THE UNITED Church of Christ, long on the cutting edge of Protestant liberalism, has released a candid curriculum on AIDS prevention for adults and children. Titled Affirming Persons--Saving Lives, the 1,000page document, billed as the first-ever comprehensive AIDS curriculum produced for church use, stresses that abstention from risky behavior is the best way to avoid HIV infection. But AP-SL makes no apologies for broaching potentially controversial matters concerning human sexual behavior, arguing that the church is on a "lifesaving mission" where "denial and silence can be lethal." At least 12 million adults and 1 million children worldwide are infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
AIDS "threatens to spread to 40 million by the end of the decade" and "can be slowed only through education," according to a November 30 UCC statement. Consequently the denomination's new curriculum is designed to "help individuals make informed decisions about sexual behavior in the context of Christian values," said Andy Lang, a UCC communication officer. Laura Lee KentSmith, executive director of the AIDS Interfaith Network of New Jersey, is quoted in the same November 30 statement as saying, "This is not only the first comprehensive AIDS prevention curriculum for churches. It's the best AIDS curriculum I've seen."
In the view of UCC minister William R. Johnson, who coanthored the AIDS curriculum with educator Cynthia A. Bauman, the document is rooted in biblical values and Christian community. "AIDS education should take place in a community where people of all ages can speak the truth in love," Johnson said. "The church has to move beyond denial and recognize that ignorance about AIDS is as deadly as the virus itself. This curriculum confronts the AIDS crisis in a context of core Christian values: self-giving love, healthy self-esteem and respect for others." Johnson, ordained as a UCC minister in San Francisco in 1972, was the first openly gay man to be admired to the clergy ranks of a mainline Christian denomination in the U. S.
Among the features of the new curriculum:
* Sessions are designed for use in church school and other settings for Christian education. Bible study, prayer and theological reflection are part of the lesson plans.
* Parents and teachers are encouraged to preview the curriculum together before introducing information to students; the program also helps parents learn how to discuss AIDS with their children.
* Lesson plans are included for all ages with factual information appropriate for each age group.
* AP-SL stresses abstinence, from both sexual intercourse and drug use, as the most effective way to prevent HIV transmission. It also shows how behaviors that increase the risk of HIV transmission can be identified and avoided.
* The program teaches decision-making and decision-keeping skills. Older children, teenagers and adults learn how to say no effectively to unwanted invitations to drug use or sexual intercoHrse.
* AP-SL is also a complete package for AIDS education and prevention; teaching resources include the latest research on AIDS from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and other public health agencies.
UCC officials admit that the curriculum is likely to provoke controversy, in part due to its explicit discussion of sexual behavior and its affirmative judgments about homosexuality. …