Two Possible Futures: Faith Action to End AIDS - Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs

Two Possible Futures: Faith Action to End AIDS

Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs

September 5, 2019

By: Jenny Dyer, PhD

Thanks to the release of David Barstow’s fictional release, HIV and AIDS in 2030: A Choice Between Two Futures (2019), many in the community were stimulated to discuss the book’s probing question: where we will be in 2030 in regards to HIV and AIDS? Will we have contained the epidemic, or will it have become a pandemic beyond control?

The question for the discussion was how the faith community would and could respond to the HIV and AIDS crisis today and into the next few years so that by 2030 we could look back and say we were the generation to put an end to the pandemic.

Alongside notable experts in the global AIDS community, such as Sandy Thurman, Kathleen Marshall, Mark Lagon and others, I had the opportunity to speak on the second panel focused on the future to respond to the following question:

What prompted you to create The 2030 Collaborative, and within The 2030 Collaborative, to establish the Faith-Based Coalition for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria?

[My response was as follows:]

Thanks, Jonathan for this question, and thanks for this opportunity to speak at this timely and important forum as we stand at the crossroads of how the U.S. will choose to play a role in the epidemic of HIV and AIDS domestically and globally in 2019.

As background, I should note that I have been educating and activating faith leaders on the issues of HIV and AIDS in Africa since 2001. Then, I helped direct a conference at Vanderbilt University on AIDS and Africa: Science and Religion. I worked with Thomas Nelson as the compiler of an important book for the evangelical community, The aWAKE Project: Uniting Against the African AIDS Crisis, and I served as the National Faith Outreach Director for DATA/The ONE Campaign – co-founded by Bono of U2 until 2008. After that, I ran Senator-Doctor Bill Frist’s Hope Through Healing Hands for the past decade, continuing in the work of advocacy in global health.

So, like many here today, I’ve had the privilege of working with faith leaders to raise awareness for the HIV and AIDS epidemic and to rally advocacy and support for funding for both PEPFAR and the Global Fund. I have the honor of continuing this work with many even today.

I created The 2030 Collaborative almost a year ago to open up the possibilities of working with a variety of non-profit organizations and foundations to double-down on achieving a variety of Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. My area of expertise academically and experientially is working with the faith community, with transparency and education, to lead on global health and development issues – like HIV and AIDS, TB, and Malaria; family planning, nutrition, clean water, and child survival. I wanted the opportunity to provide guidance to other groups who want to learn best techniques of how to communicate and collaborate particularly with right-of-center denominations and leaders, namely evangelicals.

In doing so, I’ve been thrilled to work alongside Friends of the Global Fight on a weekly basis to provide the outreach needed to faith leaders nationwide to affect policy and politics for robust funding for the Global Fund, namely during this year of replenishment. As a part of this work, we recently created the Faith-based Coalition for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB, and Malaria.

Given the Administration’s current recommendation for reducing global and domestic funding for HIV and AIDS at this critical juncture, it was imperative this year to pull out all the stops to make sure Congress understands the sustained support from the faith community, particularly those on the right side of the aisle. We need forward-looking champions on the Hill who understand where we’ve been and where we’re going. We need faith and political leaders to take a stand for this funding because they understand the moral imperative and the economic imperative. And we need strong advocates who will “fight the fight, finish the race, and keep the faith” in the words of St. Paul.

And we are succeeding. For instance, we are standing on the verge of the first increased appropriation in both houses of Congress for the Global Fund in six years.

I’m lucky enough to hold the relationships with hundreds of faith leaders who began this journey almost 20 years ago and have persevered through these three Administrations with unceasing advocacy through offering signatures for letters, emails, phone calls, and many visits to their Members of Congress. My role is to continue to educate them and provide opportunities at strategic moments during the political year to lend their voice and their support.

But, my coalition isn’t enough. It’s just one group of faith leaders-albeit across various sectors as pastors, artists, athletes, speakers, and non-profit leaders – but we need more. In today’s political climate, we need unity across the spectrum from left to right. We need joined hands from grassroots to grasstops. And we need a renewed zeal to finish what we started if we are going to look back in 2030 with pride. This is what will be my own life’s work. I want to tell my grandchildren I was part of the American movement of advocacy to win the war against the global HIV and AIDS pandemic.

We will need a fresh calling and a spirit of unity as a religious response if we are to succeed.

Jennifer Dyer