New Mentality Needed to Combat AIDS, Adventist VP Says
Mwansa addresses limits of the morality argument; adds African graduate school update
BY ANSEL OLIVER, Assistant Director for News, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists
ardon Mwansa wants to change people's thinking about AIDS -- both people who care for AIDS patients, and those who could contract the disease.
One of nine general vice presidents of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, Mwansa recently spoke about his extensive travels and the church's progress in establishing an Adventist graduate program on the continent of Africa.
But in a follow-up interview, while finalizing his commencement address for the church's Babcock University in Nigeria, Mwansa responded with intensity to another line of questioning, sharing in his soft, reassuring voice his vision for the church's fight against AIDS. The church, he says, could alter its view of AIDS patients and how to prevent the disease.
Though it's not the first time he's called for "practical involvement" in the fight against AIDS, Mwansa says other preventative methods along with a shift in thinking would complement the church's outreach through its AIDS International Ministry, launched in Johannesburg, South Africa in 2003.
Mwansa, who holds a doctorate in missiology from Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan, hesitates when asked his age, instead pointing out he's the youngest vice president.
Excerpts from interviews with Pardon Mwansa:
CERTIFIED: Pardon Mwansa receives the letter of interim authority from Kenya's Commission for Higher Education on behalf of the Adventist University of Africa in Nairobi recently. Mwansa, a general vice president for the Adventist world church, gave an update on the church's first graduate program in the region and shared his vision for how the church could alter its respond to AIDS. [photo: courtesy ECD]
Adventist News Network: Recently, you received the letter of interim authority to operate the graduate program in Kenya. Has it taken a while to get going?
Pardon Mwansa: Not really. It's been very fast. We broke a record in Kenya of getting this letter of interim authority. They told us some have to wait for eight years. We were the first in getting it in four years. It's just that the Bureau of Standards is very rigorous.
ANN: What is the church trying to accomplish with this new university?
Mwansa: This is big. We're trying to position ourselves by responding appropriately. I think ... you know, I played volleyball in high school. I still wish I played today but I don't have time. In volleyball, you watch the ball. When it's going to the center, you should position yourself for any strike that could come from the other side. The church in Africa is growing so fast. So fast. It is only fair for the church to position itself in terms of educating its members, its personnel, its leadership.
ANN: What does the church have to offer people in that region?
Mwansa: One thing we can offer to the world, I think ... our message of hope and resurrection is unique. The world will send disaster relief. They'll send psychologists to counsel those who are traumatized. But I think it's only the message of John chapter 14 that says, "I go and prepare a place for you." I think the message of our church is more than just a biblical statement. Rather, it's a message of hope.
ANN: What sort of challenges are we having with our work against AIDS?
Mwansa: Probably the biggest challenge is that it's moving outside of Africa. Some of the highest growth rates are now in China, India, and Russia. It's becoming a global concern.
ANN: The church had a meeting on AIDS scheduled for February in Kenya, but it was canceled because of the political unrest?
Mwansa: Yes, that was to address how to respond.
ANN: How is the church responding?
Mwansa: By prevention, by education, [and with] care. You know, what I wish would happen is for the church to approach this subject from a practical point of view. The world is not a Christian world. Many [people], they're not going to stop lifestyles that cause AIDS. So [when] we tell them, "This is what you are supposed to do to avoid AIDS," they're not going to do that. The question is then, How do we respond to them if their concern is not about being right or wrong? I guess what we need to do, then, is to move our campaign against HIV/AIDS to issues that make sense to them other than issues of morals.
ANN: Like what?
Mwansa: Like a father who might get HIV/AIDS, ask him about his kids. "What will happen to your children if you get AIDS?" The concern is transferred from whether he is doing right or wrong for himself to the issue of, "Do I care about my family?"
ANN: How does that change the platform of thinking?
Mwansa: If it's right or wrong a person can say, "Leave me alone about what's right or wrong." But when [you] say, "You know, you have a two-year-old kid, do you want that child to grow up without their mother or their father?" It's something to think about. And I wish we would use those types of arguments.? Not everybody approaches issues from "right" or "wrong."
ANN: What about prevention?
Mwansa: Prevention is extremely critical. With due respect to all ideals, I tend to [side with] people who are practical -- meaning: this world is not full of people who read the book of Romans and the book of Genesis and Luke. This world has people who watch television and listen to music that doesn't teach them about Christ. And such people, the first thing when they are confronted with a situation in which they can contract AIDS, they don't think about a statement in Luke chapter four. They think about their desires and feelings. So I always say, when it comes to prevention we should cast as many nets as we can ... with no exclusions.
ANN: What nets are we not casting out that we could?
Mwansa: For example, I've heard church [people], religious people say to teach people to change their behavior and [that using condoms] is wrong. That's only so if a person thinks about right and wrong. The truth is this world does not think about right and wrong. So when I say cast the net as wide as we can, basically it's [to] use everything we can to save anybody who needs to be saved.
ANN: You said in previous interviews that you address this issue with your own children about the choices they're free to make. Would you advocate a "casting all nets" approach for them?
Mwansa: I talk to them about choices very, very strongly. I say to myself, if I have talked with them about choices and they are in a situation in which they failed to make the right choice, I would still want them to use something that would prevent them from contracting HIV/AIDS. That's not to say I don't believe in teaching, it's just that I want to prevent the worst disaster that can come. And, to be on a practical platform, people in the church are not beyond sin. Even people in the church do sometimes lose grip on the "thus sayeth the Lord." And when people lose grip, I think wisdom calls for us to still save them from the disasters and consequences of behavior by any lesser evils available.
ANN: You've said AIDS still carries a stigma in some parts of the world. How can that be overcome?
Mwansa: Sometimes only when it is in their house. You see, it's one thing to have an HIV/AIDS patient in the hospital. It's another development to have it in their home. When a person with AIDS is in your house, you don't quickly see an immoral person, even if they were immoral, by the way. You are likely to see a child, a brother, a sister who needs help. I think that we need to operate on a template of care rather than judgment.