Rick Warren: Church Can S.T.O.P. HIV/AIDS

Correction appended

ST. LOUIS, Mo. – AIDS is one of the leading causes of death and the fastest spreading pandemic in history. And to date, there is still no cure. While much of the global efforts against AIDS are focused on slowing the disease, megachurch pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Community Church in Lake Forest, Calif., wants to stop it and says the church is an essential ingredient in doing so.

”Tell me what you want to do with this pandemic – slow it down, which is a whole lot easier to do and does not require behavioral change, or do you want to stop it? I am not interested in just slowing it – [although] I do want to slow it – but more than slowing it, I want to stop it,” said Warren at an Urbana 06 press conference Friday.

Urbana 06, InterVarsity Campus Fellowship’s twenty-first student missions convention, is taking place Dec.27-31 in St. Louis, Mo. The purpose of the triennial conference has been to transform students and develop world changers.

According to Warren, there are secular approaches to prevention of the disease but there is a component that only the church can deal with. “If you want to stop it, now you have to bring in the church,” he said.

Warren said that popular methods such as supplying condoms, limiting the number of partners and not offering needle exchange will slow the pandemic but will not stop it.

The church, on the other hand, has the ability to stop the disease that 69 million people around the world have been affected with, Warren claimed. The author of the best-selling novel Purpose Driven Life highlighted four key factors that the church adds to the AIDS prevention equation, which he listed together using the acronym S.T.O.P. They are:

Save sex for marriage
Teach men to respect women and children
Offer treatment through churches
Pledge yourself with one partner for life

Warren said if the world follows the above mentioned moral teachings, the widely-spread disease will inevitably overtime come to a stop.

However, as World Vision Vice President Steve Haas had noted prior to Warren’s speech, churches hardly ever mention the word HIV/AIDS.

“We’re still dealing with the stigma and ignorance in this country and it’s got to be erased,” he said, alluding to the current situation of churches in America regarding the disease. Commenting on the absolute significance of churches being involved, Haas said, “It is a killer if it does not have the appropriate social nets and the appropriate care that could be provided by the community.”

Warren highlighted how this is precisely the reason why he had come to this convention. “This is what we are praying – for second reformation of the church,” he told The Christian Post on Thursday, identifying the students at Urbana as part of the reformation generation.

“God’s timing is perfect. I see a spiritual hunger, I see a spiritual readiness, the willingness to commit, and a willingness to sacrifice; and all of these things coming in together … has created a kairos moment – the right time for a reformation to take place.”

Kay Warren, Rick Warren’s wife, stressed the importance of students picking up the task of reformation. “We are handing the next generation – these students, these 22,000 students who are sitting here – a pandemic we have failed to stop,” she indicated at the press conference.

“It is the most thrilling thing I can imagine – to know that they are going to get it, and they are going to care, and they are going to do something.”

Earlier this month, Rick and Kay Warren were joined by world-renowned AIDS experts and key leaders at the “2006 Global Summit on AIDS and the Church” hosted by the Warrens' megachurch in California. During the Nov. 30 - Dec. 1 gathering, themed "Race Against Time," Christians were urged to take hold of the opportunity to stop history’s greatest health crisis.

Correction:: Thursday, January 4, 2007:

An article on Sunday, December 31, 2006, about a press conference held at the Urbana 06 conference in St. Louis, Mo., incorrectly described AIDS as the leading cause of death. AIDS is currently one of the leading causes of death and, within the next 25 years, is set to be one of the three top causes of death worldwide, according to researchers Colin Mathers and Dejan Loncar of the World Health Organization.