Faith Letter

Dear Colleagues,

As U.S. religious leaders and faith-based and other organizations acting in the HIV/AIDS response, we join in support and observance of the first National Faith HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (​http://faithaidsday.com​), August 27, 2017​. Supported by events across the country and on social media, we seek to engage faith communities to work together for HIV/AIDS education, prevention, treatment, care and support, and to reduce and eliminate stigma and discrimination.

All faith traditions include exhortations to honor the dignity and worth of every person and care for the sick, poor, and needy:

“If you do not take care of one another, who else will do so? Those who would care of me, should care for those who are sick.” –The Buddha

“You are not obligated to heal the entire world, nor are you free from trying to do so.” –The Talmud

“I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” –Matthew 25:36

“Be merciful to those on earth, so the One above the heavens will be merciful to you.” — Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him)

“Noble have I created thee.” –The Hidden Words of Bahá’u’lláh, Arabic #22

While many faith traditions may include laws and teachings forbidding traditionally stigmatized behaviors such as extramarital sex and substance use that can put people at risk for acquiring HIV, most faiths also emphasize forgiveness, mercy, and grace in reconciling human frailty with religious and spiritual teachings:

“An assurance unto all creatures with love and affection and abstention from every kind of injury, acts of kindness and favor done to a person in distress, whatever gifts are made without the giver’s ever thinking of them as gifts made by him, constitute, O chief of Bharata’s race, the highest and best of gifts (dāna).” –The Mahabharata, XIII.59

“The whole purpose of religion is to facilitate love and compassion, patience, tolerance, humility, forgiveness.” –The Dalai Lama

“God is gracious and compassionate, patient, abounding in kindness and faithfulness, assuring love for a thousand generations, forgiving iniquity, transgression and sin, and granting pardon.” –Exodus 34:6

“Blessed are the merciful for they shall receive mercy.” –Matthew 5:7

“Correct and courteous words accompanied by forgiveness are better than sadaqa [charity] followed by insulting words. Allah is Rich Beyond Need, All-Forbearing.” –Quran, Surat Al-Baqara, 263

“O COMPANION OF MY THRONE! Hear no evil, and see no evil, abase not thyself, neither sigh and weep. Speak no evil, that thou mayest not hear it spoken unto thee, and magnify not the faults of others that thine own faults may not appear great; and wish not the abasement of anyone, that thine own abasement be not exposed.” –The Hidden Words of Bahá’u’lláh, Persian #44

We must accept, support, and care for our faith community members regardless of their histories and their current struggles.

Many faith communities have been and are at the forefront of the response to HIV/AIDS in a variety of ways.​ Faith communities and faith-based organizations have been and are a vital part of providing HIV/AIDS services, especially in hard-to-reach areas, and especially when government and community-based organizations were slow to act in the early days of the epidemic.

Unfortunately, some faith communities can also be environments for perpetuating misinformation and reinforcing stigma and discrimination against people living with or at risk for HIV​. It is our responsibility as faith leaders to educate first ourselves and then our communities to counter these damaging tendencies; let us strive instead to be havens for those in need, providing accurate, scientific information about HIV prevention and treatment, grounded in the language and teachings of our respective faiths. We have included a list of ideas for how faith leaders can educate themselves and actions they can take in the attached Appendix 2.

We call on faith leaders, faith communities and other organizations to join the observance of National Faith HIV/AIDS Awareness Day​ and hope that you and your community will find a way to contribute to this year’s observance and incorporate HIV education and advocacy throughout the year. We pray that each of our faith communities can be a welcoming and safe place for any person with HIV/AIDS and an uplifting environment that will support people’s use of effective HIV prevention.​ Please join the conversation at:

Prayerfully,
The National Faith HIV/AIDS Awareness Day Task Force

Appendix 1: Task Force Members

Imam Abdul Malik, Malik Speaks, New York City, NY
Khadijah Abdullah, RAHMA (Reaching All HIV+ Muslims In America), Washington, DC
Advocates for Youth, Washington, DC
Elder Dr. David Barstow, EMPACT Africa, Austin, TX
Ulysses Burley, UBtheCure, Chicago, IL
Barbara Chinn, AIDS Healthcare Foundation, Washington, DC
Dana Cropper, Health HIV, Washington, DC
Mary Degrezia, University of Maryland School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD
Denisha DeLane, Allen Temple AIDS Ministry, Oakland, CA
Erin Donovan, HopeSprings, Baltimore, MD
Sravan Duggaraju, Hindu Temple Of Virginia (Ex President), Sterling, Virginia
Linus Ayangwoh Embe, Association for Community Awareness, Cameroon, Africa
Darnell Ferrell, AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP) Advocacy Association, Marrero, LA
Pastor William Francis, The Afia Center, Atlanta, GA
Gerald Garth, Black AIDS Institute, Los Angeles, CA
Cary Goodman, Balm in Gilead, Richmond, VA
Regina Jefferson, Places of Worship Advisory Board (POWAB), Washington, DC
Bryan Jones, RAHMA (Reaching All HIV+ Muslims In America), Cleveland, OH
Michael C Keefer MD, University of Rochester, Rochester, NY
Elder George Kerr, Presbyterian AIDS Network (PAN) PHEWA, PC USA, Washington, DC
Dr. Katharine Kripke, member of the Bahá’í Faith, Washington, DC
Erica Lillquist, Black AIDS Institute, Los Angeles, CA
Erica Martin, Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, Washington, DC
Dr. Tosha Meredith, Kingdom International Ministries Virtual Church, Atlanta, GA
Rev. Darryl! LC Moch, Inner Light Ministries & POWAB Co-chair, Washington, DC
Nadiah Mohajir, HEART Women and Girls, Chicago, IL
Christina Tobias-Nahi, Islamic Relief USA, Alexandria, VA
Sultana Ocasio, Muslim Women’s Institute for Research and Development, Bronx, NY
Ian Pomerantz, United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, Boston, MA
Imam Bilal Prather, Millati Islami (Path of Peace), Muslim Human Services, Washington, DC
Cedric Pulliam, U.S. Department of State, Washington, DC
Dr. Sohail Rana, Howard University, Washington, DC
Sabrina Rewald, National LGBT Task Force, Washington, DC
Josh Riley, Whitman-Walker Health, Washington, DC
Ven. Sagarananda, US Zen Institute, Germantown, MD
Dhammadipa Sak, Abbot of US Zen Institute and Wisdom Temple, Germantown, MD
Barbara Satin, National LGBTQ Task Force, Minneapolis, MN
Rev. Michael Schuenemeyer, United Church of Christ HIV & AIDS Network, Cleveland, OH
Trina Scott, Women of Color Sexual Health Network, Washington, DC
Sylvie Sun, Buddhist Global Relief, Carmel, NY
Marvell Terrell, Human Rights Campaign, Washington, DC
Pastor Curt D. Thomas, Renewed LA, Los Angeles, CA
Eishelle Tillery, National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS, New York, NY
Kayla Tolbert, Islamic Relief USA, Alexandria, VA
Carol Tyrell, NYSDOH, AIDS Institute, Faith Communities Project, Albany, NY

Appendix 2: Ways for faith communities to educate ourselves and get involved

 

As faith leaders, we can educate ourselves about HIV and AIDS in a number of ways (1):

● Researching local and international HIV issues

● Attending city and state health department trainings

● Attending conferences

● Speaking with HIV nursing & medical experts

● Listening to and learning directly from people living with HIV

● Networking with or volunteering for reputable community-based HIV outreach organizations

Some examples of actions we can take within our communities include (1)

Educating ourselves and others

● Providing educational information about HIV/AIDS in community bulletins and newsletters, including specific information about pre-exposure prophylaxis, post-exposure prophylaxis, and treatment as prevention.

● Inviting people that are HIV positive to speak to the community about living well with HIV & how we are all affected by HIV

● Hosting trainings for the community on HIV/AIDS, including information about the impact in our respective cities

● Hosting HIV conferences that bring together local service organizations & faith communities

● Incorporating HIV education into other community activities, such as youth groups

● Meeting one-on-one with faith community members

● Meeting one-on-one with other religious leaders

● Facilitating large-scale HIV educational sessions specifically for religious leaders

Prayer and devotional activities

● Participating in the National Week of Prayer for the Healing of AIDS

● Holding HIV-focused prayer meetings on a regular basis

● Incorporating prayers for those living with or affected by HIV in our services on a regular basis

● Incorporating messages about reducing HIV stigma into sermons and other talks

● Encouraging our communities to create artistic expressions that represent the teachings of our respective faiths related to healing and care, and weaving in messages about HIV/AIDS Showing our faith to the world

● Volunteering and encouraging our community members to volunteer with local HIV service

organizations and health fairs

● Taking a special offering for faith-based groups that are working in HIV

● Getting involved with national seminars on HIV/AIDS, local or state Faith Based Community Initiative Offices and local or state health departments

● Organizing letter-writing and phone campaigns to advocate for funding for HIV/AIDS prevention, care, and treatment programs in the US and abroad

● Creating action plans for reaching those living with and affected by HIV

● Providing regular HIV testing days and education booths for our faith communities

● Holding health fairs that include HIV testing & linkage to care services

● Sponsoring National Faith HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (1) (http://faithaidsday.com/become-a-sponsor/)

Adapted from: DeGrezia, M., Scrandis, D., Baker, D., & Massey, C. (2015, November). Local religious leaders’ experiences with HIV outreach. Poster presented at the 6th International Conference on Stigma, Washington, D.C. Original source: HopeSprings: equipping to eradicate HIV. (2011). http://hopesprings.org