“This attitude is un-Christ like and must therefore stop,” Rev Dr Bird told the Pacific Conference of Churches 10th General Assembly in Honiara, the Solomon Islands.
“The stigma (associated with AIDS) is not simply from social and cultural corners but most unfortunately from theological corners. (People living with) HIV and AIDS are made to feel guilty because of supposedly sinful lifestyles.”
Rev Dr Bird – a lecturer at the Pacific Theological College – said church leaders must make an effort to become better informed on HIV and AIDS-related issues and engage their members in awareness and advocacy activities.
“When asked by his disciples on more than one occasion if sin was the cause of someone’s illness, Jesus replied in the negative,” Rev Dr Bird said.
“Second, we must remember that many women and young girls contract HIV not because they chose freely to engage in risky sexual relations but due to situations and a combination of factors beyond their control.
“Many young girls and women are forced by extreme economic and financial hardships, or poverty and destitution, into dangerous and vulnerable sexual situations where they contract HIV; many contract HIV in situations of war, violence and hostilities and rape; many contract HIV due to cultural expectations and practices of marriage, and so on.”
Rev Dr Bird said the church had a responsibility to show sympathy for and solidarity with all AIDS sufferers and to show “love and non-judgmental acceptance and to demonstrate that love through a massive practical effort to alleviate their physical and emotional suffering”.
On the issue of sexuality was a taboo in Pacific societies, he said such statements were true and false because gender specific gatherings often discussed sexuality in non-seriousness and fun but this changed in mixed groups.
He said churches must formulate educational and advocacy programmes centred on sexual morality instead of suppressing the subject.
The assembly is expected to hear a submission from young Christians calling on their leaders to put in place church-based activities to combat HIV-AIDS.