Sometimes, you have to save a life in order to save a soul.
There is no wonder why HIV/AIDS has become one of the most pressing public health concerns and social justice issue facing the Black community. According to a recent Kaiser Family Foundation fact sheet, ‘African-Americans account for more HIV and AIDS cases, people estimated to be living with AIDS, and HIV-related deaths than any other racial ethnic group in the United States.’ Black women comprise of more than 68% of the new HIV cases in the United States. Yet, African-Americans make up fewer than 15% of the American population. Among African-Americans, there are more than 20,000 HIV/AIDS related deaths per year and in some communities, one out of every four black Americans is infected and don’t know it. However grim and insurmountable these facts may presently appear, there is much being done, particularly by the faith-community, to eliminate the spread of HIV/AIDS among African-Americans.
There is no doubt that the African American community is a faith-driven community. Through slavery, Abolition, Reconstruction, and throughout the Civil Rights Movement until today, the Black church has had a long history of social activism and still remains the social center of black life. Today, many black faith leaders—including those who led and participated in the Civil Rights Movement– are fighting in the front lines of a war against their most formidable opponent to date: a silent killer that exists within the four walls of their sanctuaries.
The Gospel of Healing explores how, in our present age of expansive, suburban black mega-churches with multi-million dollar facades and annual budgets to match, small, nimble faith-based outfits nestled in rural and urban areas are leading the charge in serving and mobilizing their communities against the spread of HIVAIDS. Sometimes deploying methods that are effective, but widely considered completely against traditional religious thought, many of these organizations out perform their county and state-level public health departments in the battle to save lives. Their work includes administering needle exchange programs for intravenous drug users, passing out condoms outside of gay nightclubs, setting up mobile HIV/AIDS testing units on church premises and conducting testing events during church services. They are teaching prevention inside of prisons, hosting large-scale support groups for women living and aging with HIV as well as providing full-service primary care services on the premises of the church for persons living with HIV/AIDS.
Just as forty years ago, America witnessed black church leaders challenge systematic racial injustices. Today, many of these same religious leaders and organizations have answered the call again to bring an end to the denial, fear and ignorance that promotes the spread HIV/AIDS in black communities across the country. Their ongoing work builds on a longstanding tradition of progressive faith-based, social activism that began with abolition and the formation of the first African-American protestant denominations. It writes a new chapter of the African-American approach to ‘healing’ the problems of their own communities—including centuries-old problems that have lasted for centuries as a result of institutionalized racism and the American slave trade such as poverty, a lack of education, poor diet, emotional, physical, and substance abuse and limited access to primary health care.