HIV/AIDS and the Black Church
A Video Blog
By Justin B. Terry-Smith
December 2, 2009
I've always wondered why my community of gay black men has been hit the hardest by HIV/AIDS, especially in the D.C. area. Then I thought, there are a number of reasons why this is the case.
When HIV/AIDS first came out in the public eye, a lot of people of color automatically stigmatized HIV as a gay white disease. So they went around with this notion in their heads that they couldn't possibly contract HIV.
As time went on, that notion was proven wrong. In the black community, HIV/AIDS grew and grew and grew. And now we are living in a modern epidemic in our nation's capital, Washington, D.C. It is sad to say that as of early 2009, 3 percent of Washington, D.C.'s residents are living with HIV or AIDS. According to health officials, the 1 percent threshold constitutes a "generalized and severe" epidemic.
Black male D.C. residents between the ages of 40 and 49 make up most of the residents that are infected, with nearly a 7 percent rate of infection. Why are we not getting the message to protect ourselves and each other?
Let's try to start from the beginning. Back in the days of slavery, the church was a place of salvation for black people, because it was the only place we as black people could make the rules of our own place of worship. It was a place of sanctity for black people to let loose life's stresses and the stresses of working in the fields or homes of their owners.
Even years after slavery has ended, that place of worship still has remained a place to call home, a place to let go of life's burdens and feel love and acceptance.
But being gay quickly changes that love into hatred and that acceptance into rejection in the black church. Today many black gay men don't feel that the black church provides that love and acceptance they so long to have.
If a black gay person is born and raised in a church and that church rejects him or her, there may be damage that has to be repaired. There may be some self-esteem issues that the individual needs to deal with.
Think about it: The one institution that you held near and dear to your heart, mind and spirit has left you in the cold to suffer and die (spiritually). When that happens, sometimes people like to get their pleasures from other things like drinking, drugs or sex. Having your self-esteem diminished by an institution that you've trusted for so long can have powerful consequences -- it can obliterate you from the inside out.
Unfortunately homophobic black churches abound. An example is a church in my area, in D.C., that is run by Reverend Willie Wilson. His church, Union Temple Baptist Church, even reportedly receives funding for HIV/AIDS prevention and even had initial involvement in the Million Man March movement. Yet, Rev. Wilson has said some nasty things about gay people.
In a speech of his a few years ago (2005), he said,
"...Any time somebody got to slap some grease on your behind, and stick something in you, it's something wrong with that. Your butt ain't made for that. [In the background, the church audience voices its approval.] You got blood vessels and membranes in your behind. And if you put something unnatural in there, it breaks them all up. ...Lesbianism is about to take over our community. ...We live in a time when our brothers have been so put down, can't get a job, lot of the sisters making more money than brothers. And it's creating problems in families. That's one of the reasons our families' breaking up. And that's one of the reasons many of our women are becoming lesbians ..."
Here is the link to Rev. Willie Wilson's speech.
What I want to know is how can a church like this receive HIV/AIDS prevention funding? After all living in a homophobic environment is a risk factor for HIV! What sort of attempt is this at HIV prevention if homophobia is the norm in this church?
Why, in 2009, with such high rates of HIV, can there still be men of faith like this who are openly and proudly homophobic?
Unfortunately Rev. Wilson is not the only homophobic man of faith in Washington, D.C. Bishop Alfred Owens is also in the heart of the HIV/AIDS pandemic in D.C. His church is a large one known as the Greater Mount Calvary Holy Church. In his Palm Sunday sermon in 2006, he said:
"It takes a real man to confess Jesus as Lord and Savior. I'm not talking about no faggot or no sissy. Wait a minute! Let all the real men come on down here and take a bow ... All the real men -- I'm talking about the straight men. You ain't funny and you ain't cranky, but you're straight. Come on down here and walk around and praise God that you are straight. Thank him, that you're straight. All the straight men that's proud to be a Christian. That's proud to be a man of God."
You can listen to Bishop Alfred Owens' full speech here.
Instead of spouting this sort of ugly hatred of gay people, what these churches need to do is help gay black men stand up and say, "I love myself too much to hurt myself or anyone else."
This is my plea to these churches -- please help my community help themselves!
But all is not lost. There are gay-friendly churches that our gay black brothers and sisters still choose to visit on their Sunday mornings/afternoons/evenings, even in the Washington, D.C and Baltimore, Md., area.
Here's a list of life-affirming churches from an organization known as Operation Rebirth. Operation Rebirth notes that the churches that are part of this list accept all people, regardless of sexual orientation. So check out this list for a friendly, supportive life-affirming church.
Unity Fellowship Phoenix
2106 N. 24th St., Suite C
Phoenix, AZ 85008
Rev. Henri Eason
City of Refuge United Church of Christ
1025 Howard Street
San Francisco, CA
Bishop Yvette A. Flunder
Spiritual Truth Unity Fellowship Church
717 E. Pacific Coast Highway
Long Beach, CA 90806
Rev. Roger Quinney
Unity Fellowship Los Angeles
5148 W. Jefferson Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90016
Archbishop Carl Bean
Unity Fellowship -- Riverside
3386 Durahart Street (3rd & Chicago)
Riverside, CA 92507
Rev. Elder Claude Bowen
Unity Fellowship San Diego
3437 University Avenue
San Diego, CA 92104
Rev. Charles Lanier
Amistad Fellowship UCC
Rev. John Selders
Unity Fellowship Church Washington, D.C.
1226 Vermont Ave., NW
(Inside Luther Place Memorial Church)
Rev. Dyan Abena McCray, Founding Pastor
Inner Light Ministries
1525 Newton Street NW
Bishop Kwabena Rainey Cheeks
Greater Hope Christian Church
1722 North Capitol Street, NW
Washington, DC 20002
Rev. Dr. Paulette M.E. Stevens, Founding Pastor
Freedom Fellowship Christian Church
400 H Street NE
Rev. Kevin D. Brown & Rev. Patrick Maye
National City Christian Church
5 Thomas Circle, N.W.
Dr. Alvin O'Neal Jackson, Senior Pastor
Breath of Life Fellowship Community Church
6424 North Armenia Avenue
Tampa, FL 33604
813.935.9495 or 813.873.1889
Rev. J. Ricc Rollins, II, Senior Pastor
God, Self and Neighbor Ministries
743 Virginia Ave.
Atlanta, GA 30357
Rev. Dr. Kathi Martin
2001 Martin Luther King Dr., Suite 602A 6th Floor
Atlanta, GA 30308
1170 N. Hairston Rd
Stone Mountain, GA 30083
Rev. Kenneth Samuel
The Vision Church
P.O. Box 11324
Atlanta, GA 30310
Rev. Clay Allen, Senior Pastor
Pillar of Love Fellowship Church
9 Ash Street
Park Forrest, IL 60466
Rev. Phyllis Pennesse
2530 Frankfort Avenue
Louisville, KY 40206
502.262.4272 or 502.893.6323
Greater Bibleway Missionary Baptist Church
2940 Joliet St.
New Orleans, LA 70118
Rev. Dr. Toris Young, Sr.
Unity Fellowship Baltimore
114 W. Read St.
Baltimore, MD 21201
Full Truth Ministries
4458 Joy Road
Rev. Darlene C.A. Franklin, Pastor
The Palmer Park Church
950 West McNichols
Rev Darlene C.A. Franklin, Founder
Unity Fellowship Church Detroit
20846 Reimanville Ave.
Ferndale, MI 48220
Rev. Darren McCarroll-Jones
Greater New Higher Heights Christian Church, "U.C.C."
4657 S. Grand Boulevard
St. Louis, MO 63111
Bishop Dr. Wyatt I. Greenlee, Jr.
New York/Tri-State Area
Liberation In Truth Unity Fellowship Church
Trinity Phillips Cathedral
608 Broad Street
Newark, NJ 07102
47-49 New Street
Newark, NJ 07102
Rev. Elder Jacquelyn Holland
Unity Fellowship Church -- New Brunswick
235-239 Jersey Avenue
New Brunswick, NJ 08901
Rev. Kevin E. Taylor
Tawa Pano Unity Fellowship Church
758 South Avenue
Rochester, NY 14620
Rev. Kevin E. Taylor
Unity Fellowship Charlotte
127 Eastway Drive
Charlotte, NC 28205
Rev. Tonyia Rawls
Church of the Holy Spirit
1901 Lendew Street
Greensboro, NC 27408
Church of the Holy Spirit Fellowship, Inc.
2706 Winslow Lane
Winston-Salem, NC 27103
Pastor Roger E. Hayes
Truth and Destiny Covenant Ministries
Transforming Word Cathedral
Elder James L. Mills, Sr.
PO Box 1449
Bookhaven, PA 19015
Living Faith Church of the Full Covenant
3131 N. Stemmons Freeway, Suite E
Dallas, Texas 75247
Apostle Alex Byrd
Community Church of Joy
5311 13th Avenue South
Sojourner Truth Unity Fellowship Church
1710 11th St.
Seattle, WA 98112
Rev. Gwen Hall
If you're gay and need a place to worship the god you long to seek salvation with, then choose a church that is going to bring you up and not push you down.
To contact Justin, click here.
Comment by: Michelle B.
(New York, NY)
Mon., Nov. 1, 2010 at 6:51 pm EDT
Of course the church is not accepting of the gay life style. The thought is an oxymoron. If you choose to live a lifestyle, that is your choice. Why would you expect others to be accepting of it?! We have so many other concerns; people's personal lifestyles as it relates to sex should not be one of them. Take responsibility for your actions and cover up so you don't infect others is my greatest wish.
Comment by: BISHOP JOSEPH MCHENRY
Wed., Sep. 22, 2010 at 12:30 am EDT
DUNAMIS POWER INTERNATIONAL MINISTRIES , IS MORE THEN A SAFE HAVEN , FOR GAYS, BISEXUAL , STRAIGHT, TROUBLE TEENS, DRUG DEALERS, WE ARE A MINISTRY WHO MISSION IS WHOSOEVER WILL LET HIM COME. WE APOSTOLIC AND PROPHETICALLY EMPOWER BELEIVERS ON ALL WALKS OF LIFE TO EMBRACE THE GRACE AND LOVE AND MERCY OF JESUS CHRIST, AND BE READY TO BE CHALLEGE IN THIS LIFE BUT HAVE THE WORD TO BEABLE TO STAND WHEN THE STORM AND WIND BLOW. OUR MINISTRY IS A STARTING A HIV AND CANCER TREATMENT CENTER, AND A PLACE FOR OUR TEEN TO BE LOVED AND MENTOR IN LOVE AND POWER AND SUCCESS, AND WE WANT TO HELP OUR HOMELESS BE AT A HOME, I KNOW GOD IS ABOUT TO OPEN PROPHETICALLY DOOR THAT NO MAN CAN SHUT. GOD BLESS YOU BISHOP JOSEPH MCHENRY DUNAMIS POWER INTERNATIONAL MINISTRIES
Comment by: Brittany
Mon., Aug. 16, 2010 at 12:48 pm EDT
Reading this article is very alarming to me. It has really opened my mind to the stigma that faces gay black men and women. How could anyone who claim that they believe and trust in God say such degrating things about another human. Judging is not for pastors to do because they are also sinners. "Sticks and stones can break your bones but words will never hurt you"; it is the most outlandish thing i have ever heard. When leaders of our community say things like that it makes you wonder what are there motives. You can not change anyone's sexual oreintation. As a leader you should try and lead people in the right direction, you shouldn't broadcast your ignorance to the world. We have to support a persons decision if they choose to be gay. As humans we have to love them and protect them from hurt and pain they feel. Sometimes i just don't understand why people open their mouths to slander others. Maybe those pastors are feeling low about themselves and want to bring down others. And to the church congregation you don't have to say "Amen" and "Praise the Lord" to everything your pastor says. You are your own man or women. I am not gay or a lesbian but if i ever heard anyone make such ignorant remarks around me, there will be some words exchanged. Pastors should stop trying to be Hitler. The church people should stop being the Nazis. Because no dictator can dictate alone. The people of the church must stand up and fight because those pastors can not continue to do such things. We all have to come together and help one another out. This really has to stop and it can't just be one person. All of us have to ban together and fight. To my gay men and women i love you no matter what. Stay strong and no that there is some good left in the world.
Replies to this comment:
Comment by: Rick
Thu., Jun. 2, 2011 at 4:29 pm EDT
Thank you so much for your encouraging words. For gay people like me, we constantly face hatred expressed directly at us especially by the black church. It is nice to hear someone so elequently condemn that type of hatred.
Comment by: jacob
(new zealand )
Mon., Apr. 5, 2010 at 11:21 pm EDT
thank god u are so right even here and in australia there has been no churches i have been able to walk in to and speak the truth of who i really am and that i still love god want to worship... im 24 my man is blk jamaican we bothe grew up in church and hope for healing or for a hiv cure.. much love jacob z
Comment by: Fatma
Sun., Dec. 20, 2009 at 2:05 pm EST
Our governments n associated ministries continue to ignore the gay community and they still insist their number 1 priority is fighting HIV. As 4 our churches, magnify those experiences to x1000 and add in words like unafrican.
Comment by: Kirk
Thu., Dec. 17, 2009 at 2:52 pm EST
Honest and helpful post. The "Black Church's" silence, and/or callouse philosophy regarding HIV/AIDS has hurt us terribly. I hope others will heed your recommendation to attend "affirming-churches" and shun those that are hurting rather than helping.
Comment by: forex robot
Thu., Dec. 17, 2009 at 8:31 am EST
nice post. thanks.
Comment by: Marco Aurélio
(Recife PE Brazil)
Fri., Dec. 4, 2009 at 12:26 pm EST
Well done, Justin we need more of that work.
Here in Brazil the things are more difficult,
the "Assembléia de Deus" do a persecution to all of us HIV+, I'm looking for one church here to include us.
Hugz and many thanks,
Comment by: Joyce
(Little Rock, AR)
Fri., Dec. 4, 2009 at 9:25 am EST
It's too bad that these ministers are not following the BIBLE, which tells us plainly that we should not judge. We all should remember that we have no Heaven or Hell to put anyone in. Everyone is loved by GOD. So these so-called "ministers" are not preaching the word of GOD but making up their own BIBLE. Please don't let these people separate you from the love of God. He loves us ONE AND ALL. Pray for these people and pray that society will get educated about HIV/AIDS. And the church and Blacks will start to live the BIBLE.We all do things that are against the teaching of the bible but GOD still loves us. Remain strong young man. God loves you whether you or gay or straight, black or white. May God bless all of us.
Comment by: Jarrell
(Paw Paw, WV)
Fri., Dec. 4, 2009 at 6:11 am EST
There is another which should be included for the DC/Vienna area: http://www.bcfchurch.us/
It's Believers Covenant Fellowship. While not a Black church per se, they have many black members - they welcome everyone, and it's a wonderful church with an openly gay Pastor Dale Jarrett. I used to attend there before I moved too far away.
Comment by: Robert D M
(Loris, SC USA)
Thu., Dec. 3, 2009 at 9:01 pm EST
I only have one problem with this article. I am quite certain it is accurate. However, it should be stressed that average "white" churches don't take too well to HIV poz (&/or gay) people, either. I went through the rejection. It happens to whites, too. In fact, I have actually been verbally assaulted. I remember one woman, with her own visible deformities, criticizing me. She brought up "divine" healing, & that God could heal me. I agreed fully, & added that if it was His will so to do, great, but if not, I was prepared to continue enduring this. (Disabled: oxygen 24/7.) She pounced on me that I was not "speaking it correctly," that *I* was thwarting God healing me by displaying a "lack of faith." She went on to lecture me that she was already healed of her infirmity. I told her I didn't wish to offend, but to the best my eyes could tell she still had her infirmity. Her extremely self-righteous retort was "I'm already healed. It just hasn't manifest itself yet." How do you cope with irrational religious (dare I say it - truly crazy) nuts!? I never have, & that is why, to this day, at age 52, I avoid most churches. Even MCCs, but that's an unrelated topic.
Comment by: LJ
Thu., Dec. 3, 2009 at 6:18 pm EST
You can add Mile Church to your list. Please check out this link and come to any service that fits your schedule.
Add Your Comment:
(Please note: Your name and comment will be public, and may even show up in
Internet search results. Be careful when providing personal information! Before
adding your comment, please read TheBody.com's Comment Policy