The local campaign has been spearheaded by Amy Nunn, a social-science researcher at Brown University School of Medicine, who has been in Philadelphia for months focusing on prevention strategies involving the church.
Already, more than 100 houses of worship in the city - from Baptist to Muslim - have agreed to raise the issue in the coming weeks. At least 30 churches will host HIV testing on site.
In addition to putting messages on donated billboards urging testing, the pastors will speak from the pulpit and initiate public conversations about a topic that has been taboo in the black church.
This unconventional and provocative approach is needed, given the staggering statistics. More churches should join the program to increase awareness of a disease that too many have written off as a gay problem. Many heterosexuals are infected.
Black clergy in Washington, Atlanta, Detroit, Tampa, and Chicago have also heeded the call. They are becoming advocates for an infected population frequently shunned by their churches.
The clergy deserve credit for striving to overcome their own fears and long-held misconceptions about the disease. In the past, many were reluctant to even mention HIV/AIDS at church because of its association with homosexuality and promiscuity. The black church has gained a reputation for being homophobic.
Some pastors are finding ways to incorporate a message about HIV/AIDS into their sermons, often using stories of Jesus healing the afflicted. The Rev. Kevin Johnson, senior pastor of Bright Hope Baptist Church in North Philadelphia, was tested in front of his congregation. He also requires couples getting married in his church to be tested.
Such straight talk about HIV/AIDS has been a long time coming. Now, people need to listen.
To find a testing center near you, call 1-800-985-AIDS.