Pastor Jerry Young of New Hope Baptist Church in Jackson talks about acceptance and compassion on World AIDS Day. His faith community is now a part of the advocacy group "Mississippi Faith in Action".
Amy Nunn is coordinating the effort to provide AIDS/HIV educational material to clergy across Mississippi. Through "Mississippi Faith in Action", she said she hope to reach church members who may not be aware that it is important to be tested annually.
Anderson United Methodist Church is joining "Mississippi Faith in Action", Pastor Joe May said. He wants people to be aware the illnesses still exist and they are preventable.
20 churches in the Jackson metro affirmed their connections to "Mississippi Faith in Action" on World AIDS Day. That include Anderson United Methodist Church with Pastor Joe May.
2013's "World AIDS Day" inspired clergy in Mississippi to talk to their communities about the heavily stigmatized disease, pastors said.
"I don't think there's any question that if Jesus were here today in the flesh, there's no question that Jesus would be hanging out with folk with AIDS," New Hope Baptist Church Pastor Jerry Young said.
Called "Mississippi Faith in Action", about 20 churches in the Jackson Metro Area are teaming with researchers to educate their faith communities about HIV and AIDS.
Many people diagnosed with the virus and disease have been stereotyped as sexual deviants or drug users, Pastor Young said.
But he also argues that none of that matters.
"If we were to argue that AIDS is our modern day leprosy then lets follow the pattern that Jesus gave us," Pastor Young said.
"You don't ask people how they developed cancer or how they developed lung disease or any other kind of disease. You know the problem is there. Compassion moves you to move the misery," Pastor Young said.
"And that's what the church has to do," Young said.
Mississippi has the 7th highest rate of HIV infection in the country and among the highest rates for young black males between the ages of 13 and 16.
Amy Nunn, who is helping lead "Mississippi Faith in Action", calls the new effort to educate a step forward for the city.
"The news story about the baby who was cured of HIV has really helped raise awareness about the gravity of Mississippi's HIV/AIDS epidemic so it's really an opportunity for us to continuing the dialogue about testing and treatment across the state," Nunn, a professor at Brown University, said.
Not far away - at Anderson United Methodist Church - (yes, the program is going across denominations) the message on World AIDS Day was very similar."
"AIDS is preventable," Pastor Joe May said. His church is also a part of Mississippi Faith in Action.
"We're just trying to help folks realize that AIDS is still alive and we'd hope one day to have a generation that is AIDS free," Pastor May said.
Researchers recommend getting tested for HIV/AIDS annually. They also note that the spread is linked more to limited healthcare than behaviors.
Pastor Young also told his community that the church cannot simply declare the Gospel - it must demonstrate it as well.
"The whole world He loves. And how can we not love who he loves," Pastor Young said.
About 80% of new infections in Mississippi are among black patients. Mississippi Faith in Action leadership said they are hoping to set up a series of screenings at the churches to show how easy testing is.
And if you'd like the viewers of NEWS CHANNEL 12 to learn more about your faith community contact Jacob Kittilstad at firstname.lastname@example.org or 601-664-8839.