Dear ARP: Are my church’s actions influenced by racial prejudice?

Dear Anti-Racist Parent:

I am an adoptive mom to two beautiful Haitian boys.  One of them is still in Haiti, waiting to come home.  We have had our other son, Sam, with us for about 4 months.  I want to share with you something that happened to our family a few months ago.  It made me so angry and I want to get the word out to others that this sort of thing CANNOT happen anymore.

My husband and I are  Christian and attended a church for a long time. Our family had been very active in this church. We recently brought home a little boy with some special needs from Haiti. It had been hard for me to attend church with the little boy because he likes to be noisy and the church asks that people who have noisy children in the service stand out of the service in order to not disturb everyone. So after weeks of doing this because I wanted to be sure that the little boys special needs were ok enough to put him in the nursery….we sent our beloved baby boy into the nursery. I was able to enjoy church and our little boy had a great time playing with the other babies and being well taken care of. Nothing out of the ordinary right?

A week later my husband received a call from the Associate Pastor of the church. He was asking all kinds of questions about our baby boy, about his special needs, his life in Haiti etc. It seemed that he was dancing around in his questioning and avoiding something that he REALLY wanted to ask. My  husband has a keen sense of picking up what people are truly thinking and he said “What are you getting at Mr. Associate Pastor, is there something that you want to ask me?”

The conversation went to HIV/AIDS… has baby boy been tested? The Associate Pastor actually called my husband to inquire as to the HIV status of our new beloved baby boy!! To make matters worse, he said the following: “The PASTOR and I had been talking and we noticed that your wife put baby boy in the nursery last weekend. We want to be aware of his situation and to make sure of what to tell people in case someone asks. It might worry one of the other members and they might have some questions. If the Pastor and I were privy to the health status of baby boy then we would be able to address the questions we might receive appropriately.”

Both my husband and I were blown away by this phone call, and things haven’t been the same since.  I wrote a letter to the pastors, explaining how what they have done is wrong.  Here is my letter:

Dear Pastor T and Pastor E,

I am writing because of a phone call J received today from Pastor E regarding Sam.  After several questions about his medical condition, he asked J if he was ever tested for HIV.  I know that J answered accordingly, but was very upset, as am I, that this would even be asked of us.  I am disappointed someone would ask such questions about our children. After I spoke to J about this, I did some research about what legal rights the church or the community may have regarding Sam’s test results.  Although he is indeed HIV negative, I thought I might pass this on to you so that you can be informed on what the law says about disclosing HIV status to others.  I know that E stated that he needed to know in case other people asked and I believe that he, or anyone else with this knowledge, needs to tell them that they have no legal right to disclose that information. Here are some legal rights that children have regarding this issue: 

If my child is HIV positive, does the school or day care center have the right to know?
No. A school or day care center does not have the right to know the HIV status of its enrolled children and cannot ask whether your child is HIV-positive. Parents may choose to inform school staff, like a school nurse or a teacher, of their child’s HIV status. If you decide to disclose your child’s HIV status to certain school staff, you should make it clear to those staff that they may not legally disclose your child’s HIV status to other school staff, students, or parents without your consent. If any child is injured, the day care center or teacher is required to follow universal precautions when treating the child to protect against disease or infection, regardless of whether it is known that the child is HIV-positive. If a school or day care center is aware of a child’s HIV status, law from treating that child differently is discriminating against the child.

Your rights may be violated if another person discloses your HIV/AIDS status to other people without your consent.

I am not aware of any other parents who use the nursery who were asked if their children have HIV or any other diseases.  I am not sure if we were asked because of Sam’s medical condition, or because of his special needs, his nationality or his race. HIV is not spread through minor cuts, sores or dirty diapers so no child would be at risk IF he were HIV positive.

We bring you this information so that if this situation arises again at your church, you would have an awareness of the laws, in order to protect the church and staff from possible discrimination/litigation issues. We must remember to first treat EACH child as a child of God. I saw this video on YouTube about a pastor in Africa dealing with HIV in his village.  It is very moving.

Thank you for listening.

So if you ask me, I would say this is a form of racism!  I think this happened because Sam was the only brown baby in the nursery.  On a side note… the assistant pastor’s baby girl was in the nursery too.  I am so upset. I have still not received an apology.  After reading my letter the pastor had approached my husband again, not me, and talked about how there must be an underlying issue that is upsetting me and was wondering if he needs to apologize.  He wants to meet with me and my husband.  I feel I have nothing more to say.  We are attending another church.  So far no one has asked about Sam’s HIV status!!!

Kimberly S.

From the Editor:

I am so sorry, Kimberly. It must feel awful to be betrayed by those you trust as spiritual leaders. I do not know all of the laws related to disclosure of HIV status. What I do know is that your pastors’ concerns for your baby’s health seem to be driven by their bias against his race and nationality. That is shameful.

I think you were right to move on to another place of worship. I imagine it would be difficult to be spiritually restored each week, while seething about the church leadership’s failings and hypocrisy. You are certainly under no obligation to meet with your former pastor…it is not your job to educate him about the offensiveness of assuming a brown baby from Haiti must be HIV positive. Do what gives your family closure and the ability to move on in peace.

Congratulations on your growing family.



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About Tami

Tami Winfrey Harris writes about race, feminism, politics and pop culture at the blog What Tami Said. Her work has also appeared online at The Guardian’s Comment is Free, Ms. Magazine blog, Newsweek,, Huffington Post and Racialicious. She is a graduate of the Iowa State University Greenlee School of Journalism. She is mom to two awesome stepkids and spends her spare time researching her family history and cultivating a righteous 'fro.
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