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)
Licensed Counselor and Life Coach Dr. Minnie Claiborn is back with her latest, monthly column. Feel free to submit any questions on a topic of your choice to [email protected], and your question may be answered in a future column!
Hello Dr. Minnie,
My name is Lynn. I am in my mid- thirties. I really want to get married and have children. My friend said that I should be content because Jesus is my husband. Dr. Minnie, am I missing something? Is Jesus really my husband?
Many well-meaning people have said that to other people. It sometimes causes confusion and some people feel guilty because they don’t want to be unfaithful to Jesus. Let me just start out by saying, “No, Jesus is not your husband.” If you are born again, Jesus is your Lord and Savior.
Scripture refers to the “Church”, the collective Body of Christ, as the “Bride of Christ.” However, this is not for an individual adaptation. God instituted marriage as an earthly covenant between man and woman. Ephesians 5:25-33 presents a distinction between that which is natural and that which is spiritual.
Our Lord Jesus Christ is our provider, protector, and healer. He loves us, comforts us, and will never leave nor forsake us. Certainly, these are traits that we desire in a mate, and only Jesus can meet those deep longings of our souls—but not in the romantic sense. He does this for both men and women who seek him for true love and comfort.
When will this nightmare end? On Monday, our nation added another hashtag to our timelines and newsfeeds after learning of yet another unarmed Black man being gunned down by police.
But, Terence Crutcher was more than just another hashtag. He was active in the church choir, a father of four, a son, and a twin. In fact, he and his twin sister celebrated their 40th birthday a month ago, but you probably won’t hear about much of this on the news. Instead, for the next several weeks, our lives will be inundated with media coverage of Terence’s final moments at every turn.
History shows that we are only left with two options here. We can either watch the video footage that has already been shared thousands of times on social media or continue scrolling down our feeds, only to find an abundance of statuses and memes addressing the incident.
Although this story is still developing and we do not have all of the details on exactly what happened this week, I think we can all agree that this scenario is becoming all too common.
Recent studies show that although Black Americans make up only 13 percent of the U.S. population, we are 2.5 times more likely to be shot and killed by police officers. But instead, we have turned our attention to burning football jerseys and waiting to see who will be the next athlete to join Colin Kaepernick in his quest to bring awareness to the social injustice that is plaguing our nation.
Acts 17:26 says, “From one man he created all the nations throughout the whole earth.” Yes, we are all created equally in God’s eyes, but the above statistics paint a different picture.
Kaepernick addresses his supporters in a recent Instagram post and ends his caption by saying, “I believe in the people, and WE can be the change!” We may agree with his statement, but how many of us are really willing to do something to see that this change is manifested?
Instead, many of us seem to be losing sight of what really matters.
Yes, Kaepernick made the decision to exercise his freedom and leverage his platform by kneeling during the national anthem, and no, some of us may not agree with it. However, I think we can all agree that something must be done to show that enough is enough.
But, the lingering question is, “What?”
When will we, as a nation, get to the point where we say, “Something has to be done,” and work to find a solution that truly does provide liberty and justice for all, regardless of their race?
When will our voices be heard? And, what can we as individuals do in order to help bring justice to Terence Crutcher and so many others whose lives have been reduced to yet another hashtag?
Colin Kaepernick and many others have found peaceful ways to express their frustration with the recent injustices that plague our nation. And, although Kaepernick is one of the more famous figures who have decided to use his platform for social justice, hundreds, and even thousands, of people of all races are working tirelessly to bring awareness to this ever-growing, national problem.
So, instead of only opting to be vocal on social media about the death of Terence Crutcher and so many others, what do you plan to do to ensure that your voice is heard?
Share your thoughts below. We’d love to hear from you!
Let’s set aside our inhibitions and have a real conversation about sex, relationships, and abstinence.
Despite biblical teachings (1 Thessalonians 4:3), tons of people would argue that, in today’s society, it’s almost unrealistic to think that anyone would wait to have sex until marriage. The world we live in today tells us that abstinence is an antiquated practice or that no one in their right mind would marry someone without determining whether the sexual chemistry is there first. The list goes on and on, but luckily, some people out there still advocate for waiting until marriage to share something so intimate with their future spouse.
Before we really dive in, I would first like to point out that there is, in fact, a distinction between abstaining from sex and just not having sex. A person might not be sexually active for a variety of reasons. However, abstinence is defined as an intentional and deliberate action to refrain from sexual activity; it is making the decision to save all sexual acts until marriage.
In her book The Naked Truth: About Sex, Love and Relationships, abstinence advocate Lakita Garth says that “abstinence is the art of self-control, self-discipline and delayed gratification.” I get it. You’re probably thinking, Who wants to work that hard for something that is supposed to bring you pleasure? But Garth reminds her readers that there is, in fact, a wonderful reward in the end.
“The fact is, the happiest sex lives are found among those who wait until marriage to have sex,” Garth says. “Those who wait are richly rewarded.”
Waiting to have sex has so many benefits, but here are a few points to start:
Abstinence is more common than you think.
Studies show that only 3%, or 1 in 30 Americans, waited until marriage to have sex. Sure, this number sounds a bit disheartening, but if you stop to think about just how many people that is, it’s not too bad. In fact, that figure means that about 10 million people in America, as we speak, have abstained until marriage. And of course, these stats are even greater within religious groups.
Secondary virginity is a real thing.
Yes, secondary virginity is “a thing.” More and more singles have made the decision to rededicate their lives—and bodies—to God by abstaining from sex. Regardless of their past, they made the decision to start over and choose abstinence even though they initially made the decision to be sexually active in the past. It’s no secret that having sex before marriage has its own negative consequences, including unplanned pregnancy, higher chances of being a single parent, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), the list goes on and on.
In fact, studies show that 40 percent of children were born to unwed mothers, with nearly two-thirds of those mothers under the age of 30. Nine million new cases of STDs are reported among teens and young adults each year. And regardless of whether you have experienced these negative consequences, making the decision to be a secondary virgin means you can look forward to a future free from exposure to these previous hazards. After all, who has time to stress about an unplanned pregnancy or STDs?
“The Wait” is so worth it.
Making the decision to be abstinent is so much deeper than the physical. It provides the opportunity for your relationship to become stronger mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. It’s the beauty in sharing something so intimate with your spouse and the idea of knowing that you are both truly committed to one another.
Hollywood couple Meagan Good and DeVon Franklin wrote an entire book on the power of abstinence in The Wait. In addition to being more spiritually and emotionally grounded, the couple is open about how amazing sex can be with your partner after making the decision to abstain until marriage. “There is nothing wrong with sex and sexuality,” the couple says in a recent interview with Essence magazine. “God created both for the enjoyment of married couples.”
The intimacy that happens within one’s marriage is much greater knowing that sex is something that is only shared between you and your spouse. It’s definitely the icing on the cake.
Can you think of a better option?
Let’s face it, you might have already tried other options besides abstinence, and none of them have worked. Then again, you might be one of those people who made the decision to be abstinent from the very beginning and chose to stick with it until your wedding day. Meagan Good actually chose the former and initially opted to do it her way instead of God’s way. “God had let me make my mistakes,” she says. “Now it was time to do it [His] way.”
In a society of instant gratification, abstinence certainly doesn’t seem ideal for today’s couples, especially people who are seriously attracted to one another. However, I think we all can agree that waiting to have sex until marriage just might be the best decision of your life.
Did you catch Meagan Good and DeVon Franklin on Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday? Check out what they had to say about the benefits of abstinence below:
Is it unrealistic to expect people to wait to have sex before marriage? Share your thoughts below.