If churches are to play an effective role in the fight against HIV and AIDS, they need to first tackle their own taboos, says Christian HIV and AIDS charity ACET.
Speaking ahead of World AIDS Day on December 1, ACET Chief Executive Peter Fabian challenged churches to confront their own inhibitions surrounding the pandemic.
"In many countries church members are the leading activists in the care of those infected by HIV and the education and training programs essential to prevent the further spread of the disease," he said.
"Congregations have had, however, to go on a journey to deal with the widespread stigma and ignorance surrounding HIV, often led by individual Christians who have had the courage to declare their HIV status and challenge the church into love before judgement."
ACET (AIDS Care Education and Training), a global network founded in the United Kingdom, has put together a "Facts for Life" pack and short DVD featuring stories from people involved in its programs around the world to help churches explore HIV and AIDS issues.
"Nearly 7,000 people are newly infected with HIV every day and nearly 6,000 die of Aids," added Fabian. "Most of these tragedies are preventable and I want to encourage Christians in the UK to take their place at the forefront of the response to this pandemic."
Methodist minister and director of the London Ecumenical Aids Trust the Rev. Stephen Penrose is encouraging churches to mark World AIDS Day by holding an Asian worship service on the Sunday before or after.
The Asian liturgy has been endorsed by the Christian Conference of Asia and highlights the fact that someone dies of an AIDS-related illness every 15 seconds, often because of a lack of medicine.
The liturgy also challenges Christians to go beyond being passive observers of the global AIDS pandemic.
"We have the scientific means to stop much of the dying from AIDS-related illnesses, but we lack the will to do it," it says. "This is a spiritual problem — not of those who contracted the disease, but of churches and societies.
"It is a problem that can be solved by leadership. Leadership from you and me, from our churches and our politicians."
Christian charity hospital Mildmay is also encouraging congregations to "think, pray and respond" to AIDS issues. Mildmay, which specializes in HIV and AIDS care and training, has put together an AIDS-themed worship booklet that churches can adapt for their services.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of World AIDS Day. The campaign brings together individuals and organizations from around the world to draw attention to the global AIDS epidemic. There are currently 33 million people living with HIV worldwide.