Pastors, U.S. Officials to Discuss AIDS Initiative

Prominent African American Pastors met privately in mid-May with State Department officials to discuss the possibility of establishing faith-based initiatives to provide funds to fight AIDS in Africa, according to officials.

The meeting, which included Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, focused on establishing a State Department initiative to combat the spread of HIV and help for AIDS orphans in Africa by providing federal funds to church and community groups to be used for aid, according to the Los Angeles Times report. The white house has previously encouraged providing government funds for religious charities.

The Rev. O'Neal Dozier, pastor of the Worldwide Christian Center in Pomapno Beach. Fla, said that the meeting gave the pastors "a 'mandate' to craft Africa policy," according to the Los Angeles Times. He added that the pastors plan to meet again with officials in the State Department.

During the meeting, officials also asked the pastors to show support for new legislation that would allow faith-based groups receiving federal funds to maintain hiring practices that take religious beliefs into consideration, according to the Times.

The President has previously endorsed such measures as long as those receiving aid are not discriminated against because of their faith.

Opponents, such as the American Civil Liberties Union say that the legislation would go against local and state anti-discrimination laws.

James Toney, a top white house official in charge of faith-based programs, asked the attending pastors to sign a letter endorsing the measure, which could possibly go before the Senate next month. Several signed the letter.

The support of the pastors "will be very influential," said Towey in an interview with the Los Angeles Times. "They speak with authority on the issue, and they are listened to by a lot of the members [of Congress] that are Democrats," he said.

One attendant who did not sign the letter, took a wait-and-see approach.

"I don't think [the Africa effort] ought to become simply another exercise of political operations," said william J. Shaw, the head of the National Baptist Convention. "I am not closed to it... I need to see what fruitful comes from it and how nonpolitical it is," according to the Times.

Prominent Christian leaders in attendance at the meeting included, Bishop T.D. Jakes, of Potter's House Church in Dallas; Bishop Charles Blake, board member of the Church of God and Christ; Bishop Eddie Long, senior pastor of the New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Atlanta; Rev. Andrew Young, former U.N. ambassador, and promoter of economic development in Africa and the Caribbean; and Rev. William J.Shaw, leader of the National Baptist Convention.