MINORITY HEALTH: State Commissions Black Ministers for AIDS Outreach
The state Department of Health Services and a newly formed coalition of black ministers called the Statewide Church Advisory Board yesterday launched the "Church Outreach Program," an initiative "to produce Christian-oriented pamphlets, sermons and other teaching tools aimed at easing" the spread of AIDS among African Americans. The advisory board is comprised of some of the "most influential" ministers in the state, and the new program relies on community ministers statewide, the Sacramento Bee reports (Ferris, 4/22). Bishop Kenneth Ulmer, pastor of Faithful Central Ministry Baptist Church in Los Angeles, said, "There ought to be an intentional, deliberate inclusion of this issue." Bishop Charles Blake, pastor of West Angeles Church of God in Christ, added, "This is not a time for condemnation. This is certainly not a time for politicking." The program will steer away from theological arguments and moral questions and instead teach congregations how to protect themselves. The advisory board will encourage churches to create "HIV/AIDS ministries" and "devote at least four Sundays a year to talking about AIDS." The advisory board will select and approve all strategies and materials, but the state will underwrite their cost and "provide technical help and assistance from public health officials, and help with promotion." Vanessa Baird, assistant chief of the state's office of AIDS, said the program should cost the state no more than $40,000. "Many of the churches are already doing these kinds of activities without any type of assistance from the state. We wanted to have something that was more comprehensive, more statewide and would capture more people's attention," she said (Stewart, Los Angeles Times, 4/22). Naomi Goldman of the agency dismissed concerns over separation of church and state, saying, "These resources are going to be created by the church for the church. We're here to help them help themselves."
The program has already sparked debate over what messages pastors should be conveying to their congregations. The Rev. S.C. Carthen of Sacramento's Family Worship Center said abstinence "is the proper, Christian means of prevention." Others argue that an emphasis on protected sex has scared many ministers away. But Sacramento AIDS Foundation Executive Director Mike Lemon said such a stance is not realistic for teens. "I would hate for a child to be infected with one of these horrible sexually transmitted diseases and suffer the rest of their lives just because the options weren't open for them," he said (Bee, 4/22).