Faith in the Lives of People with HIV

Olivia Ford April 26, 2016
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Has Faith Played a Role in Your Life with HIV?
Has Faith Played a Role in Your Life with HIV?

Faith, spirituality, traditional organized religion. All can play complicated roles in people's lives: providing guidance and grounding, pain or trauma, spaces of punishment or communities of redemption. TheBody.com's community members bring a plethora of relationships to these matters. Here, we offer you a sampling of voices of people living with HIV, recalling their own encounters with faith. 

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Bernard Jackson
Bernard Jackson

The first thing that I did when I was informed of my wife's diagnosis is … I went directly to my spiritual advisor, and I informed them of what the situation was. I relied, and still rely very heavily, on my faith to deal with this virus. … We prayed for each other. We prayed that our faith would continue to give me strength to deal with what I was dealing with. 

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Sarah Sacco
Sarah Sacco

I was driving across the mountains of Colorado in a snowstorm[.] … I was just one wrong turn of the steering wheel -- one nudge of the gas pedal or the brakes at the wrong moment away from plunging down the mountainside. It was sure tempting to just quit looking through my tear-fogged eyes and end it all right there.
But I didn't do it. I now believe that God was there with me. 

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DeeDee Chamblee
DeeDee Chamblee

When I became positive, I kind of denied it[.] … Did drugs, alcohol, prostituted[.]
[After seven years of denial] I found a group … where they had poetry and spiritual meditation and exercises like catalyst, Reiki massage, different things like that, that we could do to improve our whole emotional and physical being. 
I started going every day. And they started loving me like I was.

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Susan Mull
Susan Mull

In divinity school, we go take off our shoes, quietly pick any seat. The candles are lit. Nobody says anything…It's like mediation -- centering prayer…If you don't have peace in your own heart and mind, you can't go out in situations that are difficult and help others. It's almost created for how all of us say, no matter what we do, we're too busy. We pray while we're driving. 

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Shana Cozad
Shana Cozad

[The elders said:] "[W]e have collectively been abusing this planet. … [W]hen we do that … our mother [Earth] is going to give us a mirror to be able to look at ourselves. The mirror she gave is this small microscopic life form that has the ability to take our life away. … [I]t helps us truly feel, to truly understand what we have done[.]"

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Waheedah Shabazz-El
Waheedah Shabazz-El

Islam is a religion of compassion, justice and equality. This is spiritual work, and I feel as if I am spiritually guided.
But navigating my faith and my work can be complicated. I don't always bring my activism to the mosque. It's an inner battle for me to decide when to speak up and when not to.

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Dave R.
Dave R.

I cannot understand why any LGBT person can be a person of faith, if that faith condemns him or her for even existing. I hope that's not because of fear of offending God, priest or family, or fear of not going to heaven. I am, however, perfectly willing to believe that LGBT people are religious because they sincerely believe in the inherent and theoretical tenets of love, goodness and doing unto others as you would be done by.

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Rev. Andrena Ingram
Rev. Andrena Ingram

[T]here is actually nothing wrong with OUR faith. OUR faith is strong, until we run up against those in the church who are not educated and who are ignorant. Those people drain us, and as one woman said to me in the workshop the other day, "seek to break our spirit."

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Sherri Lewis
Sherri Lewis

Just the word "survivor" resonates, being a Jew. … The modern Holocaust has been AIDS.
[T]hough I don't directly know any family members from a concentration camp, all Jews are descendants of each other. So I am a survivor, and I am a survivor of HIV.
I do feel the power of prayer in the community of my religion. I respect the community because that helped me tremendously.

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Rev. Jeffery Haskins
Rev. Jeffery Haskins

I had three passions, actually, going on at the same time: I had the theater; I had AIDS service and I had church. You know? I had church. Which ended up with me becoming a minister, with me becoming a pastor, and trying to bridge all of them together.

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Rae Lewis-Thornton
Rae Lewis-Thornton

The easiest testimony on the planet is when God has done the thing you most wanted in your life. But can you love God in the midst of your pain?

Living with AIDS was an INCREDIBLE testimony. God gave me the greatest gift of all: the ability to live and thrive with an illness that should've taken me out of here many a day.

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Ibrahim
Ibrahim

I was so happy to read posts by HIV+ persons that demonstrate how Twitter can give them a chance to participate with no fear of stigma.

The spiritual tone of the Twitter posts by poz users is amazing and inspiring; their tweets express a strong connection to faith. Some of their tweets called upon their community not to judge them harshly and to remember that the core of Islam is Mercy[.]

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Marvell Terry II
Marvell Terry II

[T]he first place that I decided to speak out about my status was my church. That was the place that had developed me as a leader. That was the place that toughened my skin. It was the most natural place for me to talk about my HIV status. And in my early days, my work was in the church. Because I believe that the black church has a pivotal role in erasing HIV out of our community.

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Cecilia Chung
Cecilia Chung

It was very difficult for me [to talk with my mom about my HIV diagnosis], for many reasons. One was … Catholic guilt. Somehow that whole idea, or that internal chatter, all started to talk to me, and say, "This is what happens. This is God's way of punishing you. You transitioned. You're an abomination. This is God's way of telling you He doesn't approve."

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Ben B.
Ben B.

The archetype of the "shaman" is that of a "wounded healer" who almost lost their own life to disease, then turns around and helps others.
And my "shaman-radar" goes off whenever I meet another HIV-positive human being. There's something to be said about 1980s ignoring HIV[.] … It made the survivors stronger, more resilient, and most importantly, more knowledgeable.