On July 15th the NAACP's The Black Church & HIV: The Social Justice Imperative initiative hosted a Day of Unity to bring together pastors across the nation to preach about HIV as a social justice issue, in conjunction with the first Sunday of NAACP’s Annual Convention.
African Americans comprise just 12 percent of the U.S. population, yet they represent 40 percent of all people living with HIV. 75 percent of African Americans say that religion plays an important role in their lives today, making Black churches an ideal place to introduce the topic of HIV as a social justice issue and share life-saving information about the disease with their congregants. The Black church is therefore in a unique position to address this issue and help reverse the disparaging impact that the disease has had on African Americans.
Plus spoke to Bishop Oliver Clyde Allen, III a religious trailblazer, author, human rights advocate, an international and community leader and entrepreneur. In 2015, Bishop Allen was appointed by President Barak Obama and the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services to the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS (PACHA). In 2016, He was appointed Southeastern Chair of the DNC-LGBT Advisory Board. Bishop Allen is currently a National Ambassador and consultant for the NAACP – Black Church/HIV Initiative. He is the Presiding Bishop and founder of the United Progressive Pentecostal Fellowship of Churches which oversees senior pastors, ministers, churches and faith-based organizations throughout the United States and abroad.
Why does faith matter so much to people living with HIV? I believe faith matters to everyone. Whether people practice a religious faith or not, almost everyone believes in something. I love the word hope. I want to celebrate those living with HIV who are taking their medications, remaining in treatment and living their lives fully and lovingly. I believe It takes hope or faith in yourself and the future to maintain treatment. Yet, there are many people living with HIV who feel as if there is no hope and struggle to have faith in the future. First, it is important for us to see and hear the stories of those who found hope in a higher power, God or just themselves to be able to make the necessary choices to live a healthy life.
On a separate note, do you find some folks are turned off by religion because it used to bash them? Yes, there have always been people and even groups throughout history who have been turned off by religion because of how religion was used to control, dominate or oppress others. However, it must be understood that religion itself has not bashed anyone, people have used religion to bash. Religion was used to justify slavery, sexism, racism and host of other social challenges in history. All religions, including Christianity, Judaism and Islam have been used as tools of hate. However, religion has also been used as a tool of love, justice and compassion. As a Christian, the Bible must be interpreted in ways that lend to unconditional love and compassion.
Have you encountered folks who are LGBT or poz who have been reluctant to return to church? What do you say to them? There are some who are reluctant to return to Church because of how "religion" has treated them. Yet, it is important to remember that every Church is different, just as every person is different. Some Churches are oppressive, some are inclusive. You must find a Church or community of faith that is loving, compassionate and inclusive. It is also important to find a faith community that is committed to having awareness about HIV/AIDS and provides teachings and activities that reinforce treatment, public health and prevention.
Were you the driving force behind The NAACP’s initiative, The Black Church & HIV: The Social Justice Imperative’s Day of Unity? The Black Church & HIV: The Social Justice Imperative’s Day of Unity is a day where faith leaders across the country join forces and unite in the fight against HIV by preaching from the pulpit about HIV’s disparate impact on Black America. The initiative felt it was important to dedicate one specific day to preaching about HIV as a social justice issue to increase the potential of reaching the African-American community with life-saving information about the disease and to deliver messages of hope and healing to those impacted by it. As an ambassador of the initiative, part of my role has been not only to preach about HIV and share these messages annually for Day of Unity, but also during the rest of the calendar year. Churches play a crucial role in lives of so many African Americans and the collective power of Black Churches across the country is powerful enough to play a significant role in changing the course of the epidemic.