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Fact Sheet: Faith Communities and HIV/AIDS

December 1, 2000

American faith communities have launched the single largest U.S. response in the history of 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.

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


What Is a Faith Community?

According to the Council of National 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 inter-faith programs. Many programs originated in individual congregations and have evolved into separate agencies, incorporating multiple groups.

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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 these responses:
  • 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 a new HIV/AIDS resource entitled Many Threads, One Weave.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • United Methodist Church's AIDS Ministry Network operates the Computerized AIDS Ministry Resource Electronic Bulletin Board to increase communication among those involved with AIDS.

  • Presbyterian AIDS Network sponsored a national conference to train care teams in the support and care of the HIV-positive and their families.

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

  • A national newsletter is designed to increase communication and linkages among American Muslims affected by HIV/AIDS.

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

The Council of National Religious AIDS Networks can be contacted at councilran@aol.com





  
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This article was provided by American Association for World Health. It is a part of the publication AIDS: All Men -- Make a Difference!.
 

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