All around the country this past weekend, black Christian leaders used their sermons to explore a taboo topic: HIV and AIDS.
The NAACP recruited more than 100 pastors to preach about HIV for a “Day of Unity”, hoping to raise the subject’s profile among those affected at a disparate rate – the African-American community.
“Historically, the Black Church has been instrumental in driving change on social justice issues, including voting rights and employment opportunities,” said Dr. Marjorie Innocent, senior director of health programs for the NAACP, in an email to The Huffington Post. “We saw an opportunity, given this history of action, to bring this tradition of social justice advocacy to the HIV epidemic.”
Although African-Americans make up around 12 percent of the U.S. population, they account for about 44 percent of HIV diagnoses, according to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. In 2013, African-Americans accounted for 54 percent of total deaths attributed to HIV or AIDS that year.
The Rev. William Francis, lead pastor of Atlanta Faith in Action, said his congregation is located in the middle of an area with one of the highest rates of HIV in the country. Francis, diagnosed as HIV-positive in 2009, says it’s important for his church to emphasize that “there is no stigma or judgment attached to it.”
“We recommend routine testing for HIV just as commonly as we recommend screenings and care for high blood pressure, cancer or diabetes,” Francis told HuffPost.
The Rev. Stanley Stephens, who serves as president of West Side Pastors’ Coalition for AIDS in Chicago,say it is the responsibility of faith leaders to “provide pastoral care that is compassionate and non-judgmental to individuals living with HIV/AIDS.”
“Faith leaders need to increase their own awareness and knowledge about HIV through seminars and educational resources,” he told HuffPost in an email. “They also need to become more outspoken regarding the need for HIV/AIDS awareness in their congregation and community.”
Reporting from The Huffington Post