Evangelicals on 'Revolutionary' Movement for HIV/AIDS

LAKE FOREST, Calif. – Two days of intensive brain-racking AIDS education came to an end on World AIDS Day at Saddleback Church. After decades of silence among Christians, many agree that the Church is now on the cutting edge of a new revolutionary movement for HIV/AIDS.

“This event is a revolutionary event!” Eugene Rivers III, pastor of Azusa Christian Community in Boston, shouted to the more than 2,000 attendants. “You are the cutting edge.”

World AIDS Day marked its 25th anniversary on Friday. While millions observed the international day with worship and activism, thousands of Christians raised their hands at Saddleback’s Global Summit on AIDS and the Church to commit to a fight of epic proportions.

“We cannot claim to be sons and daughters of God and refuse to do this,” Kay Warren, the inspiration behind the AIDS Summit, told the crowd. “Who will stay until the end of the battle?”

Although Warren has a growing army of believers backing her, such a Christian presence was absent just years ago.

Richard Stearns, president of World Vision, had made efforts in the past to host AIDS conferences with the Church. But “no one came to hear the message about AIDS,” he said.

“This conference is my dream come true,” Stearns said with a smile, adding that he is proud to see more people in the Church filled with compassion to care for widows and orphans.

Compassion International, another Christian international relief organization, has been working on the AIDS crisis for 55 years. And in that half a century, it has only worked through the local church. Yet Wess Stafford, who heads the NGO, said: “This is the first conference I’ve ever attended where I actually feel hope.”

“I think we’ve finally got the right people at the right time,” he added.

The driving force behind the new church movement for HIV/AIDS are evangelical pastor Rick Warren and his wife Kay, who has been in the fight for four years now.

Kay has spent everyday in those four years fighting sleepless nights and tears, she said, but she is determined never to give up even if she herself becomes infected by the incurable virus.

Access to antiretroviral treatment has increased around the world and more children orphaned by AIDS are receiving support from abroad. While the world waits on science and monetary funds to overturn the pandemic, Christian leaders have made it clear that the answer does not lie in those two aspects.

“All the money in the world is not going to turn HIV/AIDS around,” evangelist Franklin Graham told the summit crowd. “Condoms aren’t going to save you.

“The only way HIV/AIDS can be solved … is through Jesus Christ changing a human heart. Outside of it, it’s not going to work.”

That’s where the Church comes into play.

Stearns bluntly called the AIDS fight a marathon and not a sprint.

“AIDS will still be here in 50 years,” he said. “The question is: what has the Church done in those 50 years.”