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Fact Sheet: Faith Communities and HIV/AIDS

December 1, 2001

American faith communities have made major contributions to the U.S. response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic, with programs organized by at least 5,000 formal and informal faith-based HIV/AIDS organizations. Their actions are creating new models for cooperation among diverse groups, including the forging of new partnerships among religious, secular, and philanthropic organizations. Faith groups are playing critical roles in HIV/AIDS prevention, education and support.

Increasingly, more faith communities are speaking out and embracing AIDS issues. However, some are still silent about the epidemic or paralyzed by the issues that AIDS presents.

What Is a Faith Community?

According to the Council of Religious AIDS Networks, the term "communities of faith" is defined broadly to encompass groups organized around any set of beliefs or practices that involve a belief in a higher power or order, a larger organizing principle for life and the universe, or a system or code that links our values and actions to the idea that there is reason and purpose to our existence on Earth.

Faith-based responses to AIDS take diverse forms and exist at all levels. Some involve single denominations or communities, while others are interfaith programs. Many programs originated in individual congregations and have evolved into separate agencies, incorporating multiple groups.

Faith-based programs provide members with a way to express their faith and give of their energy and talents. Interfaith programs provide opportunities to link personal values to those of others.

[See "An Interfaith Declaration."]

Local Faith Communities Respond

Most faith-based services at the community level focus on primary care or support services. Some congregations have included HIV prevention and education programs.

There are numerous examples of highly successful community-level services organized and funded by faith communities or interfaith coalitions. Ministries include meal services, food banks, pastoral care/counseling, shelters for homeless HIV-positive women and their children, drop-in day care centers, hospices, housing, support services, training of care providers, support groups, and substance abuse and AIDS education programs.

National Responses

In the spirit of social justice, many faith-based organizations have established national networks to coordinate AIDS services among their members.

Following are some examples of national faith-based responses to the HIV/AIDS pandemic in the United States:

  • The Balm in Gilead is endorsed by the seven historic African-American denominations. It provides leadership for the black church's response to HIV/AIDS in the U.S.

  • The National Catholic AIDS Network hosts an annual national Catholic HIV/AIDS Ministry Conference and has developed an HIV/AIDS resource entitled Many Threads, One Weave.

  • Dignity/USA is an organization of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered Catholics and their families and friends. Through its chapters, they assist those living with HIV/AIDS in their spiritual and social needs.

  • The Joint Committee on AIDS of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations and the Central Conference of American Rabbis produced the video, Jewish Responses to AIDS.

  • The National Episcopal AIDS Coalition distributed a federal report on AIDS to 100,000 parishes, diocese and schools. They designed HIV/AIDS prevention materials through their "Teens for AIDS" peer education program.

  • The Buddhist AIDS project provides free information and referrals to local, national and international HIV/AIDS resources, complementary/alternative medicine services, and information on Buddhist practices. Their affiliate, Buddhist Peace Fellowship, serves anyone living with HIV/AIDS.

  • United Church of Christ has written a full curriculum on HIV/AIDS prevention, graded for all age levels, from preschool through senior citizens. It is entitled Affirming Ourselves, Saving Lives.

  • The Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches HIV/AIDS Ministry Program focuses on issues such as HIV education, care, prevention and public policy issues.

For more information on faith-based responses to HIV/AIDS, contact The Council of Religious AIDS Networks at

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This article was provided by American Association for World Health. It is a part of the publication I Care ... Do You? Youth and AIDS in the 21st Century.
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