With megachurch Bishop Eddie Long in hot water amidst allegations that he had sexual relationships with several young men from his church, Long is taking a sabbatical from his work and his wife of 21 years is leaving him. With Long serving as the news peg, the spotlight is on the Black church’s unwillingness to broach subjects like homosexuality and AIDS now more than ever. For decades many members of the African-American clergy have indeed avoided talk of gays, lesbians, HIV and AIDS, and many others have taken a different tack, saying that gays and lesbians are sinful, and that AIDS is their punishment. Now, a Black reverend named Stacey Latimer is doing something altogether different, and warning his colleagues that the time to act against HIV is now, or suffer the consequences.
Latimer’s article, Attention Black Churches: Ignorance on HIV/AIDS Can Kill, is as direct as its title, pointing out specific instances in which gay Black Americans with HIV suffered untimely deaths thanks in part to their church’s unwillingness to speak with them openly, honestly, and fairly about their disease. An anecdote about a Baptist Sunday school pastor called “Marcus” (not his real name) is particularly sad:
When Marcus found out that he was HIV positive, he informed his beloved pastor, who directed him to allow the elders of the church to anoint him with oil and pray for him each Sunday until God healed and delivered him. Following the advice of his spiritual leader, Marcus did this for eight years without any medical care from a health professional.
Prayer didn’t help Marcus, and when word began to spread about his rapidly deteriorating health, people started to assume, correctly, that he was suffering from HIV. And that’s when the rumors of his homosexuality began to spread, as well. In order to fight those rumors, Marcus’s “friends” in the church convinced him to marry a woman, who Marcus ended up infecting with HIV. Previously he’d infected six other men. Marcus eventually died, leaving a trail of infection and sadness in his wake, due in large part to the fact that his church refused to face reality.
I’d recommend reading Latimer’s entire article here. If you don’t, the one takeaway is this: As far as we know, prayer has yet to treat AIDS and HIV. In order to truly help those dying from the illness, we have to do the Lord’s work ourselves. It’s what He’d want anyway.
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(Photo: LA County Dept. of Health/Landov)