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Sex, Abstinence, and the Church

Sex, Abstinence, and the Church


The only way to fully address HIV prevention is to talk about behavior. But for leaders of many black churches, the only behavior to discuss is abstinence. Sex before marriage is wrong, according to church teaching. Gay sex is even worse. The Reverend Roderick Hennings, pastor at Buffalo, N.Y.'s Zion Dominion Church, has no desire to protest the inclusion of safer-sex information in other people's workshops. But he is clear that it is not something he believes the church should do. 'Public health officials advocate condoms and spermicides, and I'm not against that public policy,' he says, 'but there is another level of morality and policy that is ecclesiastically based. Regardless of the standards of the secular world, we still have to preach what is right.' Some people, including Robert Fullilove III, Ed.D., an expert on HIV and minority health, are troubled by this stance, seeing it as an obstacle to developing the best HIV prevention interventions for African-Americans. 'We are living in a political climate where messages from the top of the Department of Health and Human Services on down focus on abstinence,' Fullilove says, 'and that is a message the church hears. But is it the message that will be most effective in slowing the spread of HIV among African-Americans?' Others think that to wage a battle over abstinence-only education would be to lose desperately needed support from the black church. 'I think we have a major war on our hands,' says Pernessa Seele, founder of the Balm in Gilead, an organization that teaches faith leaders about HIV. 'And I think that we must use every possible means of fighting this epidemic. So we need to support the churches that can and do support condom distribution, and we need to support those that teach abstinence. We don't have the luxury of saying 'This is good' and 'This bad.' Just look at the numbers.'

30 Years of Out100Out / Advocate Magazine - Jonathan Groff and Wayne Brady

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