HIV is killing the Black community one by one as the CDC reports the highest HIV + rates exist in the Black community. Black Americans account for only 14 percent of the U.S. population, yet they account for 52 percent of all new HIV infections each year. We are at risk more than any other group. Obviously, this is a social issue that could easily be addressed by the cornerstone of our community, the Black Church. Why? Because black women make up the largest populations in the predominantly black church settings. An article written by Theola Labbe’-Debose indicates that ‘black women are the most religious people in the nation.’ But with that comes the quandary of faith and sexuality. The elephant in the room. That thing. That belief. That church folk don’t have sex. Right? But admitting that church going members are sexually active is almost acknowledging that what’s taught scripturally is not being received. HIV is a touchy subject because initially, the assumption was it’s a gay man’s disease. With 52 percent of heterosexual women testing positive, nothing could be further from the truth. One in five people (adolescents and adults) in the United States are unaware that they are infected with the virus. So, the blind folded dance continues. Many churches (in general) are aware that many of their members are not abstinent, but find themselves in the precarious position of addressing safe sex or ignoring the reality of risky behaviors and praying one day their choices will change.
I’d like to challenge the notion that HIV is a social issue worth addressing and propose that the church is the perfect place to do so. It’s clear that the majority of Black women use their faith as a strength regardless of denomination. So, it stands that women who are carrying the HIV virus may be in your pew on Sunday morning. While we don’t expect teachings about sexuality to change, we also must acknowledge the risk Black women place themselves in when sleeping with men without protection, without regard for their self-esteem or physical health.
Questions to think about:
- Would you willingly get tested in a church setting for HIV instead of going to a clinic?
- Would you support your church creating a ministry devoted to those who suffer with HIV but are thriving in spite of the disease?
- Would you have compassion for someone with HIV just the same as a member with cancer?
- While your pastor, spiritual leader may not agree with risky sexual behaviors (as he shouldn’t), would he consider tailoring sermons to teach the need for “knowing your status?” as a part of honoring the body God gave you?
Bravo to the churches who are getting involved and tackling the heavy topic of HIV and not shrinking from the stigma that sex shouldn’t be discussed in church. If you’re a woman of faith, you may sit next to a member who is HIV positive. They may have even contracted it from another member sitting in another pew. Married couples are at risk if there is an issue of monogamy. It’s risky to connect the two topics of sexuality with spirituality but I’d rather have folk uncomfortable for an hour or so than living with a disease that will change the course of their lives. And if risky sexual behaviors is a constant for Black women, perhaps there needs to be more talk why the faith we cling so heavily too for our hopes and dreams, fades away when sex comes into the picture.