Monday, February 18, 2008

Black Churches to Address HIV with Week of Prayer

In a 1998 essay on his experiences as a CEO of Harlem’s largest AIDS service organization, Willis Green Jr. had the following to say with regard to black churches’ response to the AIDS crisis:

The church, Harlem’s source of pride and power, took on the same mentality as
those who were infected and in hiding. The stigma associated with AIDS and
homosexuality made church leaders hesitant to get involved and people with HIV
found themselves on a waiting list of problems to be addressed. The general
population’s changing attitude regarding AIDS showed increasing compassion toward people living with AIDS, but the black and Latino communities did not follow suit…Community mobilization is the greatest challenge for the community of Harlem, not only in terms of HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment but also for such other issues as politics and economics. The church must serve as the leader in this mobilization process.

The “Black Church Week of Prayer for the Healing of AIDS,” which will run for the 19th time this year from March 2nd to March 8th, is meant to build this mobilization process. The event is sponsored by the Virginia based Balm in Gilead, a non-profit group that seeks to get black churches on board with the HIV advocacy message. It calls on churches to incorporate HIV/AIDS education into their religious teachings, to turn their churches into HIV testing centers, and to encourage parishioners to volunteer with AIDS service organizations.

While some black churches in New York have partnered with Balm in Gilead, many remain resistant, as HIV is associated with what they consider immoral sexual behavior. Winning over these hold-outs is a challenge. Groups like the Harlem based “Gay Men of African Descent” are currently attempting to coax reluctant churches into the fold.

It is interesting that the Balm in Gilead does not raise the issue of homosexuality. Is this a tactical move? Perhaps many black churches are not ready to be welcoming to homosexuals. Or would Balm in Gilead rather not address homosexuality because of their own religious mores?

Either way, this approach may be the right one from a public health stand point. According to Green, many black and Latino men who have sex with men do not self-identify as gay. Thus, prevention campaigns that have targeted a gay audience have gone over their heads.

At the same time, where does this leave the struggle for the acceptance of gays in mainstream black culture? How long will they stay on “the waiting list of problems to be addressed?”

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Limits of the New Baptist Convention

The New Baptist Convention is Jimmy Carter’s response to the Southern Baptist Convention. Its participants include churchgoers and clergy who are put off by the far right politics of the Southern Baptists. The Southern Baptists take conservative stands on abortion and gay rights, and they exclude women from the clergy.

Many members of the National Baptist Convention U.S.A., a major African American denomination, were in attendance. Discussions centered around the need to do more to fight social problems, including universal health coverage and global warming, and the need to take these issues up in their local communities.

With regards to my last post, it interesting to note that while there are progressive tendencies within the Baptist Church, prevention of HIV or acceptance of homosexuals don’t seem to be top priorities yet. In fact, the following quotation from the Times Feb. 2 article is quite revealing on this score:

But many participants at the meeting said that they had to push for political solutions, and that their commitment to fighting poverty overrode theological differences over homosexuality or the ordination of women.

For the time being, apparently, women and gays will have to take a backseat in this progressive movement.

The New Baptist Convention is covered here:



HIV in NYC: Youngsters Miss the Message

Two recent reports on HIV in New York City show some alarming trends



First, however, the good news. Overall, new diagnoses of HIV in men who have sex with men have gone down by 4.9%. In fact, for MSM over 30, they have gone down by 22.2%.
Now the bad news. For MSM under thirty, new HIV cases have gone up by 33%. This indicates that young people are behaving very differently than older folks. Some HIV prevention advocates talk about “AIDS” fatigue, meaning that people are tired of the same old boring condom speeches. Others suggest that availability of AIDS medications has caused people to let their guards down. Public health experts worry about increased drug use being a factor, as well as increased prevalence of syphilis (the sores make transmission of HIV more likely). Whatever the reason, it is clear that some groups have gotten the message, and others have missed it. The department will have to figure out how to target younger people with the new ad campaigns it has promised in response to these findings.
Parsing the statistics by neighborhood is also revealing. For example, East and Central Harlem experienced a 115% increase overall in new HIV cases. Chelsea and Clinton 56%.
In the report, the executive director of Gay Men of African Descent (GMAD), Tokes Osubu, had the following to say:

“…We need an integrated approach across city agencies, social justice organizations and AIDS organizations, and a less judgmental approach by faith institutions.”

The last suggestion may be the most tricky. However, particularly in communities such as East and Central Harlem, it may be one of the most important.