Academic journal article The Western Journal of Black Studies

Panic at the Church: The Use of Frames, Social Problems, and Moral Panics in the Formation of an AIDS Social Movement Organization

Academic journal article The Western Journal of Black Studies

Panic at the Church: The Use of Frames, Social Problems, and Moral Panics in the Formation of an AIDS Social Movement Organization

Article excerpt


How are moral panics created by a health social movement organization in order to address a social problem after it has already been framed for its target audience? For decades, health social movements have fought for funding, increased research, and awareness for a variety of health concerns. This article is a case study that explores the role that The Balm in Gilead, a non-profit organization that promotes AIDS awareness to the Black Church, has played in the formation of a health social movement among Black churches in New York City. In this article, The Balm in Gilead serves as the paradigm for examining the strategies used in creating a health social movement organization that targets religious institutions. This research posits that because of the often taboo routes of HIV transmission, the resulting stigmas associated with AIDS requires the utilization of unique tactics in order to organize a health social movement targeting Black religious institutions (The term "Black" will be used throughout this paper to refer to people of African descent. I understand that the term "African American" is a distinct ethnic group used to describe Blacks who live in the United States. However, there are a large number of Blacks who live in the U.S., and specifically, New York City (the research location) who do not identify as Black. As such, Black will be used to refer to people of African descent, whether or not they reside in the U.S.). Using data collected from 28 one-on-one interviews, this project examines the founding of The Balm in Gilead as a health social movement organization and explores how HIV/AIDS was created as a social problem among Black religious institutions through the use of moral panics.


This research concerns how a social problem is framed (Spector and Kitsuse,1987) and how issues relating to health and health care can be framed based on themes and ideas that resonate with its target population (Kolker, 2005). The idea of "framing a problem" is quite relevant to the social sciences. This concept can be applied when addressing a number of social issues, such as missing children (Best, 1987), labor disputes (Babb, 1996), and even understandings of White separatism (Berbrier, 1998); furthermore, it holds great relevance to the development of health social movements. The use of frames is especially important in the case of the Black Church, whose congregants were not targeted by mainstream AIDS awareness campaigns.

Blacks have higher rates of HIV/AIDS than any other racial/ethnic group in the United States. When AIDS was first recognized among Blacks, with some exceptions, researchers, government officials, and non-profit organizations emerged to provide AIDS awareness and educational programs which were designed to help the Black community (Cohen, 1999). However, AIDS prevention awareness and the plight of those already infected were ignored by many within Black communities, because of the often fatal nature of the disease and the stigmas associated with HIV transmission; this is also known as AIDS stigma (Herek, 1999).

AIDS stigma originated with misinformation and warnings from medical institutions and the media concerning HIV transmission--such as blaming Haitians and homosexuals for the spread of AIDS in the U.S. (Biddle, Conte, and Diamond, 1993). Increasingly, researchers (Hatcher, Burley, and Lee-Ouga 2008; Khosrovani, Poudeh, Parks-Yancy, 2008) argued that one of the most effective means by which to decrease the rates of HIV among Blacks is to encourage Black religious institutions, or what will be referred to throughout this paper as The Black Church, to confront the stigmas associated with AIDS and to provide AIDS education to congregants.

Since the beginning of the AIDS pandemic, scholars (Hatcher, et al. 2008; Khosrovani, et al. 2008) have emphasized the importance of providing effective and culturally relevant AIDS education programs which target Blacks. …

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