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FIRST-PERSON: The opportunity behind Colin Powell’s MTV remarks

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (BP)–Colin Powell’s controversial comments in a recent MTV interview with young viewers regarding the use of condoms was seen by some conservatives as the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. Nonetheless, such comments and the debate that followed provide us with an excellent opportunity to re-examine sexual behavior in American society.

Personally, I feel Colin Powell has worked extremely hard to promote abstinence education and family values. In fact, the Powells are tremendously positive role models for young people throughout America.

Powell, like many concerned leaders, has shown distress about the relentless spread of STDs, high teen pregnancy rates, out-of-wedlock pregnancies, and alarm about the AIDS epidemic that is sweeping like wildfire in Africa and North America. His remarks on MTV might cause some to disagree with my opinion about his stand. In any case, all should agree with me that his remarks give Christians a prime opportunity to engage the church about a complex social crisis.

Though some may disagree, it is my opinion that America is reaping the whirlwind of a “sex sales mentality.” The media, television, music videos, popular magazines and films have so glamorized sex that many young people are confused by what the church is saying and what society is practicing.

To combat such a media onslaught, I would challenge the black community especially to strongly promote abstinence education through the church community.

Moreover, I agree with the proposal by Rev. George McRae, a Miami pastor, as quoted in The Wall Street Journal, “Every black church should have an AIDS ministry.”

Statistics released by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention showed that, “Blacks, who make up 13 percent of the U.S. population, represent 56 percent of the approximately 40,000 new HIV infections cases reported last year.” Such staggering numbers ought to be a wakeup call to the African American community and the nation as a whole. According to a July 2001 Jet Magazine article reporting CDC findings, “… nearly 325,000 Blacks are infected with HIV and more than 106,000 of these individuals are living with AIDS. That means about one in 50 Black men and 1 in 160 Black women are believed to be infected with HIV.” These statistics are disturbing and appalling, and those who use movies, music videos and other media to sell sex should not go unchallenged.

In addition to the spread of AIDS and STDs, more and more children are being born to single out-of-wedlock parents, which ultimately prescribes a life of poverty and hardship to the child and the single parent. According to a national study, seven out of 10 black children will grow up with only one parent in the house, compared to three out of 10 white children.

Pastors and other Christian leaders, particularly in urban centers, must speak out more boldly regarding sexual immorality and abstinence education. Perhaps Colin Powell’s comments will catalyze us to speak more openly about the social, physical and spiritual ills of our promiscuous society. Opportunity knocks.
Terriel R. Byrd, Ph.D., is assistant professor of religion and director of ethnic church ministries at Palm Beach Atlantic College, West Palm Beach, Fla.

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  • Terriel Byrd