothing!


    Poor moraal & ethics are behind most of our social and fiancial problems FYI!


    Well said!


    Loving God and loving others-what a horrible world view to promote huh?

  • alice-belle

    “Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?
    Then he is not omnipotent.
    Is he able, but not willing?
    Then he is malevolent.
    Is he both able and willing?
    Then whence cometh evil?
    Is he neither able nor willing??
    Then why call him God?”

  • vicofnick

    I’m glad Mr. Graham is advocating compassion to those infected with AIDs, but I diasgree with him on this point: Distributing condoms to those at risk of infection does not equal endorsement of a behavior. Perhaps Jesus wouldn’t have said, “Go on doing what you’re doing (committing adultery), just use a condom.” But women were at a physical disadvantage in resisting sexual pressure from men, both before and after (note: if she was caught in adultery, where was the man?) I don’t think Jesus would have objected to giving the woman caught in adultery the ability to protect herself I the future.

  • longjohns

    And we should forgive Mr. Graham for going against the teachings of Jesus by amassing money, criticizing others, praying out loud in public, or wanting have the seat next to God. Have compassion for him because these things are so hard to resist even when Jesus specifically warned against them. Sort of like giving in to those moments of sexual pleasure as Mr. Graham pointed. out himself.

  • fare777

    Christians and all other religious please stay home! You will spread more war, hate, and human suffering than AIDS! The suffering you inflict on human kind with your dogma is criminal. Stay home…MYOB!

  • williamhuxtan

    Strange that one never hears anymore (did we ever?) Christians preaching and practicing unconditional love: “I love you.” End of sermon.

  • Rupert4

    As an example of Graham’s “honesty and compassion” he asserted that President Obama was Muslim because “his father’s seed is in him.” So, nothing he says can carry any credibility, except that part when touts his “faith based” organizations as effective tools in the AIDS/HIV fight. Meaning effective tools to further line his silk pockets.

  • sealogic

    Any time these charlatans blame disease, famine or disaster on God’s vengeance…… the conversation ends.