HIV & Church Attendance: Mortification of the Flesh, Not Just for Saints

An interesting study appeared in a recent issue of Clinical Infectious Diseases focused on HIV and church attendance. The variable of interest was the presenting CD4+ cell count, a major predictor of morbidity and mortality, and its relationship to church attendance. The study was conducted at UAB in Birmingham, a major HIV/AIDS research center.

The striking finding is that HIV+ men who have sex with men (MSM) and were regular attendees at church were more likely to present for care with CD4+ cell counts less than 200 cells when compared to those who did not attend church. This finding did not apply to men who have sex with women or to women who have sex with men.

One of the implications of this study is that religious proscriptions against homosexual activity (see Leviticus 20:13) may prevent individuals who engage in such activity from partaking in HIV screening activities and subsequently cause them to present for HIV care late, potentially jeopardizing their own health and posing a heightened transmission risk to others.

This finding is not surprising to me and I believe it is the direct result of dogmatic religious ideas that unequivocally confer a negative moral evaluation in a realm in which morality is wholly inapplicable--an individual's unchosen and irreversible sexual orientation.

Would that MSM who attend church cease to sanction their own moral condemnation which, based on the results of this study, has the potential to incite self-immolation.