CHURCH VIEWS ON CONDOM USE IN COOK ISLANDS DIFFER

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While Christian clergy in Africa are promoting condom use among their congregations, our local clergy are not amused.

By Mona Matepi

RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (January 13, 2000 – Cook Islands News/WeekEnd)--The Religious Advisory Council (RAC) this week said its stance on condom campaigns has not changed.

RAC President David Akanoa said the RAC does not support campaigns promoting condom use because of the message it gives to kids that it’s okay to have free sex as long as they use condoms.

The viewpoints of various Christian denominations in Swaziland and our own local clergy brings home the message that the issue of sexually transmitted diseases falls under the banner of education - both moral and material.

With the dramatic spread of the AIDS virus, conservative Christian clergy in Africa’s Swaziland state have shunned topics such as abstinence and chastity before marriage. Church leaders have switched to bringing about a greater awareness that AIDS is threatening to reduce their flock.

Rev. Solomon Nxumalo of the Methodist Episcopal Church said, "I wouldn’t be bothered if condoms were distributed in the toilets of my church. God would really blame us for not being actively involved in the fight. We have preached abstinence for too long, but the truth of the matter is that it doesn’t work. Why not then preach the use of condoms?"

COOK ISLANDS

In the Cooks, church authorities are dead against condoms and are also opposed to an idea from the Health Department for condom vending machines to be made available to the public. Again, they say, it would be giving kids the wrong message.

"People have to start being responsible for their actions, said Akanoa.

"They have to know and understand that if you have sex when you’re not supposed to, you might contract the disease. It doesn’t matter what denomination you belong to because the bottom line is, if we’re disobedient to the laws of chastity, faithfulness, and all that, we will suffer the consequences," Akanoa said.

Even those who are obedient, he added, are often the victims of the unfaithful partner. "But the answer to AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases are for people to stay faithful to one partner, not to have sex before, or outside of marriage," he added.

CHANGE OF MIND

In Swaziland, HIV is estimated to have infected up to a third of the adult population of just under a million people in the small southern African kingdom. It is highest among the young sexually active, and many have died from the full-blown illness.

The church’s change of mind was signaled by a recent mass HIV/AIDS prayer meeting in Mbabane. There, preachers addressed the crowd speaking openly about promiscuity and the importance of condoms.

The meeting was supported by an alliance of three organizations, the Swaziland Conference of Churches, Council of Churches and the League of Churches. Reports say it was a rude awakening to the fact that not only heathens catch HIV - God-fearing Christians are also vulnerable.

Awareness among Africa’s Christian clergy has been boosted by a series of government-organized workshops. Church leaders who wield considerable influence in the predominantly Christian country have become convinced of the educative role they have in the battle against the epidemic. In the past, many clergy have frowned on the use of contraceptives. Anyone using them was often branded as promiscuous or unfaithful, and AIDS was seen as a punishment from God.

The Roman Catholic Church, however, despite being a member of the Swaziland Council of Churches, maintains its opposition to contraceptives. Critics say its stand puts people including its own flock at risk.

SEX EDUCATION

"That is why the RAC has supported sex education in the schools all along, and more importantly at the secondary level," said Akanoa.

At the primary school level, he said, this should be the responsibility of the parents and should start in the home.

"Parents have to realize this is their primary responsibility," said Akanoa. But it’s the parents who’ve been the stumbling block in the progress on sex education in schools according to Ministry of Education officials.

"We had some opposition from parents - some wanted to pull out their kids from school if we went ahead with sex education so we tried to incorporate it as part of the Health curriculum," Kao Marurai of MOE told the WeekEnd.

Exactly how many parents are supportive of or opposed to sex education in schools, the Ministry has no idea because a fact-finding exercise to gauge parental views has not been done.

CHURCH VIEWS

Recently, Catholic officials helped launch the Hope House project in Manzini to care for terminally ill AIDS sufferers. Bishop Ncamiso Ndlovu, of the Manzini diocese, which encompasses all of Swaziland, said the ever-increasing prevalence of HIV/AIDS is a concern to all people. "The plight of the terminally ill touches all of us. Soon there will be no family in Swaziland which will not be affected by this scourge. We cannot ignore the facts."

Rev. Simon Mavimbela of the Swaziland Christian Church in Zion, an affiliate of the League of Churches, explained the churches’ reluctance to use words for sexual intercourse in a place of worship. With cooperation with the Health department, the church is now able to use the appropriate language in encouraging its congregation to practice safe sex.

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