HIV has plagued our society for over three decades. Many who have contracted the virus have lost their lives and many others live their lives in the shadows of HIV. The fear of the unknown and lack of knowledge concerning the virus has caused a lack of acceptance and societal judgment. Unfortunately, many African American churches operate from the same mentality of societal judgment, even though Matthew 7:1-5 clearly tells us to not be judgmental of others because the same measure used to judge will be measured back to us. Judgment of other’s faults against our own can eliminate one’s ability to exercise empathy and compassion in any given situation.
The reason African American churches find it difficult to discuss HIV in the church is due to a level of fear and the absence of knowledge concerning the disease. This creates barriers for the African American church regarding HIV, and the disease becomes one of the taboo topics that are rarely, if ever, discussed in the church. However, if African American churches are to end the stigma of HIV, they must:
• Accept: Church leaders must accept the responsibility of setting the example, as Apostle Paul did in 1 Cor. 11:1. Leaders must be the example for their members to follow by receiving those with HIV into the church family without any reservations.
• Acknowledge: Church leaders must acknowledge that HIV is a valid disease that may plague some of their members and, through this acknowledgment, a well of opportunities for greater understanding of HIV can be established and instituted within the church. Then the hearts of the brethren can be refreshed (Philemon 1:7.)
• Instruct: Church leaders must teach their followers the truth regarding HIV, and dispel all notions of myths and stigmas that have plagued our society and the church for far too long. It is the truth that will bring light and liberty for all to freely love one another (John 8:32, Mark 12:31.)
When Clergymen and Clergywomen decide to place a high value on the importance of accepting, acknowledging and providing instruction concerning HIV and how it directly affects the church, that is when we will experience genuine transformation within the church.