United Methodist Youth Learn about Realities of AIDS Worldwide
- Youth learn about realities of AIDS worldwide
By Linda Green*
July 25, 2007
GREENSBORO, N.C. (UMNS) - An informal survey of 120 young people
attending a United Methodist youth gathering showed that three-fourths
agreed people should abstain from sex outside of marriage.
Those results came from participants attending two workshops about
AIDS and young people at Youth 2007, where they received information
about the realities of AIDS among youth and adults worldwide.
The majority agreed with The United Methodist Church's position
supporting abstinence before marriage. Others suggested that sex
outside of marriage is permissible if two people are committed to one
another. Another perspective indicated that marriage is not an option
for everyone in society, such as gay and lesbian people.
The Social Principles of the denomination affirm sex only within the
bonds of marriage. At the same time, the Principles encourage
comprehensive sex education so that young people who choose to have
sex before marriage are equipped with facts to help them protect
themselves from diseases or pregnancy, according to Linda Bales, a
staff executive with the United Methodist Board of Church and Society,
the denomination's social advocacy agency.
"We cannot put our heads in the sand and have to realize that kids are
sexually active. It's our responsibly to prepare them to make the
wisest decisions," said Bales, who led the workshop.
"AIDS and Young People" was one of 90 workshop options for the 6,200
youth and youth leaders attending Youth 2007, the denomination's
largest youth event, July 11-15. The worldwide youth gathering is held
every four years and sponsored by the United Methodist Board of
"HIV/AIDS is one of the worst health crises the world is facing," said
Bales, who noted that "as people of faith, we have a role to play to
make the world a better place."
Young people ages 15-24 are statistically most vulnerable and account
for half of all new HIV infections worldwide, with more than 6,000
infected each day, she told workshop participants. According to the
international AIDS organization AVERT, 2.3 million people under age 15
were living with HIV in 2005.
Citing statistics from AIDS research and policy groups, Bales said
experts estimate about two young people in the United States are
infected every hour of the day. More than 40 million people worldwide
are living with AIDS, with 70 percent of the total in sub-Saharan Africa.
Bales said African-American and Hispanic youth are disproportionately
affected by HIV/AIDS. Although only 15 percent of the U.S. adolescent
population is African American, this group accounted for 73 percent of
new AIDS cases among teens in 2004. Latinos ages 20-24 accounted for
23 percent of new AIDS cases in 2004 while representing only 18
percent of U.S. young adults.
The spread of the disease is increasing among African-American and
Latino women. Bales attributes the trend among African-American women
to "homophobia in the black community which causes some men to live
'on the down low'" - having public relationships with women and secret
sex with men.
Resistance to the use of condoms is one reason the disease is
impacting Latina women. "The use of condoms is associated with
illness, prostitution and emotional distance," she said. "Due to this
stigma, Latina women are less likely to ask men to use condoms in a
relationship to avoid offending their male partner."
People need "to make wise decisions about their own sexuality," Bales
said. "It only takes one sexual encounter or use of a dirty needle to
become infected for life."
Participants were encouraged to contribute to the United Methodist
Global AIDS Fund and to mobilize other young people to help. "We have
a strong biblical mandate to care for those who have AIDS," Bales
said. "If local churches are not teaching sex education, including
AIDS prevention, they are complicit in the spread of the disease."
In 2004, the United Methodist General Conference, the denomination's
top legislative body, established the Global AIDS Fund aimed at
raising $8 million in the next four years - an amount roughly
equivalent to a $1 donation from every U.S. member of the church. The
fund supports education, prevention, care and treatment programs for
people living with HIV/AIDS.
"Making wise decisions based on the scriptural belief that God loves
you and you are beloved and valuable may help young people resist the
temptation of sex or, if they choose to be sexually active, to use
precautions," Bales said.
*Green is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in