Saddleback Opens AIDS Conference; Warren Urges Churches to Care

In his opening talk, ''How God Got Our Attention,'' Rick Warren lectured to the 1,300-plus participants – from pastors and ministry workers to government staff – about turning the church’s attention to caring for the sick.

LAKE FOREST, Calif. – “Purpose Driven” Pastor Rick Warren opened the Saddleback HIV/AIDS Conference on Tuesday with a talk on how the church must be more than just a mouth.

“The problem today is that the Church is the body of Christ, but the hands and the legs have been amputated, and all that’s left is a big mouth,” said Warren, who pastors Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif. “Most of the time we’re known for what it’s against. I’m tired of that. I want the church to be known for what it’s for, not for what it’s against.”

In his opening talk, “How God Got Our Attention,” Warren lectured to the nearly 1,700 participants – from pastors and ministry workers to government staff – about turning the church’s attention to caring for the sick.

“God hates it when we ignore the needs of sick,” said Warren, “especially when spiritual leaders ignore it.”

“Stop spending so much time planning on your worship. Plan how to take care of the sick,” he exhorted. “Stop sacrificing, but be merciful.”

Warren, 51, heads up one of the largest church networks in America, the Purpose Driven network, comprised of 10 percent of America’s congregations or close to 4,500 churches. The conference invited pastors and others to talk about systematically and pragmatically eradicating HIV/AIDS in this generation. The conference will last three days, until the Global AIDS Day on Dec. 1.

It was back in 2002 that Kay Warren’s heart opened to the suffering of 12 million children in Africa orphaned because of AIDS.

She was home reading a news magazine when she saw photographs of Africans suffering with AIDS – images so horrifying she had to cover her eyes, according to the Baptist Press (BP).

“I made a conscious decision to open my heart to the pain,” she told BP. “When I did, God broke my heart. He shattered it in a million pieces, and I cried for days.”

She said she knew that God was calling her to make a difference in the pandemic. Kay brought Rick along with her on a second trip to Africa, and together they gave birth to the global P.E.A.C.E. Plan, a missions strategy that aims to harness small groups from churches everywhere to tackle the world’s five global ills – spiritual darkness, lack of servant leaders, poverty, disease, and ignorance.

Jesus set the model for ministering to the sick, said Warren. One-third of his ministry dealt with healing the sick, he added in an attempt to distill the stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS.

“Jesus hung out with the lepers,” noted the Saddleback pastor, and “AIDS is the leprosy of the 21st century.”

“People are scared to death of it,” said Warren. “I have a friend here who flew out from N.Y. who has AIDS. His wife was breathing oxygen, and he was reading about AIDS. The lady sitting next to them asked the stewardess for another seat."

"Would Jesus do that?" he asked. "I don’t think so.”

Warren urged pastors and other Christian ministers to sit up and utilize their wealth and their influence to help the suffering around the world.

An estimated 40.3 million people are now living with HIV. Over one million of them are in the United States. More than 50 percent of those infected are women and children.

The Saddleback AIDS/HIV Conference is the first time that the evangelical community is trying to address the AIDS/HIV pandemic through a practical mobilization of the greatest network in the world – local churches.

Speakers during the three-day event include Bill and Lynne Hybels, pastor and founders of Willow Creek Community Church; Claude Allen, chief assistant to the President for Domestic Policy; Ambassador Randall Tobias, U.S. State Department Global AIDS Coordinator; Jim Towey, Assistant to the President and Director of the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives; Edward Green, PhD, Harvard University anthropologist and AIDS prevention authority; Gary Haugen, president of International Justice Mission; and Robert Redfield, MD, co-founder of the Institute for Human Virology at the University of Maryland.