No One Gets Free without Queers

At the World AIDS Conference Interfaith Pre-Conference in Durban, South Africa this past weekend, the new UNAIDS number-based goal being touted in order to eradicate HIV/AIDS is 90-90-90.

By 2020: Ninety percent know their status. Ninety percent are being treated. Ninety percent receiving treatment will have viral suppression.

The Interfaith Pre-Conference is chided for its liberal-leaning ways, so much so that some sects, such as the Catholic contingent, have broken off into their own pre-conference. Nevertheless, the “love the sinner, hate the sin” rhetoric stank up many of the workshop rooms. The opening plenary speech celebrated that religious communities now channel 50% of the funds and mechanisms to treat HIV/AIDS. For most in the room, that was a moment of congratulation and gladness. For the LGBTQI people in the room, that’s a threat. The tired-heart snark in me supposed that the remaining 10% of the 90-90-90 goal must be the LGBTQI community. At the Faith Networking Zone for the larger conference, where we staged some afternoon programming on Monday, a United Methodist Church pastor from Togo helped me wrap the dissonance in truth today: “The Church does not have a theology of sex. It has a theology of marriage.” This fundamental dishonesty about cause-and-effect recalls the United Methodist Church General Conference from this past May. Soulforce was showing out for the protest-minded Methodist folks at the UMC General Conference in Portland. The bite and tension for a lot of issues - Black Lives Matter, indigenous justice, queer lives, access to abortion - was elevated and there was a public action every day of General Conference. Some of our crew ended up hog-tied around the communion table. I’d say it was a new level of appropriate force. Originally a church of the social gospel - heart for poverty, hunger, racism, AIDS and more - the Methodists spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to bring together 1,000 Delegates from around the world to Oregon to apportion and approve institutional solutions to the bad fruits of systemic oppression.

But much like many of the religious sects here in Durban who will gather on Wednesday night at Emmanuel Cathedral for an interfaith service in honor of the work to end HIV/AIDS, the United Methodist Church manufactures its own stumbling blocks that make it incapable of dealing with reality as it is.

The faith leaders and religious institutions that condemn queers play both sides; they elevate gender, bodies, and sex to the level of a litmus test of true faith - the UMC Council of Bishops and elected Delegates will even entertain a global schism for the sake of it - yet they pretend it is less than a pebble in its shoe when setting about to solve systemic oppression. Not that queers are the magic key to manifesting a healed world, or that all these faith groups move as a single anti-LGBTQI bloc, but here’s what I ache to say to folks gathered in church on Wednesday praying for an end to this epidemic:

You may hate us.

You may never, ever theologically square with us.

But I assure you,

you will not get free,

nor create a world

free from racism, poverty, HIV/AIDS, and hunger,



Soulforce Executive Director Haven Herrin serves as Board Chair of the Global Interfaith Network (GIN), based in Johannesburg, South Africa. Haven Herrin is at the World AIDS Conference repping GIN as it establishes itself as a new and vital international player in faith-based LGBTQI human rights work. Ever the Soulforcer, though, Haven is also debuting the newest theological resource from Soulforce on Sodom and Gomorrah to this international audience.

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