Surgeon General David Satcher told a national conference on sexuality and black churches yesterday that religion's avoidance of sex issues has allowed AIDS and other diseases to ravage minorities.
"The church has been silent on this issue for a long time - too long," Dr. Satcher said in an address at the Howard University School of Divinity, site of the third National Black Religious Summit on Sexuality.
He said that 64 percent of AIDS victims among blacks are ages 13 to 24.
"It has become increasingly an epidemic of people of color, an epidemic of women and of the young," he said. "If we don't talk about sex, sex can kill."
Dr. Satcher, the nation's top health official, said that death rates from AIDS and heart disease in the black population are high, and that sexually transmitted diseases such as syphilis are 30 times that of the population.
"The gaps between the black and whites, the Hispanics and whites, is very wide," he said, calling the trend "disparities in health" that have roots in poverty and discrimination.
Yet he also challenged black church leaders and educators to take responsibility for the sexual, eating and exercise habits of their public. "Over half the deaths in the country each year are due to human behavior," he said.
Dr. Satcher, a former medical college president and head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, was the main speaker at a three-day conference that has drawn 600 participants from 25 states.
Ending today, it is organized by the Black Church Initiative of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, a group founded by Protestant, Jewish and Humanist groups as a pro-choice policy voice.
Yesterday, 150 black teens …