World AIDS Day and Religious Communities


Saturday, December 1 is World AIDS Day. In the United States, 1.1 million people are living with HIV/AIDS. 1 in 5 remains unaware of their positive status. Approximately 50,000 US Americans are newly infected with HIV each year.

Worldwide, an estimated 34 million women and men are living with HIV/AIDS, 22.5 million of them citizens of Sub-Saharan Africa—where 3 people die every minute from complications related to HIV/AIDS.

Statistics, while harrowing reminders of the indiscriminant breadth of HIV/AIDS, often cloak the emotional truth that each number—every one of the millions—represents an individual story of struggle, courage, and—all too often—unspeakable loss. On World AIDS Day, time is taken to remember those loved ones who have been lost to HIV/AIDS by telling their stories and honoring their legacy.

World AIDS Day is also an opportunity for education and a call for prevention, and people across the nation are making efforts to increase awareness. “An AIDS-free generation is possible,” said Phillip Kucab, a Wayne State University medical student and founder of World AIDS Day Detroit. His experience living with hemophilia for his entire life—and watching people he loves die of HIV/AIDS—has propelled his passion for advocacy forward. In 2011, Kucab combined the previously disparate efforts of Detroit-based HIV/AIDS organizations into a consolidated event, all in all helping raise over $20,000. This year, he hopes to replicate and expand the success of last year, creating events throughout the week—like a fashion show, and a Mayor’s Breakfast.

Religious communities are also making decided efforts this year to participate in World AIDS Day. Union Theological Seminary, a graduate school in the heart of Manhattan, held a service in commemoration of World AIDS Day, in which Dr. Lillian Dube, world-renowned theologian and native of Zimbabwe, shared her experience with HIV/AIDS and urged those present to advocate the importance of prevention in their communities.    A banner that hung outside of the school during December of last year was draped over the communion table at the chapel’s center, poignantly declaring Union an, “HIV Positive Seminary.”

When asked why she believes Union’s involvement in World AIDS Day to be important, Rev. Dr. Serene Jones, President of Union and professor of feminist theology, explained: “Religious communities can often be the most oppressive places for people living with HIV/AIDS, and these communities, in their posture, encourage the pandemic to grow.” She said that because of this reputation, it is all the more incumbent on them to be places of healing. “Churches should be leading the charge.”

Thankfully, religious communities around the world like Union are doing just that. In Daytona Beach, FL, Our Lady of Lourdes Church held a candlelight vigil on Wednesday, and similar services are being held across the UK on Saturday. The United Church of Christ has created a website with HIV/AIDS educational material and event information for its members. Keshet, an organization that works for the full inclusion of LGBT people in Jewish communities, has provided a Torah meditation specifically for World AIDS Day.

“When we talk about HIV/AIDS,” Rev. Dr. Jones said, “we talk about data and what needs to be done to get that number to zero, but we also engage with the profound sense of loss and rage and take up the healing work that needs to be done. Those aren’t numbers, those are lives that are gone, and their absence continues to mark all of the living.”

On December 1, wear a red ribbon to show your support for World AIDS Day.