The Bish is back with succor for the holiday soul

Profiled in POZ January 1999

I introduced HIV testing in my church, The Inner Light Unity Fellowship, in Washington, D.C. The testing is done in a room upstairs so people have privacy. You can get tested before, during or after the worship service. We even invite strangers in! All the AIDS information is right up front, too. It helps people overcome feeling ashamed of being tested or of having HIV. If you test positive, the support system is right there, too. We do the same thing with breast cancer.

I preach, "If the body is the temple of God, let's give God the best temple we can." That means taking responsibility for how you eat, how you have sex, everything. People get inspired, get up and go upstairs. They also stand up in the service and say, "I have breast cancer," "I have AIDS." This really is a health ministry.

It's amazing how much good is coming out of the September 11 attacks. Here you have President Bush on TV holding the Koran. It has made people question their beliefs about God, religion, what you think you know. We forget that this country was founded on terrorism -- the Native Americans, the slaves. And until we see everybody on this planet as brothers and sisters, we'll stay in this cycle of death.

My own health is excellent. Three years ago I went on anti-HIV meds for the first time. My counts went down, my doctor and I discussed it, and we compromised on an easy therapy [d4T/3TC/Viracept]. Now, I still do all my alternative things. But because I existed for so long without drugs, even now people are like, "Huh? The holistic person is doing meds?" I tell them, "If I get shot, don't call an herbalist -- get my ass to a hospital. Then, when I'm stitched back up, I'll have my green tea." It's all about finding a balance in your life.

This holiday will be the second that my lover, Rodney, and I have spent together. We've started a tradition -- the number of years is the number of gifts we give. We met in church. I noticed him many times and said to myself, "Better put it right out of your mind." Then one Sunday we found ourselves alone on a bench. I said, "Are we gonna get serious and do this, or are we gonna forget about it?" And he said, "Let's do it." Because of my health, we've learned never to take each other for granted. We give each other gifts every day.

The pulpit is where the voice should come from that says to the warmongers, "No." My job is to challenge: "How do we bring peace?" "After bombing Afghanistan, how do we rebuild it?" That's why I have a problem with Bush's new faith-based initiative to deliver federal dollars to churches for social services. If the government gives us money, can we continue to challenge it?

The one thing that September 11 did is make everybody think about death. The person with AIDS thinks about it all the time. And the shock that hit America is the same shock that you feel the first time you are hospitalized: Your whole life changes. Before that, you could say, "I'm positive," but it hasn't really hit home. You're still walking around in a state of denial. The same with America and terrorism. So it's a wake-up call. It presents us with an opportunity to refocus and ask, "What is the true purpose of my life?"