Saddleback Church's AIDS summit kicked off Wednesday with hopes to "disturb" the hearts of those in attendance and mobilize congregations around the world to defeat the global pandemic.
The third annual Global Summit on AIDS and the Church has attracted about 1,000 people to the southern California megachurch to learn how churches and individuals can help fight the deadly killer.
"This is the one place you can talk about AIDS to your heart's content," said Kay Warren, co-host of the Nov. 28-30 summit, according to the Orange County Register. "You're going to hear things you don't agree with and you may find you're at polar opposites with a speaker … but we can't stop AIDS unless we come together.
"I have a goal to mess with your comfortable world," said Warren, who founded the AIDS ministry at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif. "I want your heart to be seriously disturbed."
Kay Warren, wife of Saddleback's founding pastor Rick Warren, was disturbed five years ago from her comfortable life as a "white suburban mom with a minivan" when she read a magazine article that stated more than 12 million children in Africa were orphaned by AIDS, according to Reuters.
Since then, the Warrens have launched what is thought to be the only global HIV/AIDS conference built entirely around a grassroots church-based strategy.
"The Bible commands the church to care for widows and orphans," Rick Warren said Wednesday at the summit. "With 143 million orphans in the world, I'd say that we have plenty of opportunity to make good on that mandate and demonstrate the love of Christ to children who have nothing to lose but hope. And we should never discount the power of hope."
The HIV/AIDS initiative at Saddleback is a key part of Rick Warren's P.E.A.C.E. plan, a humanitarian strategy launched three years ago. The goal of the worldwide effort is to mobilize one billion church members to Promote reconciliation, Equip servant leaders, Assist the poor, Care for the sick and Educate the next generation.
A session at the summit will feature a report about the P.E.A.C.E. plan progress and the lessons learned over the past three years after sending out more than 7,500 members to test the plan in 69 countries.
"One of the most exciting things about this third conference is that we actually have progress to report," Kay Warren said, according to a summit report. "The first conference was about casting a vision; the second conference was about gaining momentum; and this conference is about reporting what has worked, what has really worked well, and what still needs to be done."
During a summit press conference, Rick Warren was questioned if working alongside groups that oppose Christian moral values on AIDS issues might require compromise.
"I don't believe in compromising biblical convictions," Warren responded, according to World Net Daily. "I don't believe in that at all. If it's in the Word, then that's the way it should be done. I do believe in treating people with respect, even people that I disagree with. I think Jesus did that."
The megachurch pastor noted that he can work with people in areas of common interest to help others although he might disagree with them in other areas.
"I see Jesus as my model, not politics," Warren said. "And I think too many people look at issues from a political viewpoint, and they choose politics over saving lives.
"To me, if someone is dying on the side of the street, and I need help to save that person, it doesn't matter to me if they are Republican or Democrat, or Jewish and Christian, Muslim or atheist," the Purpose Driven Life author said. "If they will help me get that person to the hospital, I want their help."
Warren affirmed, however, that his church's "number one goal" is still to "help people to get into heaven."
Saddleback Church has baptized more than 20,000 new believers in the last 10 years, Warren said.
"There's not a church in America that wins more people to Christ than Saddleback Church. So this is no way has diluted our evangelistic efforts."
As an example, he pointed to David Miller, the founder of a radical gay-activist group ACT Up, who became a Christian after he was invited to Saddleback's first AIDS conference.
"I have watched the transformation in this man," said Warren, from someone who hated the church all his life to becoming a follower of Jesus Christ, according to WND.
Based on the Warrens' principle to work with many different people, Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) is expected to speak in person at the Summit on Thursday. Fellow presidential contenders Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), former Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.), former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney will appear via satellite.
Following the Global Summit, the first-ever Youth Summit will take place on Saturday, Dec. 1 – World AIDS Day – with video messages from rock star Bono, pop artist Jordan Pruitt and the cast of TV show "One Tree Hill," and a personal appearance by U.S. First Daughter Jenna Bush. This portion of the summit will be simulcast to more than 200 churches nationwide.