5. The Church: Work in Progress
"The black church is no more awful [on AIDS issues] than other churches," journalist Kai Wright says. "The Catholic Church is probably far worse in terms of its global impact on slowing down progress. But the black church is uniquely important in the black community, particularly in the South, so that's why it's fair to talk about it."
When AIDS advocates talk about the black church, the word they increasingly use is "progress." This year, for example, Balm in Gilead expects a record number of participants worldwide in its Black Church Week of Prayer for the Healing of AIDS, which features sermons on compassion, HIV testing information and the launching of AIDS ministries.
Rep. Barbara Lee
Fortunately, there are clear signs that black churches are making an effort. In January 2006, the Black Church Summit sponsored by the National Black Justice Coalition drew more than 150 clergy members to Atlanta, Ga., to discuss homophobia and HIV. Led by Rev. Al Sharpton, who made headlines for a fiery speech that criticized the black church for "scapegoating" gays and "acting as the oppressor" to people with HIV, the meeting was widely viewed as the optimistic opening of an ongoing dialogue. Over 200 attended in 2007 and a third meeting is planned for April 24-26, 2008.
What you can do: If you're an activist, consider employing Carrie Broadus' strategy of meeting the church on its own terms: Learn to speak its language.
If you're a person with HIV and an active churchgoer, consider disclosing your status to your minister. You may find yourself not only accepted with open arms, but also encouraged to speak publicly to your fellow parishioners. Several HIVers in our Profiles in Courage section find deep meaning and do much good for others through their AIDS ministries.
If you're a person with HIV who has been rejected by, or feels alienated from, organized religion, consider giving it a second chance. You deserve equal access to spiritual care no less than you deserve equal access to medical care.
Check out Balm in Gilead for further information and resources on all these matters of faith.