How the Black Church Can Help End the HIV/AIDS Crisis
January 27, 2022
This piece originally appeared on August 28, 2021.
American Civic Life
American Civic Life
On this National Faith HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, we are all too aware that HIV/AIDS epidemic remains a looming threat to Black communities. Decades of silence, stigma, and structural barriers to treatment and testing have allowed the epidemic to spread, claiming the lives of far too many of our Black friends and families.
Despite significant advancements in medical research and expanded access to life-saving drugs, Black Americans account for 13% of the US population but 42% of new HIV diagnoses. Of those, Black trans women and men who have sex with men bear the burden of the virus disproportionately. Without a renewed commitment to mounting an effective response against HIV/AIDS, the spread will continue, hitting our communities the hardest.
As Black queer men of faith, from different generations, we see Black faith leaders as being an indispensable part of a viable response to this crisis. Historically, Black faith-based institutions have acted as beacons of hope, offering lifesaving and soul-saving resources to those who needed it the most. Leveraging decades of hard-earned spiritual wisdom/resilience and earned trust in the community, the Black Church has often marshalled its sacred treasure of resources to meet the fierce urgency of now. We need to look no further than the Black Church’s role in challenging chattel slavery, advocating for civil rights in the 1960’s, and speaking prophetically against police brutality.
The current HIV/AIDS crisis requires that our community is enduring requires a similar response. Therefore, it is incumbent upon the Black Church to take an all-hands-on deck approach to tackling this crisis.
It is not lost on us that Black churches have often contributed to the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS. Many of us can vividly recall the way some Black churches ignored the pain and suffering of those dying during the height of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the 1980’s. Many black Muslim leaders followed this same unfortunate path. Far too many children of the Black Church died in isolation and without their faith community because of the stigma associated with the virus. Messages laced with homophobia and theologies rooted in the othering of those with HIV/AIDS are still commonplace today in Black sacred spaces. In some cases, faith leaders have led the charge on advancing misnomers, miseducation, and misinformation about the virus and those impacted by it. Thereby, silencing the lived experiences of those living with the daily realities of the HIV/AIDS and forcing them to the margins of the sanctuary.
We can choose to act differently. We can choose to see the ongoing epidemic of HIV/AIDS in our community as the public health crisis that it is. We can act in ways that serve those most impacted by offering access to resources, testing, and spiritual counseling. Our faith traditions call us to embody radical compassion and our history demands that we combat stigma targeted at the most vulnerable among us. In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.” As people of faith, we are beckoned to pursue a more equitable and more just for all, regardless of one’s health status.
As Black faith leaders who are also queer, we must demand that the humanity of those living with HIV/AIDS be nonnegotiable. We must see their lives as being equally as sacred and valuable as any other life. Anything less than this goes against the values that are universal to various faith traditions: love, hospitality, and service.
Watch or listen to the panelists in conversation for the Answering the Call: Black Faith Communities & the HIV & AIDS Epidemic webinar.
The Rev. Frederick A. Davie is Senior Advisor for Racial Equity at IFYC and ordained a Presbyterian minister. The Rev. Don Abram is Program Manager at IFYC and ordained in the TK Church. They are a part of a team working with the Gilead COMPASS Initiative at Wake Forest University School of Divinity equipping Black faith-based communities with the tools they need to combat the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS.