The NAACP has developed a manual for black churches and pastors to use to speak to their congregations about the scourge of HIV and AIDS in the black community.
Presented at the recent NAACP convention in Houston, the guide is intended to help black churches play a role in combating the growth of the disease. African Americans make up almost half of all new HIV infections and are more likely to die of complications from AIDS than any other race. Many black churches have been squeamish to deal with HIV, but this manual gives the NAACP “Good Housekeeping Seal” to a discussion of sex and the disease, said Sheridan Todd Yeary, a Baltimore pastor who helped with the manual.
Shavon Arline-Bradley, the director of health programs for the NAACP, who helped oversee the manual’s creation, said the nation’s largest civil rights organization should be involved in the discussion of HIV and AIDS.
“People look at us as just civil right rights, and what they’re missing is that health is one of the most pressing civil rights issues of our time,” Arline-Bradley said.
Because the topic is wrapped up in sex and homosexuality, often taboo topics in the church, it has become hard for some pastors to confront the issue.
“Sex is not something church people like to talk about. It’s something they like to do,” said the Rev. Joseph Smith, the assistant to the pastor of the Alfred Street Baptist Church in Alexandria, Va., and one of the people who worked on the manual.
The guides suggest pastors talk about HIV in sermons, connect their churches with groups that serve people with HIV, promote safe sex and access to condoms, and organize church-based HIV screening drives. The manual also includes facts about the disease and passages from the Bible to serve as inspiration.
Over 250 faith leaders gave input on the 61-page manual during an 11-city tour conducted by the NAACP. A total of 400 of the manuals were printed, and they are also available online.
Earlier this month, Timothy W. Sloan, pastor of St. Luke Missionary Baptist Church in Humble, Texas, got a rapid HIV test in front of his church. After services, more than 160 people waited in line, some for two hours, to get their own tests at a church-organized testing drive. Sloan said he hopes other ministers have similar success.
“It’s imperative we begin this conversation,” he said.