The problem of HIV/AIDS in the African American community has rapidly progressed beyond just an illness to a massive epidemic that is a national crisis. When reviewing the magnitude of the numbers connected to this deadly disease, you only need to take a glance at a few of them to completely take your breath away.
• While only 12 percent of the total American population, African-Americans make up 37 percent of total American AIDS cases.
• More than 50 percent of newly reported HIV infections in the United States are among African Americans.
• Among African-American men aged 25 through 44 years, AIDS is the single largest cause of death.
These numbers, should give everyone – not just African Americans — great pause for concern.
I believe that the African American church, long a symbol and source of information and education to the African American community, has for too long, remained silent about this challenge. To be sure our churches – mine included — have done some notable works individually. The problem remains that this is not a foe we can defeat individually. It will take the collective might of both the church universally committed and the implementation of a comprehensive agenda that includes medical professionals, political might, social services and personal responsibility to overcome this dreaded disease.
That collective pool has not been enacted previously and all of us have suffered from it.
The church was not designed to find cures, introduce legislation, change government policy or produce the kind of financial strength we need for research, care and prevention. But the church can contribute to the solution and partner with existing institutions to do a much better job than it has done alone.
There are many churches who have not responded at all. But I hope they will also be inspired to do something as we all ramp up to do more.
Here are a few reachable goals that most churches can accomplish to make up for our late start:
• We can be a voice and support advocacy related to HIV/AIDS.
• We can challenge the government to set aside more funding for this initiative.
• We can challenge our members to get tested.
• We can make educational material available through our counseling and medical ministries.
• We can dispel the myths and fears.
I founded the Potter's House on the bedrock of serving as a spiritual hospital. We do not have to agree with people on every detail to help save lives. The vision for the church was and still is to minister to hurting people — a place where all types and description could find healing and restoration for their souls.
Our national/international AIDS campaign has been instrumental in educating tens of thousands of our members on the impact of AIDS on men, women, and children. We have provided food, clothing, prayer, counseling, testing, and community agency referrals to those infected and affected by the HIV/AIDS epidemic. We have tested thousands of our members and conference attendees.
Globally, we have provided aid and support to many African countries and endeavor to build homes for children orphaned by HIV/AIDS.
Is it enough? Absolutely not. Is it our best? No.
I am pleading for us to not allow theological debate nor political maneuvering to cause us to ignore the priority of saving lives.
Bishop T. D. Jakes is Senior Pastor of the Potter's House in Dallas, Texas.