NAACP is launching a campaign that calls on black churches to speak out about AIDS. The organization is releasing a 66-page manual entitled "The Black Church and HIV: The Social Justice Imperative."
A pastoral brief that accompanies the manual acknowledges that ministers may have reservations about addressing AIDS from the pulpit; however, it says, "This issue is too great to ignore." Furthermore, "The only way for us to help our congregations is to understand all aspects of HIV, so that we can help our community rebound from the impact of this epidemic."
NAACP recommends partnering with health organizations on HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment, and it compares the church's need to address HIV to Jesus' ministry healing the sick and advocating for the oppressed. The brief says, "As we make efforts to address the HIV crisis, the Black Church should not be a place where people experience HIV stigma and discrimination, but rather a place of healing, support, and acceptance."
The manual asks churches to dispel HIV myths including the incorrect notions that HIV primarily affects white gay men; one can contract HIV by getting tested for it; and active church members are not at risk for HIV. The manual points out, "Regardless of our church activity or engagement, as long as we are having unprotected sex or sharing needles in our communities, we are at risk for contracting HIV."
NAACP urges churches to be a "safe space" for HIV prevention and treatment, even if they have to start small: "We understand that incorporating HIV activism into a spiritual setting may be perceived as a difficult process, but it is possible to begin with small steps even in the most conservative environments."
[PNU editor's note: To access the manual, visit www.theblackchurchandhiv.org.]