Over the years, the Black church has been widely criticized for their moralistic attitudes and silence when it comes to the AIDS epidemic in our community. But here’s what we do know: There are some churches across the country that are tackling this issue from the pulpit and making differences in their communities.
Filmmaker Paul V. Grant’s new documentary, The Gospel of Healing Volume 1: Black Churches Respond to HIV/AIDS, which debuted at the International HIV/AIDS Conference in D.C. this summer, highlights some of these faith-based initiatives and discusses how our community cannot grow strong in the wake of AIDS without faith.
BET.com caught up with Grant to talk about his documentary, why he’s passionate about raising HIV awareness and what he hopes the film will do to inspire HIV activism in the Black church.
Why was this the story you wanted to tell?
In 2004, I co-produced a documentary for BET called Tangy’s Song! It was about an indie gospel singer, Tangy Major, who contracted HIV in the late ‘80s. Yet despite losing her son and boyfriend to the disease, she was still extremely grounded in her faith. She believed that she was healed spiritually—I was really struck by that.
So this film is a follow-up to that one. It explores how faith informs the work that church advocates do, and it questions could faith be the reason why some churches are doing this work and others are not? But most important, this film shows that our churches and mosques are doing outstanding work through innovative community partnerships. Yet no one really knows about them.
What are the churches and organizations in your film doing to address the epidemic?
These five organizations represented in The Gospel of Healing partner with local hospitals, universities and community-based organizations to increase awareness, provide regular testing and even offer basic primary care services in the church building. They also offer case management, counseling, support groups and in some cases needle-exchange services. Others are providing safe-sex kits, detailed sex and reproductive health education and abstinence programs.
They are special because their work helps to normalize HIV/AIDS, which is essential to eliminating stigma. If we can get past our fears and talk about it as easily as we talk about the flu, we will be able to stop the spread of the disease and do a better job of caring and providing support for persons who live with HIV/AIDS.
How are these churches dealing with the taboo topics that have made it difficult for churches to deal with AIDS in the first place?
We found that for the people we spotlighted, these issues weren’t difficult to discuss. Because these particular churches and organizations understand that some on level, they must be fearless in their ability to educate and be non-judgmental. For example, Rev. Sylvester Beaman, pastor of Bethel AME Church in Wilmington, Delaware, says in the film, “If you save a life, then you might also get a chance to minister to a soul. Did Jesus ask the woman with the issue of blood, ‘How did you get sick like this? Or did he just heal her?”
What do you hope this film will do for other Black churches around the U.S.?
That it will elevate the work that many Black churches and mosques are doing in our communities nationwide, but also inspire a new generation of leaders who will increase health literacy and access to health care in our communities.
View the film’s trailer here.
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(Photo: courtesy thegospelofhealing.com)
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