100+ L.A. area churches join effort to position HIV as a social justice issue
HIV/AIDS and faith may be an unlikely pairing to some, but the reality is that African American believers and non-believers alike are impacted by the disease.
According to the Los Angeles County Department of Health, more than 49,000 people in the L.A. area are living with HIV. The rate of Black males infected with the virus is 2.5 times that of White males and the rate of Black females is 9.2 times that of White females. In Los Angeles, heterosexual contact accounted for 15% of new diagnoses among Blacks.
Recognizing that faith leaders can assist in educating congregations about the disease’s devastating effects, The Black Church & HIV nonprofit organization united with churches to launch Day of Unity to bring the epidemic to the forefront.
“Day of Unity was created to involve faith leaders around the country in the fight against HIV by preaching from the pulpit about HIV’s disparate impact on Black America,” explained the Rev. William Francis of The Black Church & HIV.
“We hope that by preaching messages of hope and grace that we will all come together from different faiths to focus on this issue and with all their (faith leaders) help, we can continue to harness the power of the pulpit to change the course of the HIV epidemic for African Americans,” he said.
More than 120 local churches took part in the Day of Unity on July 23. The participants included Pastor Curt Thomas of the Renewed Church of Los Angeles, also known as Renewed LA. Thomas offered several activities to enlighten his members about HIV.
“Our church shared information outlining the history of HIV and current statistics about the disease.
During the service, we had a video presentation, one of our members recited a poem and I mentioned HIV in my sermon,” said Thomas.
“I believe we all must do our part to galvanize people to fight the stigma and help educate people as well as ourselves. This disease doesn’t only affect one group of people, but it affects all of us. Women and men in all geographical areas are affected and we need to be aware,” he added.
The Black Church & HIV has made steady progress since establishing the initiative in 2013. The group has trained more than 750 faith leaders in 25 cities to address HIV as a social justice issue, conducted faith leader trainings in the 30 U.S. cities with the greatest HIV burden, obtaining formal resolutions from mainline denominations to incorporate HIV messaging into church activities, and integrating HIV-related materials into required course curricula in predominantly Black seminaries.
Francis, who has facilitated many presentations as one of the organization’s ambassadors, noted, “It is very rewarding for me to work with different pastors. When you look at HIV as a social justice issue, it reduces a lot of pushback. Churches are overcoming past reluctance and are really doing great work in this area. Every city that we have been has experienced great success.”
For more information, visit theblackchurchandhiv.org.