April is both National Minority Health and STD Awareness Month. This month we will feature blogs that focus on what we are faithfully calling, “Sexually Transmitted Silence.” The contributors will explore various aspects of silence deeply rooted in the black church and community as they relate to our sexual health and specifically STDs. Topics will include, theology of silence, examining the role of shame and self-worth, the sin of silence, exploring silence as a perpetrator for the spread of STDs, and the silence of ignorance. We begin the series with”Deathly Silence” by Rev. Toni Kemp.
This month is National STD Awareness Month, a national health observance sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to help break the silence and alert everyone to the growing crisis of STDs in America. Public awareness and knowledge are both critically important to combating the epidemic levels of STD infections in the U.S. and worldwide.
The Bible tells us that we are all God’s creation and workmanship. Psalm 139 states, “that we were knitted together in our Mother’s womb, fearfully and wonderfully made.” But the Prophet Habakkuk also enlightens us with truth; telling us, “that the people shall parish for lack of knowledge.”
According to The American Social Health Association, Did you knowit has been estimated that:
- One in two Americans will contract an STD at some point in their lifetimes
- An estimated 65 million Americans are living with a viral STD
- STDs are spreading at a rate of 19 million new cases each year
- One in two sexually active persons will contract an STD by age 25
- One in four teens contract an STD each year
- Less than half of adults ages 18 to 44 have ever been tested for an STD other than HIV
- Over 6 million Americans acquire the virus that causes genital warts each year
- An estimated one in four Americans (50 million) have genital herpes; and, about 1.6 million new infections occur each year
- More than $8 billion is spent each year to diagnose and treat STDs and their complications
This information is both staggering and alarming, particularly when we know that this can be prevented!
Last month I sat in on a forum presented by Emory University’s School of Public Health, Association of Black Public Health and the Black Student Caucus. The panel was lined with a number of public health and theology professionals. The gathering was rallied around the theme; “A Missionary Approach, Addressing the Black Churches Role in African American Sexual Health.” One of the questions posed to the panel was – What are the major barriers in addressing and resolving our current state of sexual health? (and I might add) in this current day of viral epidemics. A sobering response emerged from a panelist, Dr. William Stayton, PhD and Morehouse professor of Sexuality and Religion. Dr. Stayton stated that studies revealed that one of the significant barriers was religion. Other panel participants agreed that some religious communities ignore the present day needs of their constituents as it relates to sexual health and subsequently create an unhealthy discourse for understanding our spiritual sexual humanity.
As people of faith we are often strongly connected to our faith and the faith of the beloved community. Therefore faith-based organizations can draw on their spiritual connection to people to promote HIV/STD prevention programs, reaching vulnerable populations and actively participating in the battle to eradicate the epidemic.
Communities of faith, not limited to the church, have an opportunity to play an integral and faith-filled role in supporting community-based HIV/STD prevention efforts. However, historically the record stands that too many faith-based groups have served as a passive barrier by avoiding an open, honest and faithful dialogue addressing the sexual health issues that challenge us today. Still there other barriers created by the faith community when labeling is acceptable and the contraction of HIV/STD is automatically assumed that it’s the result of risky behavior and living a life of sin. This judgmental and uncompassionate attitude towards others often nurtures shaming individuals into being shunned and rejected by the community that is called to care with mercy and justice.
The consequence therefore creates a level of guilt and disconnect in our relationships with family, friends, self, the faith community and sometimes ultimately with God. It is for this reason many of God’s people avoid engaging in their places of worship and remain hidden and obscure from the religious public view, while being separated from their strongest connection of faith “The Community”. Advocacy for HIV/STD prevention requires a major role change for many of us in the faith community. Breaking the silence that leads to death by ignorance and awakening to the realities of the needs of our communities offering life for the living requires a champion perspective and a conquering mentality.
Our hope as a people of God is in Jesus Christ, our resurrected Lord.
Jesus said, “I have come that you may have life, and have it more abundantly” My prayer is that during this Lenten Easter Season and beyond, we shall be reminded that before each of us… stands the Lamb of God!
Rev. Antoinette D. Kemp the Georgia Consultant for the National Black Church Initiative and the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice in Washington, DC. She is an ordained minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). She earned an MDiv degree from Columbia Theological Seminary, and currently serves as a Corporate/Industrial Chaplain, for Cobb-Vantress, Inc. (a division of Tyson Corporation) Rev. Kemp is the Executive Director for African Pilgrimages Inc.,
The views, opinions, and perspectives expressed in by guest and consultant bloggers do not necessarily reflect the views of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, its state affiliates, it member organizations, or the National Black Church Initiative. The Religious Coalition is committed through its National Black Church Initiative to faithfully, prayerfully breaking the silence on issues related to sex, sexuality and religion.