An expanding body of literature explores the role of African church groups in facilitating or hindering the support of people living with AIDS and challenging or contributing to HIV/AIDS-related stigma. Treating church groups as social spaces in which HIV/AIDS-related stigma may potentially be challenged, we systematically review this literature, identifying five themes that highlight the complex and contradictory role of the church as a potential agent of health-enhancing social change. In many ways the church perpetuates HIV/AIDS-related stigma through (i) moralistic attitudes and (ii) its reinforcement of conservative gender ideologies. However some churches have managed move towards action that makes a more positive contribution to HIV/AIDS management through (iii) promoting various forms of social control for HIV prevention, (iv) contributing to the care and support of the AIDS-affected and (v) providing social spaces for challenging stigmatising ideas and practices. We conclude that church groups, including church leadership, can play a key role in facilitating or hindering the creation of supportive social spaces to challenge stigma. Much work remains to be done in developing deeper understandings of the multi-layered factors that enable some churches, but not others, to respond effectively to HIV/AIDS
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