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Letter: Keeping the Faith on PEPFAR

Dear Members of Congress,

We are unlikely allies from every corner of America. What do a Los Angeles poet and emcee, a Texas house-church movement pastor, an African diaspora lay leader in Atlanta, a Nazarene pastor in South Dakota, a megachurch mission’s pastor in South Carolina, and a multi-Grammy-winning artist have in common? We all share a passion for God and a passion for helping end global extreme poverty and preventable disease. Along with our fellow faith leaders from across the US, we are joining together in support of PEPFAR, the US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, and urge you to support its reauthorization.

In 2003, before PEPFAR was created, nearly 30 million Africans – many of them children – were infected with HIV. Antiretroviral drugs were available in wealthy countries, where an AIDS diagnosis was no longer a death sentence, but only 50,000 people on the continent were being treated with these life-saving pills. An unprecedented intervention of American leadership was required to get essential treatments and testing to everyone, everywhere that needed it. President George W. Bush launched PEPFAR during his 2003 State of the Union address, written by speechwriter, fellow architect of PEPFAR, and our close friend at the ONE Campaign, the late Mike Gerson, with this call to action: “Seldom has history offered a greater opportunity to do so much for so many.”

The story of PEPFAR is a story of medical miracles and mercy, of faith and fierce advocacy. Faith-based organizations were at the frontlines of the communities most affected by the HIV/AIDS crisis, and faith leaders knew the challenge at hand and the scale of intervention that was required. They joined together with unlikely allies – bipartisan lawmakers, celebrities, and scientists – to help get PEPFAR across the legislative finish line and win the support of the American public. PEPFAR has helped turn the tide in our fight against AIDS, and the results have been incredible: 20 years later PEPFAR has saved 25 million lives and resulted in 5.5 million babies being born HIV-free.

Faith-based organizations and ministries have been central to this success, representing the largest provider of HIV services outside the government in many of the countries with which PEPFAR partners. Faith communities have a deeply rooted and trusted community presence. A trusted messenger with access to those most in need of care is an essential prerequisite to effective delivery of life-saving messages about HIV prevention, care, and treatment. “PEPFAR is not any one president’s program, not any one party’s program,” said Mike Gerson. “This was a response to a grave human need that we had within our power to address. Addressing grave human needs abroad is ultimately a moral and religious commitment to a viewpoint about universal human rights and dignity. This really is about the American people coming together to do something amazing in the world.”

In a time when there is too much emphasis on what divides us, it’s important to rally around the tenets of faith that bring us together to do good for our fellow brothers and sisters. That’s why we faith leaders from all 50 states, representing different denominations and traditions, are coming together in unity to ask Congress to fully support the reauthorization of PEPFAR.


Propaganda, Billy Schiel, Kenny Kamson, Joe Hauer, Jodi McCall, Michael W. Smith

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