Growing up in a devout, black Baptist family, Paul Grant was taught a core strategy for coping with life’s woes: Give it up to God.
Or: Let go, let God. Or: Wait on the Lord. Or other expressions common enough to be near-doctrine in conservative religious communities that include the black American church. It all boils down to the idea that if you are faithful, and pray intently, God will take care of things.
But for Grant, a 37-year-old D.C. filmmaker, the mantra led to grief. His father, the Rev. Freddie Grant, a truck driver and church leader in their small South Carolina town, suffered from heart disease, and his mother, Emma Jean, a secretary, developed multiple sclerosis. But they refused to take their medications regularly or to do other things to guard their health, believing that prayer would heal all.
They both died before he was 25.
Grant’s struggle to reconcile faith and personal responsibility went on to define him professionally and personally. He became focused on exploring what he calls the “African American Christian pathos around chronic illness, sin and sickness.” He honed in on HIV/AIDS, a disease at epidemic levels among black Americans, although, as a topic, it remains largely absent from many African American churches.
Grant became a communications consultant: He advised government health officials on black faith communities, and he counseled black organizations — including the NAACP and the Congressional Black Caucus — on matters of health. He zeroed in on how African Americans think about God and about their role in staying healthy.
And this week, his personal journey culminated in a packed screening room at the International AIDS Conference, where on Thursday he premiered a documentary, “The Gospel of Healing,” about HIV/AIDS and the black church. The film, which took six years to make, looks at black churches on the East Coast that have plunged into the HIV fight and at the forces that have kept some other churches away from the front lines. In Washington, 75 percent of people living with HIV are black. Read More