Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, pastoral caregiving, and clergy homophobia

Robert Emory Vaughn, University of Pennsylvania


This study describes the meaning of pastoral care by selected Protestant clergy offered to persons with HIV and AIDS and the unexpected finding of clergy homophobia expressed through discussions about their care. The questions of why do some clergy provide pastoral care and why do others refuse to provide this care when it concerns persons with HIV and AIDS began this project. Thirty-two selected Protestant clergy from primarily three denominations in Virginia were interviewed. The interviews produced results consistent with earlier research that identified attitudes toward homosexuality as one significant component in care-giving. An unexpected finding was the intensity of clergy homophobia expressed through the pastoral care of persons with HIV/AIDS. The use of semi-structured interviews allowed for an intensity of expression regarding homosexuality not identified in previous research on AIDS. The interviews were analyzed using NUDIST, a software program for qualitative analysis. The Index of Homophobia along with a survey of basic AIDS knowledge comprised the quantitative components. Building on prior research which utilized mail surveys, this work also found results consistent with previous findings that associated HIV caregiving with issues of contagion and judgment. No clergy within this sample admitted to currently refusing care to a person with AIDS, however, the goals of their care comprised a very wide range. The pastors identified a variety of barriers to rendering effective ministry to persons with HIV and AIDS including issues of secrecy, judgment, fear and moral questions regarding homosexuality. They found the ability to overcome some of those barriers through education, personal relationships with people touched by AIDS, and an understanding of their pastoral role which emphasized indiscriminate caring--especially of those considered outcasts. This study has unexpectedly identified the necessity of confronting clergy homophobia that continues to be a significant barrier to comprehensive pastoral care for persons with HIV/AIDS. The effectiveness of pastoral care is significantly intertwined with beliefs regarding homosexuality. Directions for further research and implications for theological and local religious community education are discussed.

Subject Area

Clergy|Academic guidance counseling

Recommended Citation

Vaughn, Robert Emory, "Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, pastoral caregiving, and clergy homophobia" (1998). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI9840252.