Dr. Karen R. Flórez, a professor at the CUNY Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy (CUNY SPH) and colleagues examined the use of church sermons to promote health in primarily ethnic minority churches in Los Angeles, California. The findings were published in the journal Health Communication.
Embedding health messages into sermons is a potentially valuable strategy to address HIV and other health disparities in churches that predominantly serve racial and ethnic minorities. The research team explored the implementation of an HIV sermon as part of a multi-component intervention in three churches (Latino Catholic, Latino Pentecostal, and African American Baptist) in high HIV prevalence areas of Los Angeles County.
Clergy were given an HIV sermon guide that included local public health data, stigma reduction cues, HIV testing messages, and a sample sermon. The findings reported in the publication are from the process evaluation (i.e., reach, dose delivered, fidelity, and implementation) and an in-depth content analysis to explore HIV frames and messages used by clergy. Sermons were audio-recorded, transcribed verbatim, and coded using an inductive approach. Systematic observation was used to collect complementary data.
Overall, five clergy delivered nine HIV sermons to majority African American or Latino audiences. On average, there were 174 congregants per sermon. The team found large variation in fidelity to communicating key HIV messages from the sermon guide. While promoting HIV testing from the pulpit seemed viable and acceptable to all the participating clergy, fewer embedded explicit stigma reduction cues. Most spoke about HIV using compassionate and non-judgmental terms. Issue framing varied across clergy.
The authors concluded that more structured training of clergy might be necessary to implement the more theoretically driven stigma reduction cues included in the sermon guide. The research team also felt that they needed more information on the viability and acceptability of embedding specific health promotion messages into sermons.