Clergy Can Fight HIV On Faith-friendly Terms

An excellent article from Science Daily:

In the United States, where blacks bear a disproportionate burden of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, black religious institutions could help turn the tide. In a new study in PLoS ONE based on dozens of interviews and focus groups with 38 of Philadelphia’s most influential black clergy, physicians and public health researchers find that traditional barriers to preaching about HIV prevention could give way to faith-friendly messages about getting tested and staying on treatment.

The public health community has long struggled with how best to reduce HIV infection rates among black Americans, which is seven times that of whites. In a new paper in the journal PLoS ONE, a team of physicians and public health researchers report that African-American clergy say they are ready to join the fight against the disease by focusing on HIV testing, treatment, and social justice, a strategy that is compatible with religious teaching.

“We in public health have done a poor job of engaging African-American community leaders and particularly black clergy members in HIV prevention,” said Amy Nunn, lead author of the study and assistant professor of medicine in the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University. “There is a common misperception that African American churches are unwilling to address the AIDS epidemic. This paper highlights some of the historical barriers to effectively engaging African American clergy in HIV prevention and provides recommendations from clergy for how to move forward.”

The paper analyzes and distills dozens of interviews and focus group data among 38 African-Amereican pastors and imams in Philadelphia, where racial disparities in HIV infection are especially stark. Seven in 10 new infections in the city are among black residents. With uniquely deep influence in their communities, nearly all of the 27 male and 11 female clergy said they could and would preach and promote HIV testing and treatment.

That message, delivered by clergy or other influential figures, would provide a needed complement to decades of public health efforts that have emphasized risk behaviors, Nunn said. Research published and widely reported last year, for example, suggests that testing and then maintaining people on treatment could dramatically reduce new infections because treatment can give people a 96-percent lower chance of transmitting HIV.

“For decades, we’ve focused many HIV prevention efforts on reducing risky behavior,” said Nunn, who is also based at The Miriam Hospital. “Focusing on HIV testing and treatment should be the backbone of HIV prevention strategies and efforts to reduce racial disparities in HIV infection. Making HIV testing routine is the gateway to getting more individuals on treatment. African American clergy have an important role to play in routinizing HIV testing.”

The barriers clergy members face

Many religious leaders acknowledged that they’ve struggled with how best to combat the epidemic, particularly with challenges related to discussing human sexuality in church or mosque, according to the analysis in the paper.

“One time my pastor spoke to young people about sex, mentioning using protection,” the paper quotes a clergy member as saying in one example. “I was sitting in the clergy row; you could feel the heat! I was surprised he said that. Comments from the clergy highlighted they were opposed to that. It’s a tightrope walk.”

Many clergy members also said they face significant barriers to preaching about risk behaviors without still emphasizing abstinence.

“It’s my duty as a preacher to tell people to abstain,” one pastor told the research team, “but if they’re still having sex and they’re getting HIV, there has to be another way to handle this.”

What clergy can do

Many clergy members suggested couching the HIV/AIDS epidemic in social justice rather than behavioral terms, Nunn said. They also recommended focusing on HIV testing as an important means to help stem the spread of the disease and reduce the stigma.

“We need to standardize testing,” one pastor told the researchers. “One thing that we could do immediately is to encourage our congregations — everybody — to get tested. … We’re not dealing with risk factors. And we’re all going to get tested once a year. That’s the one thing that we could do that doesn’t get into our doctrine about sexuality.”

In general, many of the religious leaders said they could encourage discussion of HIV not only in main worship services, but also in ministries and community outreach activities.

FULL ARTICLE HERE

Some Good News

 

The Heartland Proclamation

by the Heartland Clergy for Inclusion

 

As Christian clergy, we proclaim the Good News concerning Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) persons and publicly apologize where we have been silent. As disciples of Jesus, who assures us that the truth sets us free, we recognize that the debate is over. The verdict is in. Homosexuality is not a sickness, not a choice, and not a sin. We find no rational biblical or theological basis to condemn or deny the rights of any person based on sexual orientation. Silence by many has allowed political and religious rhetoric to monopolize public perception, creating the impression that there is only one Christian perspective on this issue. Yet we recognize and celebrate that we are far from alone, as Christians, in affirming that LGBT persons are distinctive, holy, and precious gifts to all who struggle to become the family of God.

In repentance and obedience to the Holy Spirit, we stand in solidarity as those who are committed to work and pray for full acceptance and inclusion of LGBT persons in our churches and in our world. We lament that LGBT persons are condemned and excluded by individuals and institutions, political and religious, who claim to be speaking the truth of Christian teaching. This leads directly and indirectly to intolerance, discrimination, suffering, and even death. The Holy Spirit compels us:

  • to affirm that the essence of Christian life is not focused on sexual orientation, but how one lives by grace in relationship with God, with compassion toward humanity;
  • to embrace the full inclusion of our LGBT brothers and sisters in all areas of church life, including leadership;
  • to declare that the violence must stop. Christ’s love moves us to work for the healing of wounded souls who are victims of abuse often propagated in the name of Christ;
  • to celebrate the prophetic witness of all people who have refused to let the voice of intolerance and violence speak for Christianity, especially LGBT persons, who have met hatred with love;

Therefore we call for an end to all religious and civil discrimination against any person based on sexual orientation and gender identity and expression. All laws must include and protect the freedoms, rights, and equal legal standing of all persons, in and outside the church. 

Link is here

Limitations of Clergy Sexual Abuse Report

I haven’t gotten through the report itself yet, but there has been some welcome clarification on one point:

The researchers conclude that there is no causative relationship between either celibacy or homosexuality and the sexual victimization of children in the Church. Therefore, being celibate or being gay did not increase the risk of violating children. So, blaming the clergy abuse crisis in the Catholic Church on gay men or celibacy is unfounded.

Psychologists (and LGBT persons) have realized that this was the case, and despite their protestations, certain bishops and Cardinals have placed the responsibility for the sex abuse scandal squarely in the laps of gay priests. Not so. Completely refuted and repudiated.

Hopefully, for the last time.

Yeah, you’re right. Religious homophobes are unlikely to let this go….

The NCR has an excellent synopsis- and gives a critical eye:

Release of the John Jay College study on the causes of sexual abuse by Catholic priests signals the end of the U.S. bishops’ five-year, $1.8 million inquiry into the institution they govern and the priests in their charge. But the new study hardly quiets the fundamental questions that have dogged the church and its leaders since the crisis was first publicized in the mid-1980s.

The conclusions of the study were immediately challenged by victims of abuse, their advocates, and those who maintain an enormous archive of documentation related to the scandal. Among the reasons they say the report should be approached with caution or skepticism:

  • Questions persist about the reliability of the basic data that underpins both the most recent study, as well as one on the nature and scope of the scandal that was released in 2004, because the researchers relied principally on reporting by bishops. The reliability of such reporting is called into question on a number of fronts and was most recently challenged by a grand jury report that claimed that officials of the Philadelphia archdiocese had not reported dozens of credibly accused priests. Doubts about the reliability of the numbers were even given credibility by one of the John Jay researchers in a recent interview.
  • The conclusion that priests’ behavior was influenced by and reflected turmoil in American culture during the 1960s and 1970s is called into question, or at least qualified, say experts, given revelations of similar widespread scandals in the United Kingdom and several European countries. The dimensions of the scandal in those countries surfaced in recent months, at a point when the John Jay researchers were concluding research on the U.S. church.
  • The lack of any in-depth look at institutional dynamics, particularly clerical/hierarchical culture, an element some think is integral to understanding why and how abuse of children was covered up and tolerated for so many years.

Beyond the limited dimensions of the study — it covered the years 1950 through 2010 and concentrated on the behavior of priests — questions persist about the bishops’ role in protecting perpetrators and shuffling abusive priests.

Read the full story here. And when you hear that this crisis was precipitated by gay priests- you can comfortably tell anyone spreading this lie that they’re full of shit.