US black church leaders met recently in suburban Chicago to discuss how their ministries can help fight HIV/AIDS.
"We are Christians because we endeavor to be like Jesus. It is mandated that we minister to the sick. HIV and AIDS is no exception," said Tanya Bender Henderson, an educator from Mt. Jezreel Baptist Church in Silver Spring, Md.
About 120 religious activists from around the country gathered at the annual Black Church Conference to organize their response to social problems such as child poverty and social injustice in addition to HIV/AIDS. The meeting is 20 years old and was being held in the Chicago area for the first time in its history.
Conference participants recognized the particular challenges of taking on the issue of HIV/AIDS.
"HIV and AIDS is not a topic that is popular in the church. Because HIV and AIDS has a perception of sexual origin, a lot of people in the church don't want to deal with it," Henderson said.
At the same time, the leaders also recognized the disproportionate burden the disease inflicts on the African-American community. African Americans account for 49 percent of new AIDS cases although they represent only 13 percent of the population, according to CDC statistics for 2007.