From the Pew to the Pulpit: The Role of the Black Church in the HIV Pandemic
Haverford College. Independent College Programs
Place of Publication
Table of Contents
The HIV pandemic is increasingly infecting and affecting the Black community in America. Such a pervasive problem requires creative and multi-faceted approaches to stifle and stop its spread. Historically the Black Church has acted as a guiding light, a foundation of community and place for spiritual and material development for Black Americans. In this paper I will assess what productive role the Black Church has played and can play in the age of HIV/AIDS. To gain a fuller understanding of the Church's potential role I gathered information from a variety of sources: interviewing with Black pastors, HIV-positive patients and community leaders; attending conferences, plays and listening to radio stations; as well as reading a variety of literature ranging from self-published books by Black pastors to anthropological and epidemiological journals. Based on my observations and interactions, primarily in North Philadelphia, I have come to comprehend the most health-promoting roles for Black churches to play using two overlapping spectra. One spectrum looks at the "surface" issues raised by the pandemic such as HIV acceptance, homosexuality, sex education, and HIV-testing. The other spectrum looks at the more "deep-rooted" issues such as self-worth and empowerment that must also be addressed in order for individuals protect themselves from contracting HIV. Churches scatter themselves along the two spectra based upon their preachings and practices. From a public health perspective, I have concluded that the most healthpromoting locations for the Black churches to fall along the spectra are toward the more accepting, empowering, and comprehensively educational teachings and actions. Like many institutions, the Black Church is resistant to change. The relationship between the pastor and his congregation is bidirectional and sensitive to transforamtion, therefore one must be tactical and patient when coordinating the 2 movement of the church toward more health-promoting teachings. To facilitate and speed up the transformation I have observed four potential catalysts that will promote dialogue and development healthier attitudes and behaviors. The catalysts include, but are not limited to: the voice of the HIV-positive people, the exposure and involvement of Black pastors, the guidance of community organizations and the presence of community-based HIV researchers.