How the Black Church Can Help End the HIV/AIDS Crisis

Black Man with Open Hands (AP Photo/Branden Camp)

This piece originally appeared on August 28, 2021.

On this National Faith HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, we are all too aware that HIV/AIDS epidemic remains a looming threat to Black communities.  Decades of silence, stigma, and structural barriers to treatment and testing have allowed the epidemic to spread, claiming the lives of far too many of our Black friends and families.   

Despite significant advancements in medical research and expanded access to life-saving drugs,  Black Americans account for 13% of the US population but 42% of new HIV diagnoses. Of those, Black trans women and men who have sex with men bear the burden of the virus disproportionately. Without a renewed commitment to mounting an effective response against HIV/AIDS, the spread will continue, hitting our communities the hardest.  

As Black queer men of faith, from different generations, we see Black faith leaders as being an indispensable part of a viable response to this crisis. Historically, Black faith-based institutions have acted as beacons of hope, offering lifesaving and soul-saving resources to those who needed it the most. Leveraging decades of hard-earned spiritual wisdom/resilience and earned trust in the community, the Black Church has often marshalled its sacred treasure of resources to meet the fierce urgency of now. We need to look no further than the Black Church’s role in challenging chattel slavery, advocating for civil rights in the 1960’s, and speaking prophetically against police brutality.  

The current HIV/AIDS crisis requires that our community is enduring requires a similar response. Therefore, it is incumbent upon the Black Church to take an all-hands-on deck approach to tackling this crisis.  

It is not lost on us that Black churches have often contributed to the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS. Many of us can vividly recall the way some Black churches ignored the pain and suffering of those dying during the height of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the 1980’s. Many black Muslim leaders followed this same unfortunate path.  Far too many children of the Black Church died in isolation and without their faith community because of the stigma associated with the virus. Messages laced with homophobia and theologies rooted in the othering of those with HIV/AIDS are still commonplace today in Black sacred spaces. In some cases, faith leaders have led the charge on advancing misnomers, miseducation, and misinformation about the virus and those impacted by it. Thereby, silencing the lived experiences of those living with the daily realities of the HIV/AIDS and forcing them to the margins of the sanctuary.   

We can choose to act differently. We can choose to see the ongoing epidemic of HIV/AIDS in our community as the public health crisis that it is. We can act in ways that serve those most impacted by offering access to resources, testing, and spiritual counseling. Our faith traditions call us to embody radical compassion and our history demands that we combat stigma targeted at the most vulnerable among us. In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.” As people of faith, we are beckoned to pursue a more equitable and more just for all, regardless of one’s health status.  

As Black faith leaders who are also queer, we must demand that the humanity of those living with HIV/AIDS be nonnegotiable. We must see their lives as being equally as sacred and valuable as any other life. Anything less than this goes against the values that are universal to various faith traditions: love, hospitality, and service.  

The Rev. Frederick A. Davie is Senior Advisor for Racial Equity at IFYC and ordained a Presbyterian minister. The Rev. Don Abram is Program Manager at IFYC and ordained in the TK Church. They are a part of a team working with the Gilead COMPASS Initiative at Wake Forest University School of Divinity equipping Black faith-based communities with the tools they need to combat the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS.  

#Interfaith is a self-paced, online learning opportunity designed to equip a new generation of leaders with the awareness and skills to promote interfaith cooperation online. The curriculum is free to Interfaith America readers; please use the scholarship code #Interfaith100. #Interfaith is presented by IFYC in collaboration with


more from IFYC

Many content creators use their platforms to build community beyond their brick-and-mortar congregations, to dispel myths, break stereotypes and invite people from diverse faiths to get a glimpse into their lives.
IFYC's innovative online learning experience, #Interfaith: Engaging Religious Diversity Online, offers lessons on how to approach others online in a way that leads to building bridges.
Lessons from Thich Nhat Hanh, the person who nominated Martin Luther King Jr. for the Nobel Peace Prize and encouraged King to speak out against the war in Vietnam.
What Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk and activist Thich Nhat Hanh taught me about the power of mindful breathing through art.
A scholar of democratic virtues explains why Dominican monk Thomas Aquinas’ thoughts on hope are relevant today.
From covering spirituality in Silicon Valley to writing an online newsletter about her own journey to Judaism, reporter Nellie Bowles keeps finding innovative ways to reflect on religion and technology.
Six ways religious and spiritual leaders can help the internet serve their communities right now.
At the request of his editors at Religion News Service, Omar Suleiman writes about waiting with hostages’ families.
Regardless of what happens on Capitol Hill, the PNBC leaders said they plan to lobby Congress in March and register voters weekly in their congregations and communities.
King’s exasperation at self-satisfied white Christians holds up a mirror that is still painfully accurate today.
A day before the U.S. Senate was expected to take up significant legislation on voting rights that is looking likely to fail, Martin Luther King, Jr.’s eldest son condemned federal lawmakers over their inaction.
The congregation’s rabbi, Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker, is particularly well connected to the larger interfaith community and on good terms with many Muslim leaders.
For Martin Luther King Day, an interfaith panel reflects on the sacredness of the vote and the legacy of Reverend King.
In his new book, Princeton historian Julian E. Zelizer reexamines the life of Abraham Joshua Heschel and finds lessons for interfaith political activism today.
King drew criticism from Billy Graham, who told journalists that he thought King was wrong to link anti-war efforts with the civil rights movement.
Some are calling out historical injustices the church has carried out against Native Americans, even as others find their faith empowering.
IFYC’s Vote is Sacred campaign launched on January 13. Faith leaders, public intellectuals, activists, and organizers are joining to advocate for an inclusive, nonpartisan interfaith approach to restoring and protecting our democracy.
One out of five Muslims is in an interfaith relationship, surveys suggest. But few imams are willing to conform the traditional Muslim wedding ceremony to their needs, couples say.
In her popular podcast series, Corrigan invites guests to wonder about 'the elephant in America's living room': belief and religion. 'I hope I have a hundred more conversations like these in 2022 and beyond,' she says.
In his annual address to the Vatican's diplomatic corps, the pope stressed the individual's responsibility 'to care for ourself and our health, and this translates into respect for the health of those around us.'
The very people who have been subject to the worst of the United States have embodied its best.

The opinions contained in this piece are solely the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Interfaith Youth Core. Interfaith America encourages a wide range of views and strives to maintain a respectful tone with a goal of greater understanding and cooperation between people of different faiths, worldviews, and traditions.