The three national officers of the United Church of Christ are leading by example, joining a worldwide campaign to end the stigma around HIV by taking an HIV test.
"Let us all abandon whatever notion there may be that there is something shameful about asking for an HIV test. I took mine, and I am glad I did," said the Rev. John Dorhauer, UCC General Minister and President. "I encourage all leaders in the UCC to be tested, and to let others know you were, so that we remove any shame and stigma that may still be out there."
"I've been tested for hypertension. I've been tested for diabetes. I've been tested for colon and cervical cancer. I've been tested for high cholesterol. And yes, I've been tested for HIV. Because in a world filled with so much uncertainty, the status of my well-being need not be unknown," said the Rev. Traci Blackmon, UCC Executive Minister Justice and Local Church Ministries. "Testing saves lives."
"I've been tested for HIV as an act of love, as an act of faith and as an act of justice," said the Rev. James Moos, UCC Executive Minister for Global Engagement and Operations. "Faith leaders, let's issue a clarion call to end stigma by getting tested ourselves and calling others to do the same."
"Lead by Example" is a World Council of Churches campaign that encourages faith leaders from its member denominations to get tested. The UCC's HIV-AIDS Network, UCAN, is helping spearhead the campaign in the United States in an effort to end the HIV epidemic.
At General Synod last summer in Baltimore, participants were invited to take an HIV test – to learn their status, to stop the spread of HIV by lowering the stigma around testing and to become educated about the disease and its transmission.
The Rev. Mike Schuenemeyer has long been urging UCC members to know their HIV status. As the UCC Executive for Health and Wholeness Advocacy, Schuenemeyer said there are many benefits to one simple test.
"The goal is for everyone to know their HIV status and this is a key goal that must be met in order to end the HIV epidemic. Why? Because the evidence shows when people know their status, whether a person tests positive or negative, they take action to prevent HIV from being transmitted. When a person tests positive they are more likely to receive effective treatment and care. Effective treatment and care enables a person who is positive to achieve a HIV viral load that is undetectable; a person whose viral load is undetectable does not transmit HIV. There is also treatment to help those who do not have HIV, but are at risk or vulnerable, to stay HIV negative."
The UCC, through UCAN, has been involved in education and advocacy around HIV and AIDS for more than a decade. The church is continuing that effort next week, when UCAN launches the first in a series of national conversations on HIV. The webinar, on Tuesday, May 8, at 2:00pm, Eastern Time, will focus on testing.
A popular HIV testing slogan is, "Everyone has a status, do you know yours?" In preparation for National Testing Day, Wednesday, June 27, Schuenemeyer will moderate this conversation about the importance of everyone knowing their HIV status and how the church is involved in promoting and facilitating HIV testing. The discussion is free, and registration for the webinar is open.
"HIV is a virus, not a moral condition," Schuenemeyer said. "We are inviting our clergy, faith leaders, members and friends to lead by example. Let's end the stigma around HIV. Get tested and then use our Twibbon campaign to share the news by posting your photo to Facebook and Twitter."
For information about the WCC global campaign, click here.