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Rev Paul Mokgethi-Heath, "Do I preach about HIV at my church? Every Sunday!"

Rev Paul Mokgethi-Heath
(Laura Lopez Gonzalez/IRIN)

Rev Paul Mokgethi-Heath has been leading the flock at the Hope and Unity Metropolitan Community Church in Johannesburg, South Africa, since 1998, when he was diagnosed with HIV. He spoke to IRIN/PlusNews about being a gay, HIV-positive pastor, and gave his advice to other discordant couples.

"Do I preach about HIV at my church? Every Sunday. We make sure that we have a candle-lighting ceremony [in memory of those who have died], but before we ... [do this], we have people we invite each and every Sunday to talk to us, to share their stories and ... their journeys as well.

"In terms of relationships with other pastors, I know it's a difficult issue - when you talk about HIV and sex it's just a taboo. One or two of the [church] board members initially did have issues with [my status] but, through my preparation and me educating them as well, they have learned to accept it and they've been there for me.

"So, yes, my church is well informed [but] ... in terms of the members and how they take HIV, it has really been a challenge. As much as we talk about it, as much as we are open about it, there are still those people with self-stigma.

"A lot of people are still scared of coming out and talking about it, so we see that even within my congregation, as much as we talk about it and are open, we still see a lot of people dying.

"Basically, I just try to live healthy - make sure that I eat healthy, get enough sleep and lots of exercise. I party sometimes when there is a time to party, and I travel and enjoy myself and see the whole world.

"Yes, I'm married to another man, and I'm a gay man and he is also a pastor. I know [the debate around this] is all about culture and religion, and a whole lot of other things ... about what the scripture says.

"If you want to have that debate one more time, I'm ready and I'm willing, but what I can say I know: God has called me to be a minister and God has loved me - that is why I am married in a monogamous relationship with another man and I thank God for that.

"To people who are also in discordant relationships [where one partner is HIV positive and the other is not], I would advise those that are negative that, please, we protect them and keep it that way.

"If you know your status, please talk about it and don't hide it. I know it's a very difficult issue because sometimes we are scared that when we come out and talk to our partners about it that they will reject us; yes, sometimes they do.

"They will run away from us; yes, sometimes they do. They will gossip about us; yes, sometimes they do. Be true to yourself and an agent of change, and be sure that at all times you are yourself."


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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