Heterosexual contact was the most common way people contracted the disease, according to a 2009 survey. About 38 percent of people contracted the disease this way.

But a disproportionate number of cases came from men having sex with men; about 36 percent of people contracted the disease this way. While the number of gay men in the city is not known, they make up about 2 percent of the national population.

HopeSprings, a Baltimore nonprofit that trains church leaders on HIV/AIDS education, said their comfort level varies on sensitive topics.

"We try to present them with all the different options," said Erin Donovan, executive director of HopeSprings. "We want them to do what fits their church."

A committee for the Baltimore-based NAACP is creating a manual for churches on how to teach HIV/AIDS prevention methods. Research for the guide led Sadler on the 11-city tour to talk to churches.

Sadler said the HIV Faith & Social Justice manual would present AIDS prevention as a social justice issue that addresses health disparities along with the teachings. It will provide pastors with optional sermons, such as teaching that the Bible says people should not judge others.

"We have to reshape the conversation when it comes to HIV because it is so taboo and rejected," Sadler said.

Some church programs have made strides in efforts to address HIV/AIDS. Project Shalem, under the Jacques Initiative, has tested close to 5,000 people at churches throughout the city. In the process, workers discovered 10 new HIV/AIDS cases and were able to get additional treatment for 96 others.

"For us, not energizing the church is a big mistake," said Derek Spencer, executive director of the Jacques Initiative. "There are people sitting in church affected by HIV/AIDS."

John Smith, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Essex, said his church hasn't done any AIDS outreach, but said it could be done without delving into people's sexual histories.

"Whether or not it should be tied to the issue of sexuality, I don't know," Smith said. "I don't know if that would be one in the same. I think it would simply be enough to address the AIDS epidemic as a terrible disease that we have a responsibility to do something about."

andrea.walker@baltsun.com

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