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HIV/AIDS Blog Central

Faith Leaders Become "One" Against HIV

By Candace Y.A. Montague

November 15, 2010

Faith leaders around the city discuss AIDS. Photo: DC HIV/AIDS Examiner.

Faith leaders around the city discuss AIDS. Photo: DC HIV/AIDS Examiner.

Faith leaders converged onto the convention center Saturday to discuss AIDS in the city. The second annual One in the Spirit symposium, presented by the Places of Worship Advisory Board to HAHSTA, was an opportunity for faith members to discuss, build networks and support one another in the fight against AIDS. The church is an important venue in most communities and people rely on it for a myriad of reasons. Faith leaders have been criticized for years about ignoring HIV. One in the Spirit offered several sessions on how to get more involved with the epidemic.

The symposium was designed to spur discussions about HIV, the stigma, and ways the church can address the issue. Some workshops were geared towards specific sub groups such as women and seniors. Others provided information on stigma and building an HIV ministry. The common theme among most of the discussions was a lack of communication and compassion about HIV. Keynote speaker Rev. Dr. James Forbes, Jr. President of Healing of the Nations Foundation in New York, stated that lack of compassion is another kind of illness. "There are two kinds of AIDS. One is the physiological condition. The other is more serious. The other is spiritual AIDS. It‘s a deficiency in compassion." Many people in the church simply won't discuss HIV because of the modes of transmission. This type of inaction is far too common and is part of the reason why DC's HIV infection rate has soared to 3%. The leaders in attendance on Saturday agreed that breaking the silence is an important first step.

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The lunchtime panel discussion talked about how churches can agree on how to support its congregants who face daily struggles and face stigma. The topic again boiled down to communication at church. Panelist Kendall Bentz of Christ Lutheran Church explained how people were surprised to see his church testing for HIV during their God's People are tested campaign this year. Controversial Rev. Willie Wilson, pastor of Union Temple Baptist in Southeast, stated "ministers learned to put everyday life over here and church life over here. God is concerned about every aspect of our lives not just the spiritual."

What remains from the conference is a definite plan of action. The discussions were healthy and lively. The conference itself was balanced with dynamic speakers and entertainment such as the High Steppers and humor therapy from Kris Miles. But there seems to be a lack of accountability among the leaders as to where they will go from here. What will these leaders do now that they have met? Will there be a timeline of dates and benchmarks that must be met? And what about the churches that still refuse to discuss HIV? How will these progessive pioneers draw them in? Clearly more work must be done in the area of religion when it comes to AIDS. The One in the Spirit symposium took the first step by simply opening the doors.

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Candace Y.A. Montague

Candace Y.A. Montague

Candace Y.A. Montague has been learning about HIV since 1988 (and she has the certificates from the American Red Cross to prove it). Health is a high priority to Candace because she believes that nothing can come of your life if you're not healthy enough to enjoy it. One of her two master's degrees is in Community Health Promotion and Education. Candace was inspired to act against HIV after seeing a documentary in 2008 about African-American women and HIV. She knew that writing was the best way for her to make a difference and help inform others. Candace is a native Washingtonian and covers HIV news all around D.C. She has covered fundraisers, motorcycle rides, town hall meetings, house balls, Capitol Hill press conferences, election campaigns and protests for The DC Examiner.com and emPower News Magazine.

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