By: Albertus Magnus Re: Aids and Christ [This was sent out by the Episcopal News Service o

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By: Albertus Magnus Re: Aids and Christ [This was sent out by the Episcopal News Service on 3/16/95.] AIDS PAINTING AT CAPE TOWN CATHEDRAL SPARKS CONTROVERSY By James H. Thrall, deputy director of news and information for the Episcopal Church (ENS) The idea, thought painter W. Maxwell Lawton, was as old as Isaiah and reinforced by the New Testament. But when he linked the ancient image of the "suffering Christ" or Christ as the "man of sorrows" with the modern plight of persons living with AIDS, the resulting painting touched off a furor. Lawton, who has AIDS, painted the image during a visit to South Africa as artist-in-residence at St. George's Anglican Cathedral in the Diocese of Cape Town. Critics charged that the picture, which shows Christ covered with lesions and hooked to intravenous and oxygen tubes, was blasphemous. Some threatened to destroy it. Others, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu of the Province of Southern Africa and the local leaders of other denominations, defended the painting as both effective and theologically correct. Tutu said the painting challenged people to think about their faith and their conception of Jesus, reported John Allen, his media liaison officer. "He feels that victims of AIDS should be welcomed into the church and not isolated and excluded," he said. A graduate student at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington D.C., Lawton was a guest of Wola Nani, an AIDS-support organization associated with St. George's Cathedral, and sponsored as well by the Episcopal Caring Response to AIDS in the Diocese of Washington, a companion diocese with Cape Town. AN ICON OF THEIR OWN "People with AIDS need to have an icon of their own," said Lawton. "They need to know it's OK to live with AIDS, that it's not necessarily a death threat. For a lot of people with AIDS, they need hope." Lawton admitted that his image "does push some buttons," but said he didn't expect the response to be quite so dramatic. "It really woke some people up," he said. "I certainly don't apologize for the painting," he added, comparing his work to the words of a "prophet in the Old Testament that would shock people into a righteous response." Those who "see AIDS as God's judgement on people" react negatively, he said. For them, "certainly God isn't going to be included in the plague," he said. "They don't want to see God portrayed as an IV- drug user or as homosexual or as whatever." When he displayed an earlier version of the painting at churches and a seminary in the Washington, D.C. area, the most positive reactions came from "theologians and ministers who understand the image of the suffering servant," he said. At least one Episcopal church, however, "several people got into verbal arguments over the painting."

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