Life + Culture

AIDS, Racism, and the Church (Part 2)

In the previous post, we learned about the difficult issues with HIV and AIDS that our world faces today. We learned how treatment opportunities and outcomes are greatly affected by race and class, both in the United States and around the world.

So what does the Church have to say about the situation?

In 'The Moral Calculus of AIDS', Tamara Straus states that "solving the world AIDS crisis will require something that governments, international lending institutions and multinational companies...often lack: compassion and the ability to see beyond profit."

Is this not a role for the Church? We who are called to set aside love of money, for the sake of God's Kingdom. Let us prioritize policies that will help us love our neighbors by healing the sick, raising the dead, and curing incurable diseases.

Straus goes on to remind us that "racism also will have to be factored into such moral calculus." Christians cannot turn a colorblind eye to the racial disparities at play in the the AIDS epidemic. We must understand and combat racism in HIV/AIDS outcomes in the United States and take responsibility for role that Western colonialism has played abroad. Indeed, the rate of HIV/AIDS is highest in countries in Africa where protestant Christianity dominates (in sharp contrast to predominantly Muslim countries in Africa).

Christian racism, homophobia, and sexism have contributed to a sluggish response, limited health education, poor treatment options, making us complicit in the loss of life. We, as a whole, have had a tragic role in perpetuating homophobia, abstinence based sex-ed, and reducing condom use around the world. Indeed, while there has been some decreases in infection rates, research from Columbia University "found no evidence that abstinence and fidelity caused the overall decline of HIV." Instead, it was the increased access to and use of condoms, along with the high rates of death for AIDS patients (how terrible a reason!)

Rev. Bruce Davenport in front of his ministry's billboard ad promoting HIV testing
Rev. Bruce Davenport

So do we care enough to end it?

Rather than offering unrealistic remedies and platitudes, Christians must promote demonstrated solutions. We need to think creatively about our aid, such that we don't simply recapitulate imperialism or saviorism. We must actively relinquish our resources, and empower the affected.

We can learn from Rev. Bruce Davenport, "Da Condom Father," of New Orleans' St. John No. 5
Baptist Faith Church.  He and his team of volunteers go door to do every afternoon distributing condoms and HIV prevention literature. His daughter Tamachia Devenport wonders why more churches don't do similar work:  "How can you not help when, as a church, you're supposed to help?"

Rev. Edwin Sanders

We can learn from Rev. Edwin Sanders and his church ministry, the First Response Center. For nearly 30 years, Rev. Sanders and his congregation have provided HIV/AIDS care, and now the church runs its own primary care clinic. Their inclusive ministry emphasizes the ‘whosoever’ of John 3:16, even in the face of exclusion rampant in other churches.

We can learn from Gina Wingood and Ralph DiClemente who coupled the AIDS education they gave to adolescent Black girls with positive messages about the girls' racial and gender identities. Their work demonstrated that by doing so, they were more effective in their HIV-prevention education and that the girls gained stronger identities and self-worth.

We can learn from dozens of examples of churches doing good work in combating HIV and AIDS.

Gina Wingood and Ralph DiClemente

And we can remember that race plays a role. In an interview for the New York Times, Yale Laws School professor Harlon L. Dalton reminds us that "we cannot approach the AIDS problem in a color-blind fashion. Racism in this country enables people to not care for people who are not like them, so we are facing a dilemma in addressing the racial issue.”

Perhaps one of the most important roles for the Church is in combatting a reversing the stigmas around HIV/AID, stigmas that often have origins in Christian culture. Indeed, we can model our lives after Jesus, who stood in face of bias and bigotry to embrace those who were stigmatized in His own society. We can offer aid across the globe, and we can also remember our neighbors just down the street. We can love as we care called to love, heal as we are called to heal, and hope in the God who makes all things new.

Action Step: An important and simple way for the Church help reduce the effects of HIV/AIDS is to increase awareness and promote the use of PrEP. PrEP has been shown to effectively prevent  HIV infection (92% lower rates!), yet it is extremely underutilized. Help raise awareness so that those that may benefit can consult their doctor about obtaining a prescription. 

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