Church-based Social Support Related to HIV/AIDS in Northern Virginia




Grisham, Elizabeth A

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HIV and AIDS are serious health conditions. They are also conditions that can have profound social consequences for both patients and their families. Social support—or the delivery of assistance to those affected by personal hardships, including illnesses—is one way community leaders can aid those individuals (Burleson, Albrecht & Sarason, 1994). This study seeks to answer the research question: How do religious leaders who work with the Fairfax County Health Department utilize social support to facilitate HIV/AIDS education efforts? This study consisted of a series of telephone interviews conducted with nine of the ten pastors who collaborate with health department officials to inform and educate their congregants about HIV and AIDS. It applies the buffering hypothesis (Cohen & Wills, 1985) and the Diffusion of Innovations theory (Rogers, 2003). This study finds that participants in this study offer their congregants and members of the larger community information about HIV/AIDS and emotional aid in the form of support groups, one-on-one pastoral communication and other compassionate care (Burleson, Albrecht, & Sarason, 1994) to help them understand HIV/AIDS-related risks and manage HIV/AIDS-related hardships. This study differs from previous communication scholarship in that it identifies social support as a communication feature within African American churches that dates back to antebellum America (Battle, 2006; Scandrett, 1994). This connection had been previously identified by historians and social work scholars, but has not been analyzed from a communication perspective (Battle, 2006; Scandrett, 1994). As this study examines only the perspective of the ministers—the senders of social support communication—future research could explore the experiences of those receiving these messages.



HIV/AIDS, Religion, Social support, Communication