Illinois: Small Church Crusades Against AIDS

African-American church leaders in Chicago grapple with preaching abstinence until marriage while realizing that not everyone is acting on their message.

The Rev. Dorothy Williams, pastor of Chicago's Bray Temple Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, preaches the gospel, while acknowledging what goes on behind congregants' closed doors. "We're looking at saving lives," said Williams. "We're looking at saving souls, too."

According to 2009 Chicago Department of Public Health statistics, four times as many new AIDS cases were found among African Americans than their white counterparts. This month, a new city initiative began distributing 10 million condoms through nontraditional venues such as dry cleaners and beauty shops, but only 10 churches and faith-based groups accepted the funding and the challenge.

Williams successfully convinced Bray leadership to offer HIV testing. However, they are still debating condom distribution. "A lot of churches are still not open to that ministry," said Williams. "Some of these things people want to keep personal at the cost of hindering people around [them]."

The Rev. Doris Green, director of correctional health and community relations for the AIDS Foundation of Chicago, agrees. "I see the devastation in our communities. If [preaching abstinence] had worked, I would be with them. I don't see it working."

Green credits larger African-American churches with reducing the disease's stigma through supporting HIV/AIDS ministries, but says "small struggling churches need to be empowered with information and want to do the work."