Sunday, November 4, 2007

This presentation is part of : Strategies for Vulnerable Populations
Spiritual and Religious Experiences of Gay Men with HIV Illness
Debra L. Seegers, School of Nursing, Southside Regional Memorial Medical Center, Petersburg, VA, USA
Learning Objective #1: 1. identify 6 essential characteristics of spiritual and religious experiences described by ten gay men living with symptomatic HIV illness
Learning Objective #2: 2. identify 4 ways in which ten gay men with HIV illness described coping with their stigmatization in Christian churches

Ten gay men with symptomatic HIV illness described their spiritual and religious experiences throughout life in a transcendental phenomenological study conducted between 2003 and 2005 in the south-central coastal United States. The men described spirituality as dynamic and evolutionary, woven into family relationships, and, for African American participants, essentially religious, Christian, and church-based. Developmental experiences of and belief in God’s love were central to participants’ decisions to remain active in their churches. Participants did not reveal their homosexuality or HIV status to pastors or church members. Participants withheld these data to prevent stigmatization, and, they believed, possible expulsion or exclusion from their churches by pastors and church members. Participants who were not active in churches nevertheless described their spiritual experiences in relation to church, framing their spiritual and religious practices as responses to alienation from church.

The centrality of the experience of church, particularly the Black Church, to participants’ spiritual and religious lives raised several problems for them. Participants struggled with Christian demands for celibacy outside of marriage, and with defining “marriage.” Those who had been very ill or hospitalized often told their pastors and members of their church congregations that they had cancer, instead of HIV or AIDS.

Nurses caring for gay men with HIV illness may consider the experiences of this study’s participants as they assess such clients’ spiritual health and needs. Christian gay men with HIV may want the support of their pastors and members of their churches, but may be committed to withholding information about their sexuality and illnesses from them in order to preserve the spiritual supports available only through church.