WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — A play featuring anti-gay and “ex-gay” religious themes will be showcased at Winston-Salem State University by a traveling, Atlanta, Ga.-based Christian production company headed by an African-American minister and his wife. The duo claims a person can be healed of HIV/AIDS through prayer and say an associate pastor with their company has done just that.
Winston-Salem State is a historically black university. The high rate of HIV infections among African-American women and men who have sex with men make these messages particularly controversial.
TBN Interview with The Cooper’s
In this interview the Atlanta, Ga.-based C 3 Entertainment’s management claims an associate was healed from AIDS through prayer.
On Sept. 28, the actors and actresses of “Church Mess” are slated to perform at Winston-Salem State’s Williams Auditorium. According to C 3 Entertainment, the play “features the religious church mother, the money hungry deacon, the financially strapped college student that is having an affair with the deacon, the choir member that lives an alternative lifestyle, the members that are in love with the pastor, the ‘down-low brother’ that’s hooked on pornography, and the playboy minister of music.”
C 3 Entertainment’s management, the Rev. Chad Everette Cooper and his wife Alicia Robinson Cooper, also describe the play as portraying “the church as the best institution in the world for complete healing and deliverance.”
In a February interview with “Praise the Lord,” a program aired on Evangelical Christian broadcasting network TBN, the Coopers described homosexuality as a condition in need of a cure. They also related the story of an associate pastor who was “healed” from homosexuality and AIDS.
Cooper told the TBN audience that Kofi Hemingway “was living a homosexual lifestyle 10 years ago. He gives his testimony at the end of the play about how he was so engulfed in this lifestyle that all of his partners died of AIDS.”
Cooper further described how God cured Hemingway’s HIV/AIDS infection.
“He was dying of AIDS,” Cooper declared. He added that after three days of prayer and fasting Hemingway “began to pick up his weight and the sores began to dry up and he went and took the test again and he’s AIDS free.”
Hemingway told Q-Notes that he truly believes he was cured of HIV/AIDS. However, when questioned further, he admitted that he had never taken an HIV test prior to his “healing.”
“I was losing weight and my glands were swelling,” Hemingway said. “What happened was I came into a Bible study and the pastor said that the Lord had shown him and his wife that someone in the congregation had the AIDS virus. At that moment I felt like it was me.”
Hemingway said he felt he was infected and dying because of his weight loss, visible sores and the fact that he had been sexually involved with other men who subsequently died from AIDS complications.
The “ex-gay” pastor also allowed that it was possible he was HIV-negative prior to the “healing,” accounting for the negative test result afterward.
Concerns that Hemingway and Cooper are intentionally misleading the public on this important public health issue prompted explanations of the spiritual variety from C 3 Entertainment’s marketing director, Brian Elliott.
“There are several people who have had that encounter or proclaimed healing from the Lord of HIV/AIDS,” Elliott told Q-Notes, citing former NBA player Magic Johnson as one such example. “Because it is spiritual … it would not get the mainstream media [attention].”
Actually, Johnson does not claim to be free of HIV, although he does state that his viral load is undetectable.
Hemingway said he understands how some might think his story is misleading. “It possibly can be [misleading], but I can only state what happened in my life,” he said.
Q-Notes pressed Hemingway about whether he thought it was dangerous to tell the public that individuals can be healed from AIDS through prayer, possibly preventing them from practicing safe-sex and avoiding HIV infection to begin with.
“With all due respect,” he responded, “people should take every precaution when it comes to intimate relations because you don’t know what the outcome is going to be.”
When Q-Notes made Winston-Salem State University officials aware of C 3 Entertainment’s claims, spokesperson Aaron Singleton responded that the auditorium facilities are being rented to C 3 Entertainment and the play is not being produced or sponsored by the university.
“The university offers certain facilities for organizations to rent such as plays, possibly wedding receptions and so forth,” he said. “The university does not conduct background checks for organizations that apply for its facilities.”
Asked if the university thought it was a responsible move to allow C 3 Entertainment access to their facility, which will be primarily filled with students, given their radical and dangerous public health messages, Singleton declined to respond.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that new HIV infections hover somewhere around 56,000 per year. They have warned the African-American and gay male communities that both are at higher risk for contracting the virus that causes AIDS. In a recent report, the CDC said gay and bisexual men “carry the burden” of the epidemic.
Wayne Besen, a gay activist who confronts “ex-gay” ministries and a syndicated writer whose column appears in Q-Notes, said Hemingway’s and Cooper’s statements are “creating fiction and presenting it as fact.”
“They are sending a very perverse and dangerous message that will fool people into thinking they don’t have to have safe sex if they can get better by praying,” Besen told Q-Notes. “Given the HIV problem in both the gay and African-American communities, it is a reckless and irresponsible message.”
Besen added, “Such a message should not be promoted by the university. In fact, they should denounce it.”
“Church Mess,” which has been performed at more than 120 locations nationwide, was staged at Greensboro’s Carolina Theatre on Aug. 23.
Pray away the AIDS
Like the leaders of C 3 Entertainment, other anti-gay and “ex-gay” leaders and minsters have claimed healing from HIV/AIDS.
Michael Lumberger, an “ex-gay” leader associated with Exodus International, once claimed, “Today with God’s abundant grace and His miraculous power to heal, I walk totally free from the AIDS virus.” He died in 2004, although Exodus International has maintained the cause of death was a heart attack unrelated to complications from HIV/AIDS.
Another “ex-gay” pastor, Matthew Manning of Lighthouse World Evangelism, also claims he received an HIV-negative test result through prayer after experiencing full-blown AIDS.
Posted on his organization’s website, Manning’s biography reads, “By late 1993, he was diagnosed with full-blown AIDS and was hospitalized. Although Pastor Matthew was faced with certain death, he sought even harder to know his loving Savior in a deeper way, believing God would heal him. Then, in early January of 1994, a miracle happened — his AIDS went into a state of remission. On November 27, 1994, another miracle happened — Matthew was diagnosed for the first time HIV negative and has consistently tested HIV negative ever since!”
No medical documentation is presented with the testimony to substantiate Manning’s claim.