A Christian Response
By Phil Reichert
Several years ago, a middle-aged woman came into my Tallahassee District
AIDS office and, without introducing herself asked, “What pamphlets do you have with
information on AIDS?” She had shoulder-length wavy, brown hair, rimless glasses,
a style-free brown dress that fell below her knees, and a face that neither had nor
needed much make-up. She didn't carry extra weight, nor was she someone who
looked like she needed to be forced to eat everything on her plate. By anyone's
account, her appearance was mediocre.
After I introduced myself, I queried, “Who is your audience and how many
pamphlets do you need?” She stared at me as if I were an alien from Mars and
grimaced as if to say, "It’s none of your business."
So I led her to several shelves stacked with brochures. “Ma'am," I said, "We
have something for everyone, pamphlets directed to a variety of audiences. Hardly any
groups are left out. Our goals are to educate the public about the many aspects of
HIV/AIDS, how it is transmitted, how to prevent it and what public health services are
available for people who are already infected.”
She checked out all the different titles as if she were a bird of prey hovering over
a chicken coop. I asked, ”Are you a health care worker?" She shook her head. Since
she was not divulging her occupation, I continued, “Are you a prison guard or sheriff’s
deputy who works in the local jail?"
She sneered, “Do I look like a prison guard?” She emphasized the word look.
“Not really,” I answered. “Can I have two more guesses?"
She laughed and said,” Sure, why not, but be more realistic?”
“Are you a social worker who provides services to the homeless? How about a
Still not forthcoming, she said, “No, but I’d like to take a sample of each of these
brochures, if that’s okay with you?”
“No problem,” I said, as I gathered one of each of the twenty, or so, brochures
we had in stock.
Included in the stack was a pamphlet directed toward Christians. It was one we
kept on hand because our health educators provided faith-based education initiatives in
churches. This particular brochure was titled, A Christian Response to AIDS.
Ms. No-Name No-Occupation studied it closely. “Is this pamphlet legal? Doesn’t
the Constitution speak about the separation of church and state? Why are Bible verses
included in this flyer?” Suddenly, she put on a serious face and her voice had become
I explained, ”Of course it is legal. We‘re trying to stop the spread of a deadly
disease in individuals from all walks of life. The pamphlet is all about love and
compassion for those who are suffering.” I further explained, “We are targeting a
specific audience with this brochure, similar to some of the other brochures you have in
your hand with titles like, AIDS in Prisoners, HIV in Gay Men, and HIV in Injecting Drug
Users. The audience for whom it is intended seems to think it’s fine. My colleagues
around the state use this very pamphlet in a strictly appropriate manner.”
I may have provided her with too much information.
I gave her my business card, and she left without saying goodbye or even thank
you, but clawed the brochures in her hands. She knew a lot about me, but I still knew
nothing about her.
Of course, in my naïveté, I thought that was the end of the matter. Little did I
know I would soon experience, in the words of the late Paul Harvey, “the rest of the
A couple of weeks later I found out a lot more about her, including her name and
what she did for a living . . . and so did several others. She wrote letters to the
Governor, the Secretary of the Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services, and
the statewide Chief of Florida’s AIDS Program. She was rabid with rhetoric about how
printing and using taxpayer dollars to finance this pamphlet was a breach in the
separation of church and state. I wondered how she felt about having “In God We Trust”
on all of her pocket money.
The result of this woman’s letter writing campaign was a statewide memo to me
and my colleagues which stated, “All brochures titled, A Christian Response to AIDS
shall be bundled up and thrown away, and no more shall be purchased.”
I forgot to ask Ms. No-Name No-Occupation if she took pleasure in meddling in
the business of others. Oh, but that wouldn’t be a particularly Christian response, would