Christians Work Together Against AIDS Amid Controversy

LAKE FOREST, Calif. – Controversy within the Christian community surrounded the Global AIDS Summit hosted last week by Rick and Kay Warren. Despite an emerging church movement in the fight against HIV/AIDS, some Christians dwelled on the evangelical pastor’s invitation to Sen. Barack Obama.

Pro-life groups and conservative Christians were outraged over the Illinois senator speaking at Saddleback Church Friday. In dissonance with Obama’s pro-abortion stance, the opposing groups protested against working together with someone in contrast with “the teachings of historic Christianity,” as the Christian Defense Coalition said in a statement Saturday.

“You can't work together with people totally opposed to what you are,” Dr. Wiley Drake, second vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention, told Time magazine. “This kind of conference is just going to lead people astray."

After discovering that Obama cares about AIDS, megapastor Rick Warren invited him to speak to church leaders and health professionals at the second annual Global Summit on AIDS and the Church. Obama was also joined by Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., at a morning session on Friday.

Both senators acknowledged the controversy while affirming the crucial need to reach out across all lines to turn the AIDS pandemic around.

“There is an enormous coalition ready to come together,” Brownback told summit attendants. The coalition includes the Warrens and Bono, Bruce Wilkinson and George Clooney, the Pope and college students, and Obama and Brownback among many others, listed Brownback as he alluded to the left and right wings and the young and old.

“Together,” said Brownback, “we’re going to change the world.”

Obama noted at a press conference that they are not going to agree on everything but that the AIDS conference served as an “opportunity to listen to each other.”

The Christian Defense Coalition did not oppose Warren’s inviting people with different views. But at the same time, the coalition did not agree with welcoming Obama.

“Evangelicals are not upset that you are reaching out to people with different views, opinions or political alignment. The command of Christ is that we extend His gospel to all groups, ideologies and nations,” said a letter addressed to Warren. “We are upset that you have invited a man to speak at your church that promotes policies which kill children and degrade women and stands in stark contrast to the teachings of historic Christianity."

Warren had clearly stated his pro-life stance but when identifying with the left or right wing, he said at the Summit, “I’m the whole bird.” The comment drew laughter and cheers from the summit audience.

“That’s why I have two wings here – a Republican and a Democrat,” said Warren. “Why? Because you've got to have two wings to fly.” Applause broke out among the more than 2,000 Christians at the conference.

Amid the opposing voices, other religious leaders expressed their support for Warren.

“In the face of this [AIDS] crisis, it boggles our minds and offends our God-given sense of justice that these groups would choose to attack Senator Obama and Reverend Warren – Christians both – for working together to stamp out AIDS,” said a letter addressed to pastors across the country. Signatories of the letter included Dr. Ron Sider and the Rev. Jim Wallis among others.

Richard Land, head of SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, told Time, "Rick is having a summit on AIDS, and Barack Obama has said some compelling things about the issue. I work all the time in coalition with people to the right and left of me, when we're in agreement on a specific issue. One of the markers of Evangelicals is the ability to walk and chew gum at the same time."

Responding to both the support and the protests, Warren said, “We don’t listen to the cheers or the jeers.”

Warren, who described himself as a “co-belligerent with different politicians on different issues,” and his wife, Kay, had their focus on the AIDS crisis during the Summit and uniting people that otherwise would not collaborate together around the issue.

"There are two billion Christians in the world, I'm told," said U2's Bono in a video featured at the Summit Friday. "And like any family, there are arguments, there are disagreements. It can get pretty messy. But one thing we could probably agree on – and we can't agree on much – but the one thing we can all agree on is that God is where the poor live. God is in the slums and in the cardboard boxes where the poor play house. God is in the silence of a mother who has infected their child with the virus that will end both their lives. God is in the cries heard under the rubble of war. God is in the debris and detritus of wasted opportunity and lives. God is with us, if we are with them.”

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