GAA: A Unique Response to HIV/AIDS

Since 1997, Gospel Against AIDS (GAA)/Global Research Education and Training Networks (GREATNES) has generated an amazing portfolio of work, outreach, education, advocacy – and now testing and counseling – in urban and rural areas throughout the state of Michigan.   GAA/GREATNES is unique among faith-based communities in the provision of evidence based programs that effectively and significantly changes fear to action among congregations and communities who receive and process transformative curriculums of HIV pathogenesis, prevention and treatment in faith congregations and communities. 

 

Besides prevention education, GAA/GREATNESS was moved to respond to draconian cuts of 50% in HIV services in the state of Michigan during the reformulation of CARE act dollars (2010-2013) to move away from communities successfully reducing new cases of HIV to follow communities with increases in new cases of HIV infection, increases in more people living with HIV, and fewer deaths associated with HIV infection.  While dollars follow the epidemic, there are dramatically fewer funded resources to support communities that continue to show these reductions.  In March of 2012, GAA/GREATNES received its state certification to provide conventional HIV CTR in the State of Michigan. This was the first time a faith-based agency in the State of Michigan received this designation. In May 2013, GAA/GREATNES became a state certified Rapid Testing site. From May 2013 – August 2013, GAA/GREATNES has tested over 300 individuals in 15 houses of worship. Of that number 7 of the 15 houses of worship have become permanent HIV testing sites; five of those houses of worship distribute condoms.  In a time of continued reductions for HIV services, one organization - GAA/GREATNES has tripled the number of Detroit based testing sites within two years. A handful of programs stands between current low rates and a new epidemic of increased HIV infection rates.  As CDC funds continue to follow the epidemic, we hold out hope that programs like GAA/GREATNES receive more, not less financial support. 


Dr. Larry Gant

Professor of Social Work, School of Social Work, and Professor of Art and Design, School of Art and Design

Gospel Against AIDS Board Member


Condoms and the Cross

Is it possible to righteously use these two words in the same sentence? Condoms and the cross. The former labeled by the church a sign of human depravity and immorality, our fall from grace and God’s disappointment in our loss of purity. The second is the most venerable physical sign of Christian orthodoxy and the place where we believe that we become reconciled to God. Those who value and appreciate one certainly would not value the other, would they?

Not long ago, our Detroit church restarted a small safer sex kit distribution program that will grow over the course of the year. It reaches church members, those who take advantage of our food pantry and community kitchens, athletes who use our gymnasium and more. Of course the kits include condoms and other items that make for safer and better sex, as well as educational materials and a sentence or two of scripture intended to remind recipients of the love of God and love of neighbor. Thanks in part to Gospel Against AIDS and the energy of members of our church and community, the program has so far been a success. 

Some have asked us why we would distribute kits with condoms. Of course the easy and most accurate answer is, “Because people need them.” Many Christians, however, do not accept that reasoning. Even in 2013, it seems that the vast majority of churches in most denominations, maybe even most faith groups, still have a very hard time talking about sex and sexuality. Our modern Christian cultural rhetoric has taught us that things are changing and the forever held value of abstinence, sex only in the context of marriage, has fallen in the past generation or two. (Ask my family elders born out of wedlock in the 1950s and 1920s about the long-standing practice of abstinence!) It is a frightening time to be in the church when it appears that our values and long standing cultural teachings are being challenged by every television show, advertisement and pop culture icon.

Nevertheless, the beauty of being a Christian is not found in declarations of righteous and unrighteous behavior, but in the person of Jesus who walked among the people and turned the eyes of the church to the needs of those who surrounded him. The religious leaders attacked Jesus for allowing people to do the work to get something to eat on the Sabbath and for touching people scripture and the religious leaders deemed unclean. I am certain they would have condemned him for handing out condoms as well. He always turned the argument, however, from ideological purity to the needs of the people.

We are in a world, in 2013, with a rapid expansion of HIV. It is our call as church to meet the needs of the people with compassion, love and life—changing power. We walk with people in their lives, all of us changed when we authentically love one another as neighbors. The traditional teachings of the church, of abstinence-only sex, are so far from the reality of our culture that it is time we understand the needs of the people and respond rather than living in the ivory towers of supposed moral righteousness. 

It is immoral for the church not to respond to the spread of HIV. In fact, it is doubly immoral for us not to respond because we are responsible as an institution for discouraging honest talk and loving behavior. In the 1980s and 1990s we, as church, contributed to the isolation of HIV patients and led a supposed moral crusade against those who did not live what we determined to be righteous lives. Even if we did not actively isolate those with HIV, or those at greatest risk for the disease, we were silent when others who called themselves Christians did so. As in any crusade, many people died.

As HIV takes a breath, digs in its heals and begins to grow again in this era, we as Christians have the chance to redeem ourselves and live our faith. When we talk about sex openly in the context of trust, respect, honor, love and honesty rather than on the platform of religious purity, we are more authentic to the faith. We also stand a better chance of changing peoples’ lives for the better.

When we offer safer sex kits, a wall comes down. In almost every case, whether received by members of the church or strangers, a bit of unhealthy fear of the church and religion begins to fade. We are able to have a real relationship with each other, and even with God. The cross is the place where fear goes to die. Liberation and freedom take fear’s place. The cross is the perfect symbol of the power of transformation. As church, may we be transformed by the cross enough to be honest with ourselves, our own people and the world around us. Honesty for us means we need to distribute safer sex kits. It is time we loved people as much as our ideologies.

Rev. Matthew Bode is the pastor of Spirit of Hope, Detroit 

Become a Change Agent

These two passages of Scriptures come to my soul when I think of the collaboration between GAA and New Beginnings Cathedral as we have traveled near and far ministering to Gods people infected and affected by HIV/AIDS.

Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples,The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. (Matthew 9:35-37, NIV)

And there came a leper to him, beseeching him, and kneeling down to him, and saying unto him, If thou wilt, thou canst make me clean. And Jesus, moved with compassion, put forth his hand, and touched him, and saith unto him, I will; be thou clean. And as soon as he had spoken, immediately the leprosy departed from him, andhe was cleansed. (Mark 1:40-42, KJV)

GAA and NBC are made up of men, women and young people who aremoved with compassion to mobilize and touch people with the love of God. Jesus'example inspirse us to engage in missions and outreach that will help heal, encourage, and offer hope to the marginalized. The human touch that the example of Jesus inspires in the GAA and NBC collaboration includes educating, proclaiming, and continual caring for those that suffer in this pandemic. We truly believe that there is a plentiful harvest among those infected and affected by HIV/AIDS who are in need of Gods compassion through the human touch.

We are always praying for more compassionate people to help minister because the need is so great. Will you consider being an agent of change with us?

 

Bishop Timothy Williams is pastor of New Beginnings Church in Detroit.