HIV and AIDS is not an easy topic for churches. It means they’ll inevitably have to talk about sex and — what’s even more uncomfortable for many — homosexuality.
“We have sort of buried our heads in the sand and decided that we’re not going to deal with it.”
That’s the Rev. Timothy Sloan of St. Luke Missionary Baptist Church in Humble. He is part of the NAACP’s “The Black Church and HIV” campaign and hosts HIV awareness trainings for other Houston area pastors.
Sloan says many pastors are also afraid of driving away congregants by bringing up the issue.
“But now we’ve got to move from that particular fear to realizing what impact it’s going to have if we don’t have this conversation.”
African Americans make up about 13 percent of the population, but they made up 44 percent of all new HIV infections in 2010. That’s according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Urban centers like the Houston area are especially affected.
The NAACP’s Rev. Keron Sadler says mass incarceration of black men and a lack of access to quality health care are some of the reasons why more African Americans contract HIV than any other ethnic group.
Stigma and lack of information about HIV and AIDS are others. And that’s where the black church comes in.
“When people are running for offices or our senators are running for positions, where do they come and go? They come to the church to have an opportunity to present or speak to the congregants, because they understand those are vast numbers sitting there that gives them a huge opportunity to, in one sitting, reach multiple people and multiple households and multiple families, so there’s great power and great influence that lies within the four walls of the church.”
More than 30 Houston-area pastors participated in an HIV awareness training at St. Luke Missionary Baptist earlier this month.
Sloan says he hasn’t been able to convince all the pastors he’s reached out to to participate,
“But we have had good success in the last two trainings because the ones that we have had out have left with great energy and excitement about addressing the issue and finally being willing to have a conversation about it in their congregations because they understand it better.”
He says after he learned more about HIV last year, he announced that his church would tackle the problem. He got a standing ovation during each service.
“And what it said to me was that the church has been ready to deal with the issue. It’s been the pastor who had negated the responsibility of dealing with this in a real prophetic way.”
Sloan hopes other pastors will have the same experience.