JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) – The NAACP has created a guide specifically for black churches in an effort to combat the HIV/AIDS epidemic among African Americans.
In 2009, African Americans made up only 14 percent of the U.S. population, but made up 44 percent of the new HIV diagnoses, according to the CDC.
Because of the disproportionate statistics, Fisher Street United Methodist reverend and Jonesboro city councilman Dr. Charles Coleman supports the release of "The Black Church and HIV: The Social Justice Imperative".
"I think that one thing that's missing in what I call the body of Christ, which it doesn't matter if it's black or whatever, is information," he said.
The organization enlisted a group of pastors to serve on the HIV Manual Advisory Committee to guide the writing process.
"For the NAACP to endorse this type of manual to teach about HIV and AIDS, I think it's absolutely great."
In May the NAACP board voted to endorse same-sex marriage a little more than a week after President Barack Obama publicly endorsed gay marriage in a television interview with ABC's Robin Roberts.
Because HIV/AIDS affects so many African Americans, Dr. Coleman does not think the endorsement of gay marriage by the NAACP would avert pastors from using the manual.
"I don't think this would deter anything. As a matter of fact, I think this would be a plus."
CDC researchers estimate one in 16 African American men, and one in 32 African American women will be diagnosed with HIV at some point in their lifetimes.
In 2009, the rate of HIV cases diagnosed in black men was nearly seven times higher than that of white men, and the diagnosis rate was 15 times higher in black women than in white women.
CDC statistics from 2007 show HIV was the ninth leading cause of death for African Americans, and the third leading cause of death for African American women and African American men 35 to 44 years old.
CDC researchers believe the disease stigma, fear, homophobia, discrimination and negative perceptions about getting tested increase the risk of African Americans getting infected.
Fisher Street United Methodist Church does not have organized groups to that focus on the HIV/AIDS epidemic among African Americans, but Dr. Coleman said discussion is always welcome.
"We do talk about issues in our Bible study. Those do come up. People will ask questions."
He encourages pastors who lack sufficient information or do not know how to approach the topic to find someone who does. "We're losing a lot of people because we're shying away from what we don't know, and we're afraid to teach what we don't know."
"You ought to be wise enough to say, 'Let's go to a workshop, or let's have a workshop at our particular denomination or church so that we can learn about these things so that we can have a domino effect in our community to let the people know what they need to do to help protect themselves."
Copies of the manual are free on the NAACP web site.
For more information about the project, go to http://www.theblackchurchandhiv.org/.