by Fredrick Nzwili
NAIROBI, Kenya (RNS) Some Kenyan churches are demanding premarital HIV testing before weddings, a trend activists warn is infringing on the rights of people living with HIV and AIDS.
For some, it’s a quiet matter, with the couples privately told to check with a doctor or a clinic, but for others an HIV test is a mandatory requirement before the couples are joined in marriage.
Recently, some Pentecostal and evangelical groups have demanded strict adherence to the requirement, while Roman Catholic and most mainline Protestant churches tend to be less strict.
“The practice has become entrenched in many churches,” said Jane Ng’ang’a, coordinator of the Kenyan chapter of an international network of religious leaders living with HIV/AIDS. “While it is agreeable to advise a couple to take the test, our concern is the demand for a disclosure of the status is against the law. The challenge is that most church leaders do not know the law.”
During the past decade, new HIV infections in the largely Christian country have risen faster than in any other in sub-Saharan country, according to a study by the Global Burden of Disease collaborative.
Last year, over 1.8 million Kenyans were living with the HIV virus, which, if left untreated, can lead to AIDS. Nearly 39 percent of those were using life-prolonging antiretroviral drugs, a rate below the regional average rate of 43 percent.
Ten years ago, the country passed a law banning HIV tests as a precondition for marriage. The law warns against breaching confidentiality and disclosing individual statuses without consent.
But Ng’ang’a said the network was recently alarmed after it found out that some churches were breaching confidentiality after receiving the tests.
“Some tests were kept in open files that could easily be scrutinized by anyone,” she said. “We see this as a new form of stigma and discrimination for those with HIV and AIDS.”
The clergy who demand the HIV tests say they are driven by a desire to protect their members from HIV and AIDS. They say the church needs to help nurture healthy families and prevent divorce, disease and death.
“A HIV test is mandatory for any couple planning to wed in our church,” said the Rev. Solomon Mwalili of the Free Pentecostal Fellowship in Kenya. “I think it’s for general good — for the two involved and the family they plan to raise.”
Pentecostal pastor James Kyalo of the Machakos region, 40 miles from the capital Nairobi, said his church demands two HIV tests: the first when the couple seeks to start the wedding process; then six months later.
He said the church members have never protested or complained about the requirement.
Some pastors say couples should know the test results if they plan to rear children. Once they know they are infected, for example, they can seek advice from doctors on how to care for themselves and how to live in the community.
The Rev. Patrick Lihanda, superintendent of the Pentecostal Assemblies of God, said that when one of the couples is HIV-positive, they do not ask the couple to split, but instead advise them how to live together.
“HIV is a reality and we cannot bury our heads in the sand,” said Lihanda. “When we find out that one of couple is infected, we counsel them and marry them. I think that’s the best thing to do, since they are in love.”
The Rev. Wellington Mutiso, an official with the Baptist Convention of Kenya, said many Baptist churches do not demand the test, since most couples have already engaged in premarital sex before the church wedding.
Like Baptists, mainline churches find the demand for the test discriminatory and an obstacle in the fight against the epidemic.
“A certificate or a test is not important for us, since anyone can contract HIV,” said Anglican Bishop Julius Kalu of the Mombasa Diocese. “The virus does not also mean one cannot live a full life. Even in cases of HIV, the couple can still live together.”
(Fredrick Nzwili is an RNS correspondent based in Nairobi)
Photo Credit: Joost J. Bakker
by C.O. of IDOL King
27 years ago, Spike Lee’s film “Do the Right Thing” exploded into theaters, taking a hard look at the racially charged atmosphere of a close-knit Brooklyn neighborhood that led to the tragic death of one of the main characters at the hands of police. In the current strained environment of urban cities across the country, it can seem as though life is imitating art. The question posed by the movie to those who were facing injustice was will you do nothing, or will you do the right thing?
As inequity of all forms appears to reign without restraint, the current generation is confronted with a similar challenge. But for most, the uncertainty doesn’t lie in whether or not they should do the right thing. Nearly all agree that you should do the right things, but does it have to be for the right reasons?
Pioneering Holy Hip Hop artist “C.O.”, best known for being the creative and founding force behind the trailblazing rap group IDOL King, contends that real influence produces transformed lives and not just trend followers. “This only happens when the motives behind the ‘right things’ we do are aligned with God’s intentions, or in other words, the right reasons,” he says.
Committed to creating rhymes that champion Christ as the answer to today’s societal ills, C.O. spells out a few of those right reasons:
Photo Courtesy of C.O.
Empower others to Recognize God’s Love is Tough Love
The truth hurts, but it also heals. The touchy-feely response of some members of the Body of Christ to injustice has too often produced a view of love that accommodates our prejudices rather than eliminates them. “God’s love absolutely comforts the afflicted, but it also afflicts the comfortable,” C.O. reminds. While it doesn’t feel great to personally confront racism, it must happen to prevent the church from being a weak and ineffective voice in the current struggle for dignity.
Equip Others to Be Diplomatic And Direct
A diplomat is someone who sensitively and effectively deals with situations based on valid information. If we are unaware of the full counsel of God’s word, including what He has to say about discrimination, we will only be capable of offering a partial solution. Real diplomacy occurs when we present Christ while directly confronting the often glossed over the sin of racism.
Encourage Others to Increase Biblical Convictions
What are our convictions based on? Is it God’s word, the stereotypes, and prejudices we were raised with, or what we see flashing on the nightly news? Thankfully, God’s word shines a light on our faulty assumptions. The gift of truth is right in front of us – and needs to be taught in our churches and reinforced by our artists. We can’t afford to plead ignorance to the damage that racism still causes.
It is right to stand up, it is right to insist on the freedom we are promised in Christ. But it becomes righteous when our reasoning matches the motives of God. Yes, let’s do the right thing, but let’s make sure it’s for the right reasons.
Check out C.O.’s latest lyric video “ZOMBIES” at www.officialidolking.co
To continue the conversation with Christian rap pioneer C.O., follow him on twitter @idolking1985 or connect with him on Facebook and Instagram.
Cathay Williams, born in 1842, was the first known African American woman to enlist in the United States Army and the first and only female buffalo soldier.
Although some believe Williams, the daughter of a slave woman and a “free man of color,” enlisted in the army due to a need for income, no one knows for sure as to why she decided to portray herself as a male and enlist. While serving in the military, she was assigned to Company A of the 38th U.S. Infantry.
Williams was often hospitalized due to strain and smallpox, which is how medical personnel discovered that she was a woman. In 1868, Captain Charles Clarke honorably discharged Williams once he learned of her true identity.
Shortly after being discharged, she found several jobs that ranged from cooking to nursing across the state of Colorado. In 1891, she filed for a military “invalid pension,” due to her declining health stemming from her time in the military. Her petition was declined.
There is little information on Williams after 1892, but she is believed to have died sometime within the next several years.
Interested in learning more about other figures in black history? Read the courageous story of Claudette Colvin here.
Let’s talk about it. Can you think of other unsung, Black American heroes? Share their stories in the comments below.
Summer is upon us, which means a little extra time for leisure reading as some people prepare for extended vacations, college students get a respite from required readings, and, in general, people just make room to catch up on all the reading that they couldn’t do earlier in the year. We here are UrbanFaith.com and Urban Ministries, Inc., are happy to share what we are reading in hopes that it will give you insight into what we’re reading and contribute to the books you might be able to add to your list. Check our list out and feel free to share with us what you are reading this summer.
My book for the summer is “Saturate” by Jeff Vanderstelt. I found out about this book as I’ve been on a personal journey to discover the best discipleship practices and how to make church more than just a once a week thing. Recently I have had my eye on Soma Communities which Jeff leads as a new form of church in Tacoma, WA and saw that he wrote this book Saturate. I want to read this book because it promises to show how, as a believer, you can integrate your faith into everyday life. –Ramon Mayo, Content Specialist, Adult Media Development
In the book “Love Works: Seven Timeless Principles for Effective Leaders“, author Joel Manby, CEO of Herschend Family Entertainment, explains that agape love can be the foundation on which a successful organization thrives. Describing examples and life lessons that he experienced first-hand, Manby takes the reader through 7 time-tested principles of agape love which are: patience, kindness, trust, selflessness, truth, forgiveness, and dedication. It’s a great read that helps those in leadership roles change the way they lead by implementing love as a foundation for every communication, every decision, and every relationship. This book can help you move the emotion of love into intentional action that can help motivate employees to be passionate and caring about the work they do. –Janet Grier, Director of Youth & Children’s Media Content
I am looking forward to and have already started reading the national bestseller “The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration” by Isabel Wilkerson. This book was brought to my attention by one of my high school friends, with excitement because Shondra Rhimes is adopting a mini-series of the book for FOX. I am always one to read before I watch, so I wanted to get into it. -Natasha Sistrunk Robinson, Contributing Writer
As part of my efforts to intensify my spiritual life, I’m reading “God’s Battle Plan for the Mind: The Puritan Practice of Biblical Meditation,” by David W. Saxton. Concerned about the too-often superficiality of Christian lives, chiefly my own, I wanted to learn more about this spiritual discipline in which we’re admonished by scripture to regularly engage. Saxton teaches and encourages through his meticulous survey of Puritan beliefs and practices regarding meditation. –Chandra White Cummings, Contributing Writer
Cartozia Tales, edited by Isaac Cates, is a self-published fantasy comic book anthology series featuring otter girls, bears with masks, talking crows, and upside-down men. The stories all take place in the land of Cartozia, with different creators setting tales in different parts of the map every issue. The result is a gently whimsical, quietly manic hodge-podge suitable for children of every age who would rather rescue mechanical wind-up men than marry the prince. The seventh issue is out this spring; I’m looking forward to reading them all in short bursts of cartoon goofiness amidst summer excursions. –Noah Berlatsky, Contributing Writer
I am finishing a historical fiction book entitled “Joshua’s Bible.” It is the account of an African-American missionary that left America to serve in South Africa during the pre-World War II days. I am finding it useful in understanding certain African traditions–it explains many of them. I am coming away with a different mindset from the characterizations that white missionaries portray of African life and the way they categorize all African traditions as demonic because they do not understand them. The African-American missionary ends up falling in love and marrying an African woman and fighting for African justice. -Melvin Banks, Founder and Chairman of Urban Ministries, Inc.
I am reading “The Road to Character” by David Brooks. The book is about developing what Brooks calls the “eulogy virtues,” “the character strengths for which we would like to be remembered,” over the resume virtues, those that our society works harder at developing for short-term goals. I discovered this book through a New York Times excerpt of the book that, essentially, blew my mind and convicted me about the virtues I am nurturing in my own life. –Nicole Symmonds, Managing Editor UrbanFaith.com & Urban Faith magazine
I love reading biographies of all types of people from a range of time periods. It opens a window into the perspectives of the past and the experiences of a variety of people. This summer I look forward to reading “Unbroken : A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption” by Laura Hillenbrand. It is the story of Louis Zamperini and was a #1 New York Times bestseller and named the top nonfiction book of 2010 by Time Magazine. Louis Zamperini was survivor of a brutal Japanese prisoner of war camp during World War II, a Christian inspirational speaker, and an Olympic distance runner. In 2014 the book was made into movie by Universal Studios, but omits Zamperini’s fight against alcoholism and PTSD and his “Billy Graham-inspired” religious conversion. -Kathy McLeister, Archivist
If you peek into my attic, you’ll find all sorts of gems that represent precious moments in raising my kids – photos, art projects, and the sweetest “I love you mom” cards. Cluttered alongside those treasures I’ve got piles of plain old “stuff” – toddler outfits grandma brought back from China, graded quizzes and tests, Halloween candy carriers, old baseball uniforms, and more. Enough. It’s time to pickup, purge, and put things in their proper place. This summer, Marie Kondo is going to help me do it with her best-selling book, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing” She’ll show me how to only keep things that “spark joy” and pitch the rest! –Shari Noland, Chief Content Development Officer
As a lover of pop culture and someone who is always striving for self-improvement, I tend to spend the little free time I do have reading the latest self-help books and autobiographies by some of my favorite celebrities. However, I vowed that this summer would be different. Instead, I have opted to go to my local bookstore and find juicy, fictional page-turners, starting with “A Generation of Curses,” an urban-Christian novel by Faatima Albasir-Johnson and Patricia Bridewell. It’s a story about Khadesia Hill, a mom and wife of a megachurch pastor-elect who seems to have it all together, until things from her past comes back to haunt her. Aside from being entertaining, there seems to be at least one character in the novel that we can all relate to, and I certainly look forward to having a good read to kick off the summer. –Amber Travis, Social Media Specialist
Happy reading this summer!
Singer and producer Akon is putting his influence to good use through the launch of a solar academy that will supply electricity to 600 million people in Africa.
For months a petition has circulated to rename Edmund Pettus Bridge—Pettus was a KKK grand dragon and a confederate general–and now senators have approved a resolution to rename it the Journey to Freedom Bridge. What do you think of the proposed new name?
Princeton becomes the last of the Ivy League schools to offer an African American studies program.
A recent study done by the University of Michigan finds that black women cope with infertility in silence. Though this isn’t good news, maybe it is the start of a discussion on how the church can help. What do you think the church can do?
Brooklyn is leading the pack with the highest percentage of women-led startups.
Have a great weekend!