Religious Leaders Must Play Role in HIV Prevention Efforts, Opinion Piece Says
Addressing HIV/AIDS at a local level "demands a vigorous response from the faith community," Charles Jackson -- pastor of Brookland Baptist Church in West Columbia, S.C. -- and John Culp, pastor of Virginia Wingard Memorial United Methodist Church in Columbia, write in a Columbia State opinion piece. They add that "[f]aith leaders must step into action" to reduce the Columbia area's high HIV prevalence and that religious leaders "are concerned about attitudes and beliefs that foster fear, stigma and shame within our congregations and community." They continue, "We believe we are compelled to save lives as we continue our calling of saving souls."
The authors appeal to "political leaders" by calling for a "direct and honest conversation about HIV/AIDS prevention." They write, "The health of our work force can no longer be ignored. The cost of illness from HIV/AIDS is devastating rural communities, where easy access to HIV screening and high-quality medical care is already strained or non-existent." According to Jackson and Culp, "it is time to reduce burdens on the medical system by preventing HIV transmission in the first place."
The authors also "appeal to faith leaders to come together despite denominations, theological differences or racial composition and ask collectively what we can do differently to increase knowledge." They call for religious leaders to "educate ourselves and create new pathways within our churches, mosques and synagogues for parishioners to learn." Jackson and Culp also describe Project FAITH, or "Fostering AIDS Initiatives That Heal," a program involving religious leaders who promote HIV prevention. They write that during the two years of the program, they have "seen firsthand what positive changes can occur when faith leaders take an active role" in HIV efforts. However, they continue that the program's "momentum and ability to engage communities in these efforts will be hampered" by a potential loss of funding in July.
Finally, Jackson and Culp "appeal to the community at large" to support HIV prevention efforts and provide financial assistance for "HIV/AIDS ministries that truly make a difference in the lives of so many believers." They write that they "believe that helping slow down the spread of HIV/AIDS is truly a calling," adding that advocates can "no longer depend solely on the federal or state government to slow down the spread of this disease." Jackson and Culp conclude that as the U.S. "move[s] into a new era" of HIV/AIDS prevention, South Carolina should "serve as a glowing national example of how faith communities can truly heal a wounded soul" (Jackson/Culp, Columbia State, 3/12).