Jesus had AIDS! If any statement was likely to stir up a hornet’s nest, surely this was it. In a recent Sunday service, Pastor Xola Skosana stunned his congregation in Khayelitsha Township by saying “Today I will start on a three-part sermon, Jesus was HIV positive. Tongues were set wagging in churches throughout South Africa and Christians everywhere were outraged saying he implied Jesus was sexually promiscuous. However, as Pastor Skosana told those gathered in the modest Luhlaza High School hall for his weekly services, in many parts of the Bible Jesus put himself in the position of the destitute, the sick and the marginalised. "Wherever you open the scriptures Jesus puts himself in the shoes of people who experience brokenness. Isaiah 53, for example, clearly paints a picture of Jesus who takes upon himself the infirmities and the brokenness of humanity," he told the BBC. He is also quick to emphasise that he is using the metaphor to highlight the danger of the HIV/Aids pandemic, which still carries a stigma in South Africa's townships. "Of course, there's no scientific evidence that Jesus had the HIV virus in his bloodstream," says the pastor, whose non-denominational Hope for Life Ministry is part of a growing charismatic movement in South Africa. "The best gift we can give to people who are HIV-positive is to help de-stigmatise Aids and create an environment where they know God is not against them, he's not ashamed of them. “Pastor Skosana has certainly got the country talking. He has been in the ministry for 24 years and has lost two sisters to Aids. He argues that religious leaders have to play a much bigger role in combating the spread of the pandemic in South Africa where more than 5.7 million people live with the virus - more than in any other country. And he concluded the last of his three-part sermon by taking an HIV test in front of the congregation - after which 100 churchgoers followed his example. Amid the controversy, Reverend Siyabulela Gidi, the director of South African Council of Churches in the Western Cape, has come out in support of Pastor Skosana, saying his standpoint is theologically correct. Outside religious circles, Pastor Skosana has also received support from Aids activists. "The pastor's sermon takes away the stigma that HIV is a sin and that it's God's punishment," says Vuyiseka Dubula, general secretary of the powerful Aids lobby group Treatment Action Campaign. “To associate Jesus with HIV is powerful, particularly for those who go to church. Now people are starting to think: 'If Jesus could be HIV-positive who am I not to have it even if I go to church?’ The more we talk about it in our pulpits, the more we ask people to test voluntarily in the church the better. One of the most powerful things we can do as a church right now is to say Jesus was and is HIV-positive."
Is it possible that the pastor’s words have got through to the Vatican when at last the Pope is admitting that in certain circumstances the use of condoms is permissible to prevent the spread of AIDS. At least it’s a step in the right direction however guarded the comment might be. The door of common sense has been slightly opened.