N.C. Black Ministers’ Lack of Participation in Forum Does Not Show ‘Critical Nature’ of AIDS Problem
Forsyth County, N.C., had the second-highest rate of new AIDS cases in the state in 2000 -- with 72% of cases occurring among blacks -- but many black ministers have shown "indifference" toward the disease and its effects on their congregations, the Winston-Salem Journal reports. That indifference was displayed on Thursday at an HIV/AIDS forum for black clergy sponsored by Emmanuel Baptist Church, the local not-for-profit HIV/AIDS group HOPE and The Balm in Gilead, a national group that helps black churches and community groups coordinate anti-AIDS efforts. Irene Phillips, one of the event's organizers, said 45 ministers had agreed to attend the forum, where people with AIDS shared their stories, but only 15 people participated. The absence of the clergy makes it difficult for the black community in the county to form a "collective voice" on HIV/AIDS and "keeps church people from realizing the critical nature of the problem," she explained. Although several local congregations have started AIDS ministries and education initiatives, many have not. Attendees at Thursday's forum said the lack of initiatives was attributable to the fact that many black pastors do not see the disease as a "survival issue" such as poverty. They added that "taboo[s] about dealing with sexual issues" within the church community also prevent pastors from addressing AIDS. Many black clergy are "just as ignorant about [HIV/AIDS] as they were about lepers in Jesus' day, but they just aren't picking up stones and throwing them as they did in his day," Rev. John Mendez of Emmanuel Baptist Church said, adding, "We have to attack the taboos." According to Donna Budde, executive director of HOPE, the AIDS rate is particularly high among the county's blacks due to an increase in the exchange of sex for drugs or money and a rise in unprotected sex in general. She also noted that more people are being tested (Railey, Winston-Salem Journal, 2/22).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.