Ray Jordan | 4/29/2013, 9:51 a.m. | Updated on 4/29/2013, 6:49 p.m.
First, the effectiveness of any social movement is, indeed, the ability to mobilize the masses. The Civil Rights Movement teaches us that, within the Black community, this was ‒ and can continue to be ‒ best done through the work of the faith community. Even in the 21st century, studies indicate that 85 percent of Americans identify themselves in association with a religious faith. Likewise, as evidenced within the public debate of some of the nation’s most contentious public policies, the influence and reach of
American faith communities have been felt significantly and these communities’ effective use of rhetoric and ability to mobilize large numbers of people have proven churches to be some of the most successful grassroots organizations American politics has ever known. Therefore, utilizing the rich resources that faith communities offer can’t be overlooked when seeking to arouse people to action in the fight against HIV/AIDS.
Secondly, the Black church served as an efficient incubator for the Civil Rights Movement because social movements function best when guided by a philosophical ethos. For the Civil Rights Movement, this ethos could be found in the theistic humanism historically embraced throughout Black religious faith.
Theoretically, Martin Luther King’s basic philosophical position was reflective of his deep concern for human dignity. It was a philosophy steeped in a this-worldly religious orientation and was therefore given explicit attention during the Civil Rights Movement. While many churches ‒ African American or otherwise ‒ failed to provide an adequate response to social injustices, churches actively involved in the social protest of the Civil Rights Movement were called through a “social gospel” to give an account of their commitment to human progress. King criticized many Black churches for being absorbed in “over-yonder” theology that conditioned their parishioners to complacently accept the conditions “over-here.” Just as King was able to use his faith to stir many Black Christians to social relevance and social justice activism, I believe there is ample opportunity to stir faith communities to provide similar leadership around the issue of HIV/AIDS.
In conclusion, I ask again, who matters? Who counts? Who is worthy? Who is important? In their pursuit to simply be seen as fully human in the eyes of their nation, African Americans answered these questions with a resounding, “We are!” I believe those infected and affected by HIV/AIDS must continue answering with the same categorical answer. I just hope we don’t miss the opportunity to engage the faith community as a crucial partner.