Sunday School Lifts Ban on AIDS Patient

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A church that had barred an AIDS-afflicted child from attending Sunday school reversed its decision Friday after publicity over the ban sparked a community uproar.

The foster parents of the 5-year-old boy, who is being called Joey, were asked two weeks ago to stop bringing the child to Sunday school because several parents were concerned that their children might acquire the disease through contact with the boy, said the Rev. Irwin Lutzer, pastor of the Moody Memorial Church.

But Lutzer said that the church had decided to allow Joey to attend Sunday school at the church. Parents upset over his attendance "have the freedom to keep their children from attending," he said.

"I want to state categorically, lest we be misunderstood, that here at the Moody Church everyone is welcome," he said at an afternoon press conference. "We love Joey and we want him in our Sunday school and Joey will be in our Sunday school."

A small group of protesters marched in the rain in front of the church as Lutzer announced the new decision. They chanted slogans such as "Fight AIDS, not people with AIDS" and carried signs that read: "Remember Ryan White."

Ryan White was the AIDS patient who was refused admission to his Indiana school and whose subsequent fight against bigotry captured the heart of the nation. He died of complications from AIDS April 8, which was about the time that Walt and Terry Rucker were asked to stop bringing Joey to Sunday school.

"I'm pleased that they reversed themselves. . . . I don't feel any bitterness," Terry Rucker told the Associated Press. She said she had not decided whether to return to the nondenominational evangelical church on Sunday. "I have made no plans to go elsewhere," she said.

Lutzer said Friday that the decision to bar Joey had been made before Ryan White's death brought about a resurgence in publicity over the issue.

After Joey had been brought to Sunday school several times, parents expressed concern and the Ruckers were asked to stop bringing the boy temporarily while the church developed a policy, Lutzer said. Joey, who was born with the disease, was not barred from attending church services.

Lutzer said the decision to allow the child to attend Sunday school would shift the burden of dealing with the issue away from the church and to the individual parents.

He said that personally he would not have concerns about his child attending Sunday school with Joey because "I do think that the preponderance of the evidence is that (AIDS) cannot be communicated casually. So to me it would not be as big as deal as it is to other people."

AIDS is spread by a virus transmitted mainly through sexual intercourse, shared hypodermic needles and from infected mothers to their infants before or during birth. Health officials have said there has been no evidence that it can spread by casual contact.

Joey was the second person with AIDS that the Ruckers have taken into their home. Lutzer on Friday praised the couple: "Walt and Terry Rucker represent the type of Christian compassion and love that we would want to see . . . We could only wish that there were more people in our congregation who would do the same thing."

Grant Anderson, Christian education administrator at the church, said that the church's executive committee still had not formally approved the decision to allow AIDS-afflicted children to attend Sunday school. Before that vote is taken, church officials will continue to review literature on AIDS and possibly will meet with health experts.

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