Secretary of State, State Dept. Officials Meet With Black Church Leaders To Discuss African AIDS Epidemic
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other senior State Department officials last week met with some of the country's "best-known and most influential" African-American church leaders to discuss the African HIV/AIDS epidemic, the Los Angeles Times reports. The meeting -- part of an effort to increase the administration's "courtship of a politically powerful constituency" -- largely focused on how the White House's promotion of faith-based initiatives could be expanded to fight HIV/AIDS and help children in Africa who have lost one or both parents to the disease, according to the Times. Rice and church leaders discussed the possibility of creating an office of faith-based initiatives within the State Department that would direct federal funding to church and community groups working in other countries. Although the meeting did not result in an official financial pledge from the administration, participants said it "marked a new era of engagement by black clergy with U.S. foreign policy," the Times reports. If a formal initiative is launched, the effort could mean a "substantial expansion" of African-American church participation in White House-supported faith-based initiatives, according to the Times. The program also could move the current domestic focus of faith-based initiatives to a broader international reach that some church leaders say could make hundreds of millions of federal dollars available for U.S. churches to combat HIV/AIDS and "related social ills" worldwide, the Times reports.
According to Rev. O'Neal Dozier, pastor of the Worldwide Christian Center, Rice's decision to meet with black religious leaders gives them a "mandate" to shape the administration's Africa policy, the Times reports. He added that the group plans to meet again soon with State Department officials, according to the Times. However, Susan Rice, senior fellow in foreign policy studies at the Brookings Institution and a former diplomat who worked on Africa policy in the Clinton administration, said that a new initiative might "favor denominations that were politically friendly to the administration," according to the Times. "There is a huge pressing need for care for AIDS orphans. It's important to involve mainline African-American denominations ... so that the effort is not viewed solely as an effort at Republican Party base-building," she said. Rev. William Shaw, head of the National Baptist Convention, said the initiative should not be "simply another exercise of political operations. I am not closed to it." He added, "I need to see what fruitful comes from it and how nonpolitical it is" (Wallsten/Hamburger, Los Angeles Times, 5/29).
Sacramento Bee Examines Role of Black Churches in AIDS Fight
The Sacramento Bee on Saturday examined how African-American churches are increasingly becoming involved in combating the spread of HIV in the United States. Many HIV/AIDS advocates say the church is "one of the best ways" to reach the African-American community and that church leaders have "no choice" but to become involved in the fight against the disease, according to the Bee. "There's a stigma, but we have to get past that because there's the reality that people are sick and dying," Tecoy Porter of Genesis Baptist Church in Sacramento, Calif., said, adding, "Being biblically based, we don't accept the sins, but understand that we all have sinned. We don't throw stones, we throw love" (Garza, Sacramento Bee, 5/28).