Reality Check: Why The Black Church Must Get Real About Sex And HIV

We are currently in the midst of a crisis and are facing a decision: whether we are going to choose...

We are currently in the midst of a crisis and are facing a decision: whether we are going to choose blindness and live in a Christian dream world surrounding sex, or open our eyes to the dire reality and follow the Christian calling of love, non-judgment and compassion.

The crisis does not surround whether Rihanna is dating Chris Brown again or whether to side with President Obama or Bristol Palin on the issue of gay marriage. The crisis is HIV/AIDS.

Christian leaders may point out that in their ideal version of the world, the HIV/AIDS pandemic would be greatly limited because no one would “fornicate,” commit adultery or engage in “sodomy.” In such a world, HIV/AIDS diagnoses would primarily be found among people who were accidentally exposed to infected blood and used medical needles — or in a worst case scenario their lawfully wedded spouses (who did not know they were infected). But we are not living in that world.

The Reverend Jesse Jackson’s extramarital affair which resulted in a child, allegations of Bishop Eddie Long’s sexual acts with underage boys, gospel singer Kirk Franklin’s admission of a past porn addiction and Sunday Best winner Le’Andria Johnson’s out-of-wedlock pregnancy demonstrate that even those who believe that they have been called to minister God’s word through sermons, counseling and music struggle with their own interpretations of the Bible’s commands. It should therefore come as no surprise that the followers and fans in the pews are similarly struggling. Chevonne Harris’s Ebony article Single, Saved — and Having Sex discusses this struggle and the decision that many young Christians have made to engage in extramarital sex while still expressing a steadfast devotion to their faith.

Given the harsh impact that HIV/AIDS is having in our community, the black clergy cannot continue to turn a blind eye to the reality presented in Harris’s article. Although the overall numbers of new HIV infections in the United States have been relatively stable, recently there have been disturbing increases in infections in some groups, such as low-income heterosexuals of all races, African-American men and women, and senior citizens. The estimated rate of new HIV infections for black women was more than 15 times as high as that of white women and the estimated rate of new HIV infections for black men was more than 6.5 times as high as that of white men in 2009. But perhaps the most staggering statistics are that 1 in 30 African-American women and 1 in 16 African-American men will be diagnosed with HIV in their lifetimes, if current rates of infection persist.

What should the response be to this phenomenon? I advocate that we must elevate the most universal, transcendent and inspiring aspects of the Christian faith to solve this health crisis by embodying the concepts of God’s love, self-love, human love, compassion and non-judgment as described in books such as Corinthians and Matthews.

Self-love, human love, compassion, and non-judgment dictate that each sexual interaction we engage in must be loving, respectful, fully-consensual and very safe. These virtues dictate that we raise our voices to encourage widespread condom use to preserve the health of the uninfected. These virtues also inspire us to support those who are infected such asTonya Raspberry (who contracted HIV from her husband) and my friend’s 13-year-old male patient, who contracted HIV after he and his boys “ran-through” a 13-year-old girl who knew she was infected when she invited the boys to have sex with her, but did not disclose it.

The young boy, overwhelmed with the lifetime of consequences that a fleeting decision has wrought, is currently taking both anti-depressants and anti-retroviral medications. There are scores of men and women like him, such as Atlanta HIV patient Terri Garnder, who trusted and had unprotected sex with people that they were dating. They deserve our compassion and non-judgement, the greatest test for those who profess to want to be like Christ.

Many of you will feel as if I am “preaching to the choir” because churches such as Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago and Progressive M.B. Church in Indianapolis have recognized the unique and historical position of leadership and influence of African-American churches and have engaged in HIV/AIDS activism for decades. Additionally, groups of first ladies and female pastors in Chicago and Los Angeles regularly organize widespread on-site health screenings for HIV/AIDS as well as diabetes and other ailments. But clearly, more can be done. If we sit around waiting for some other group to act, we will one day discover that we must become the ones that we have been waiting for. For many newly-infected, we will be too late.

The spiritual lessons we can learn from addressing the realities of extramarital sex can restore our faith in each other as we express the Christian ideals of love.

Contact the Danielle Ashley Group at 312-470-0270 if you would like to organize a day of health screenings among churches in your city.

Ama Yawson is a co-founder of, a romantic networking site for black women who are ready for love and men of all races who are ready to love them in return. A former banking regulator, telecom investment banking analyst and movie business-manager, Ms. Yawson was inspired to create because of her own experiences in discovering romantic love. Ms. Yawson earned a BA from Harvard University, an MBA from the Wharton School and a JD from the University of Pennsylvania Law School. She lives in Brooklyn , NY with her husband and son.

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