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Kay Warren and Saddleback Church

Kay Warren, wife of Rick Warren, author of The Purpose-Driven Life and founder of the Saddleback Church, was recently interviewed in Newsweek. The Warrens earlier this month hosted a summit attended by more than 2,000 on the role of the church in fighting AIDS. As I recently posted, Warren invited Senator Barack Obama whose views on abortion fell foul of some of the evangelical base.

The Warrens, like Franklin Graham of Samaritan’s Purse, are battling the stigma in the Christian community that those suffering from AIDS are deviants who brought the disease on themselves. Kay said in the interview:

We live in a broken, sinful world. We all make mistakes, but at the same time God cares passionately about everyone he has made. You never find Jesus asking people how they got sick, not once does he ask that. When sick people came to him, he simply said, “How can I help you?” And that’s where we’re trying to go. That needs to be the first question out of our mouths.

Kay Warren spoke of why the church has a special role to play in the fight against AIDS:

And we also have moral authority. Government doesn’t have moral authority; nor does the private sector. And on top of that, the church has a motivation that’s different than anyone else’s. The government may feel responsible to protect its citizens; the private sector gets involved because of a profit motive. But people who follow Christ, we have a motivation that outlasts all of those, and that is the motivation of love.

It is because this is not a political issue, it’s a moral one. If you have one ounce of compassion in you and have ever met people who have been stigmatized like that, and looked into the eyes of another human who is suffering, it’s almost impossible not to care for them. It’s a moral response from one person to another.

While we may disagree about the right mix of policies–condoms, abstinence, fidelity–that can preven the disease, I applaud the Warrens for their willingness to take this issue to a mass audience. One of the most interesting elements the Warrens emphasize is the importance of using their faith to challenge systems of privilege in developing countries that prevent women from protecting themselves from sexual abuse. This is a very significant, albeit difficult, challenge, but I’m glad the Warrens have gotten religion on HIV/AIDS and wish them success.

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2 Responses to “Kay Warren and Saddleback Church”

  1. Well, I’m still skeptical. See, the right mix of policies could be crucial here. We KNOW, for a fact, that condoms work. We do not have sufficient evidence–so far–about the effects of abstinence programs on HIV prevalence or incidence.

    And how will evangelicals react when real HIV policy has to address men who have sex with men, sex worker outreach, and de facto polygamy? And that’s where the crux of HIV in Africa and much of the developing world lies–not in “innocent” wives receiving the virus from their “unfaithful” husbands or children receiving the virus in utero from mothers.

    Those who are LGBTQ, especially men, can, in some sense, claim that HIV “belongs” to them. They were the first to get it; they were the first to suffer from it; they were the first to die enmasse from it; they were the first stigmatized from it. That stigma continues into the present day, where all sorts of people (not just whacked-out far-right fundamentalists) continue to think of HIV as a “gay disease.” Many, many, many people have refused to work on the disease for a long time because it was linked to gay men.

    Moreover, Warren also invited people to the conference who are known for their anti-gay stance, not withstanding the fact that he has been publicly vocal about condemning gays.

    It’s not hypocrisy on his part. But like with Jesse Helms (whom I know you have written about his conversion before), his arrival at the message of Christ’s gospel (when it could be plainly seen in front of him) occurred pretty late. When a leper was brought to Jesus at one point in his preaching career, Jesus healed the man, then said, “Now, go and sin no more.” Jesus first took care of the immediate needs, then addressed the work of transforming the soul. Many of His followers have reversed the order, to the detriment of all, I think.

  2. I don’t think we really know what works to prevent AIDS in Africa. It’s unclear what reduced prevalence in Uganda. Was it that people died before they passed on the virus or did the ABC strategy work?

    I agree that condoms policies worked in Thailand, but I think the concentration of the disease in the sex worker community made that especially effective strategy.

    If only men were willing to use condoms most of the time in Africa, but it appears that they aren’t.

    While a knee-jerk hostilty to condoms is, I agree, silly and counter-productive, conservatives have an argument when they say that faithfulness and abstinence programs–coupled with condoms–may constitute a program that can reduce the incidence of new infections. Abstinence policies may at the very least delay the age of first-sex; faithfulness programs may cut down on the number of sex partners people have. Condoms, when they are used, may prevent disease transmission. Unfortunately, women are often not in a position to demand of their sexual partners that they use condoms. That’s why I think there is such interest in microbicides and other female-controlled prevention options.

    I agree that the evangelical community has a lot of prejudices that makes their intervention programs problematic, but that is precisely why they needed to hear this message from the Warrens. Kay Warren came at this issue with a lot of the same prejudices that you identified, but she is moving beyond judgment to action. That journey may take a long time for some people but if they can be brought around, that’s a good thing, even if it wasn’t very Christian for them to have held such prejudices before.

    In conversations I’ve had with some conservatives, they suggest on the ground, African faith groups may be more pragmatic, willing to support a mixed strategy that includes condoms. When they know the kids they are working with are already sexually active, they are less doctrinaire. They may not draw attention to this, and I am worried that our government-funded policies are too inflexible (particularly vis a vis condoms and dealing with sex workers), but some of this may be the political price of getting large-scale treatment programs funded.

    In the meantime, prevention programs–even if they are free of these ideologically driven choices–still leave a lot to be desired.