The sponsor of a three-day prayer vigil for people with AIDS said Thursday that he hopes the event will create a climate of openness among the religious community in San Diego, which he said has been "shockingly silent" about the deadly disease.
The Metropolitan Community Church of San Diego, which has a large homosexual congregation, is conducting the continuous prayer vigil and special workshops on acquired immune deficiency syndrome today, Saturday and Sunday.
David Farrell, pastor of the church, said many churches have been reluctant to address the AIDS issue because they are fearful of seeming to endorse the homosexual life style.
AIDS, which scientists believe is caused by a virus that destroys the body's immune system, has primarily affected homosexual men, intravenous drug users and recipients of infected blood products.
"The church usually overestimates its effect on public opinion in many areas," Farrell said. "In this case, the church is vastly underestimating the effect it could have in changing the public's opinion about this disease. If we unite in prayer around this issue, dealing with the pain and suffering, cure and treatment, we could create an environment in our society that will bring about a more open discussion of the issue."
Farrell said there had been a positive response from other church organizations in San Diego to participate in the prayer vigil, but that many pastors who planned to attend did not want their names mentioned.
Barry Crane, a spokesman for the Catholic Diocese of San Diego, said the diocese did not plan to participate in the vigil and said several priests that he contacted were not aware of the event.
"We hadn't received notice of the event, but there is no planned participation on the diocesan level," Crane said. "This is not a reflection on the event or the issue of AIDS. We are aware of the problem, and I would expect there would be a reaction or a policy (by the diocese) eventually."
Rabbi Martin Lawson of Temple Emmanu-El said he also had not been aware of the event, but said that the Jewish Reform Congregations had voted at a recent conference to urge synagogues to respond to the AIDS issue. "We would have been very supportive of the vigil," Lawson said.
Carolyn Owen-Towle, a pastor of the First Unitarian Church of San Diego, who plans to attend the vigil, said that the clergy has been able to ignore the AIDS issue by ignoring the issue of homosexuality.
"There have often been biblical justifications for ignoring the issue of gayness and lesbianism, and while we need to humanize this disease, I don't know that that attitude is going to go away very soon," Owen-Towle said.
A homosexual member of the Metropolitan Community Church who has the disease said most churches will have to deal with the issue of AIDS whether or not they believe there are homosexuals in their congregations.
"Even if churches don't think that they have gays in their congregation, they will have to contend with family members and their reaction to their child or brother or maybe a colleague who has the disease," said Paul Burdette, who was diagnosed as having the disease in August. "Those people need help and must be told that the Christian or Jewish or Catholic response is love and understanding."
Workshops on AIDS will be conducted at the vigil by the Mayor's Task Force on AIDS, Mothers of AIDS Patients and Women and AIDS in the church's social hall. The San Diego County AIDS Assistance Fund and the San Diego AIDS Project will also provide information and accept donations.