AIDS Activism Makes Strange Bedfellows

This morning I attended a prayer breakfast in my town for World AIDS Day. Despite the blizzard conditions, leaders from local churches, schools, and relief organizations gathered for the event. More than a few people remarked about the odd group. My table had three evangelical pastors, a newspaper reporter, and a board member from an organization led by a gay man. Across from us were Roman Catholic nuns in their habits, Wheaton College students, and leaders of the gay community.

The two main speakers represented the polarity of the group. Ruth Bell Olsson is the leader of the HIV/AIDS ministry at Mars Hill Church near Grand Rapids, Michigan. Ruth comes with solidly evangelical credentials, and she also happens to be Pastor Rob Bell's sister. The second speaker was Dan Pallotta, founder of AIDSRides and Breast Cancer Walks. Pallotta's passion for AIDS awareness stems from his own experience as a gay man in Los Angeles watching many in his community die from the disease.

In a time when cultural divisions are as distinct as blue and red, the coming together of liberals and conservatives, evangelicals and gays, was refreshing - at least to me. But not everyone is happy about the emerging connection between evangelicals and those outside the conservative camp. Rick Warren, for example, has taken flak for inviting pro-choice Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) to Saddleback to speak at the HIV/AIDS summit today. Saddleback responded to the critics:

"We do not expect all participants in the Summit discussion to agree with all of our Evangelical beliefs. However, the HIV/AIDS pandemic cannot be fought by Evangelicals alone. It will take the cooperation of all ? government, business, NGOs and the church. That is the purpose of this Summit."

[Read more about Senator Obama's remarks and Saddleback's AIDS Summit here]

I applaud Rick Warren, Saddleback, and those in my own town who are defying cultural divisions in order to tackle the issue of AIDS locally and globally. I am amazed when Christians refuse to participate in the fight against the pandemic because others in the trenches don't agree with them politically or theologically. 8,000 people die everyday from AIDS. Eight thousand! As a friend reminded me this morning, for the church to sit on the sidelines is tantamount to a New York firefighter refusing to enter the burning World Trade Center because another firefighter voted for Hillary.

Anyone who has been to the front lines of the AIDS battle knows it is not simply a political, moral, social, or theological issue. AIDS is a human issue. My first encounter with AIDS was in college. A young man with HIV came to our state university to talk about being a Christian with the disease. He had contracted the virus from a blood transfusion, not through sexual contact. I suppose that made him more acceptable in Christian circles. But he challenged the Christians on campus to reach out to everyone affected by HIV/AIDS, including gays and lesbians.

December 01, 2006

Displaying 1–10 of 33 comments

PK

December 20, 2006  2:22pm

I am kind of tired of big names stepping up and with one fell swoop condemning everyone who apparently isn't doing anything to help the weak. That is bogus. Just because you don't jump on board or should I say "in bed" with Rick Warren or Obama concerning AIDS doesn't mean you are a deadbeat. Yes it is a tragedy that 8000 people die everyday because of AIDS but what of the 126,000 worldwide who are aborted every day? One is a disease and the other a decision. It is absolute and glaring hypocrisy to wag your finger at people who criticize Warren from inviting a pro-abortion politician (defined as one who uses governmental influence to pass and support legislation that makes it legal to kill unborn, innocent children) to speak on the topic of life and then say "saving lives is more important to us than political alignment". What a load of garbage. Where's the proof? Hypocrites... white washed sepulchers that outwardly appear good and noble but inside stink of death.

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Richard

December 16, 2006  5:51am

I understand that we all come into this world "Dead in sin and if not for the Love of God, Jesus, would Die in that same sin." In other words we all came in to this world self righteous, as in, whatever the choice... we considered it right at the time. Serving one of two masters, never, ever in between. Let us consider everyone a victim of someone else's choice and free all the prisoners in our jails and to ensure that they will be a compliment to society; let us give them about 50,000 dollars a year for just being them. That would work wouldn't it... change the environment but keep the same old stink inside. And it's a great stink, turn on your TV's and get a whiff of it. Read most of the printed materials and listen to most of the music give testimony to that stink. Try to resuscitate the dead that can not Live. Prop the corpse with stilts and paint it's face rosy. please don't tell the emperor that He doesn't wear any clothes for you shall be deemed a fool. Rely on your own wit to rise to the top of the pyramid since the flow will be accepted by all that is considered wise. Whatever you do, don't expect a miracle. Figure it out yourself on how to logically smoothen salvation out to the point of recognition; after all, isn't this what Jesus would do?

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chris

December 12, 2006  7:06am

Great post! I think Rick needed to do what he did. I once new a very successful business man who actually controlled the majority of his industry. Yet many thought he was a minor player. He'd buy a competitor and keep their name on the front door. Why because it is American to bash "the big boyz". Rick doesn't have the luxury of "minimizing" the bulls eye on his back. I applaud his courage to do what might be unpopular with some, to save lives. If the good samaratian had been a pro-choice, gay, demorcrat...would you have helped him? I think far too many in the American Evangelical church would pass him by. Jesus' harsh words today would be towards the "church", sin in our camp & self-righteousness, keep us from reaching the least of these. What would He say to the sinners? Something akin to "lets spend time together." The hard sayings of Christ are to His church; the loving embrace is to a dying world to bring them home! Jesus will never rebuke you for helping the lest of these...but His words might sting, "If you confuse the work of His KINGDOM, with the Kingdoms of this world!

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Chen

December 09, 2006  9:49am

As a Chinese Christian, I have learned that it is not social justice bring people to Christ but the genius Christian's love and moral discipline bring people to Christ. So, what are we talking here is about Christian's love or social justice? To shows genius Christian loves, I believe we do not need to alliance with unbelievers. Jesus did not alliance with Romans nor did He alliance with phrases to advance the kingdom of God! To do social justice, however, we cannot do by ourselves because there is always poor among us, as Jesus said in John 12:7. If so, then, when alliance with any organization of this world, let us admit that what we do is about social justice and has nothing to do with advancement of the kingdom of God! On the AIDS issue, all discussion here seems centered on how terrible is that AIDS kills so many people. Do we care those souls or those human lives? We all know everyone will die one day. We also know that Bible tells us heaven is far better than this world. So what are issues about death? Should not we care more about the salvation of souls? If we care about death, should not we pay more attention to abortion that kills more unborn children than AIDS infected people? For those people praise Rick Warren's tactics in involving Obama because the summit can save human life, please tell me that you also participate in pro-life movement to save millions of unborn children! If you care about suffering, please tell me you also concern tens of millions of cancer patients who suffer more pain than AIDS! Are not cancer and abortion more urgent than AIDS in both quality and quantity? Church in the western world has so much indulgent in social justice and forgets that the souls are more important than lives. I do not mean that we do not have social responsibility because we are Christians. We do, but let us fulfill our social responsibility in the context of social justice. Please do not taint God's Gospel with the philosophy of this world!

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lizc

December 07, 2006  11:32am

I think we are getting off topic here. I think as Christians we SHOULD be out there fighting things like AIDS and other "human" issues. I think its OK if we fight the same things as unbelievers, and beside unbelievers. As my sister's church says: Bring a living Jesus to a Dying world. But I think for me, the issue is inviting Obama to the CHURCH to speak. I say, hey, invite him to speak, invite anyone to speak on behalf of AIDS awarenes/assistance. But my issue is, did he have to invite him to the church to make it appear as if the church endorses Obama's opinions/beliefs, or, for that matter, that Obama endorses the opinions/beliefs of the church (which neither does the other, I would guess). I guess I wouldn't have had an issue if it had been at another location. I dont think even Jesus, loving the sinners as he did, would have invited them to teach at the temple. Or Paul, as he preached to multitudes, would have said, "hey, here's a buddy of mine, he doesnt believe in Jesus, but he can assist us with helping us feed the poor her, so lets give him a round of applause and listen to what he has to teach us". So, please separate the issues. I think Warren is doing good by being involved in this issue. I think we as the church should join in on whatever needs we see in poeple. I think its oK if he works with Obama. However, maybe next time you dont have to invite him to teach at the hcurch. I mean, I know its just a builidng and the ark of the convenent isnt there or anyting, I just think it sends an unspoken statement about who steps up to that pulpit.

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Viktor F.V.

December 07, 2006  1:29am

Ukraine, my poor home country, and Russia, our mighty neighbor, both are rapidly advancing to the "leading" position in Europe and the world on this horrible issue. Why? Because kommunistic ideology destroyed society's moral complitely. And the Soviets simply killed tens of millions of people. Priests, scientists, farmers, owners of businesses, Christians...- those who are responcible for moral wealth of every country. Some of those money invested in the Lord's work there can cover huge territory with a network of churches. The churches, by preaching God's truth about sin and His judgement can light the light for many. A lot of lives can be saved from sin, from hell, from AIDS... And you still have enough money available to cover Obama's check. But who cares here, what some poor Ukrainian brother says? We'll better spend billions by pursuing our own plans, because we know better what is good for the Kingdom! - That's what I often can see in the eyes of some famous Pastors, who can read Bible on Hebrew, but refuse to tell the truth to their congregations. I feel sorry for saying that, but this is just an example. And I can say that there is some great deception in Warren's approach to this tragic problem. First of all we should, we must say His Word for the salvation of souls and for judgment of many!

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Brigitta Deistler

December 06, 2006  6:35pm

"For I was hungry, and you gave me food: I was thirsty, and you gave me drink: I was a stranger, and you took me in: Naked, and you clothed me: I was sick, and you visited me: I was in prison, and you came unto me." In Matthew 25:31-46 I didn't find that I had to ask first whether those who need my help are rightous enough to qualify, or that my help was wasted if it isn't connected to evangelization (I think merely loving help is evangelization in itself). I found that a poor, sick, or miserable human being, is a representation of Jesus Christ put in my way to show the dimensions of my love and gratitude to him. He said so.

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Sue

December 06, 2006  3:02pm

When did we decide that it was our job as Christians to make judgement calls on others lifestyles, etc.? Aren't we called to bring those who are in pain, suffering, and doubt TO Christ? That is where they will find hope and unconditional love - through us. Then Christ takes the reigns and does the softening, healing, and convicting. Is it any wonder why many who need Christ's love are afraid or distrustful of the church? We will all be judged for our lives on earth eventually. I'm just grateful that the judgement that matters is that of a merciful God and not the judgement of men on earth! Let's remember that there is a big difference between holding others accountable and judging.

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Amarie

December 05, 2006  7:06pm

Part II Yes I'm sure some Politicians may only do it for the PR, so what...the topic needs to be discussed, exposed, it's real, it's not going away. People really need to educate themselves. Remember the word ignorance simply means: NOT KNOWING. Let's focus on the issue at hand, finding a cure, education for prevention, helping the less fortunate who can't afford the medication. And please...I'm not trying to offend anyone; I have some people very close to me who have survived breast cancer, and friends and family members over in Iraq. But I still see more pink ribbons and yellow ribbons than the red...fear shame and just simply not understanding, it breaks my heart sometimes. We do need to check ourselves, because you never know if it can happen to you or someone your love. Jesus is love and if we are suppose to STRIVE to be Christ like, and then we need to remember to have grace for those of us who still may not believe. Sow your seed, it may not sprout, but someone else may come along and sow another seed, eventually it will grow. Look in the mirror and remember we are not perfect anyone on this earth who believes they are perfect don't really understand the Word of God…we can only strive for perfection to be the best that we can be, Jesus was the only perfect man to walk this earth. Blessing, Peace and love to all this Holiday season!

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Amarie

December 05, 2006  7:05pm

Part I As a heterosexual woman living with HIV it still amazes me, but then again...not really, how this topic is still taboo and still labeled as being gay, lesbian, poor issue. Yes we have our statistics but as those of us who have educated ourselves more on this disease, there are still a lot of people from all walks of life who have the disease and don't know it as a result of fear and ignorance. I still believe we have a long way before this country or the world for that matter, will embrace those of us who unfortunately have to live with this taboo. The bottom line is you don't hear the same rebuttles and comments when we are talking about Breast Cancer or any other chronic illness. I embrace them all and would not wish this disease on my worst enemy. I am a believer, a Christian, I know Christ for myself, and from what I know how this country views the whole topic of HIV/AIDS, especially some of my fellow "Christian believers"...some are casting stones. I knew Christ before I was infected and continued to follow him after being exposed to the disease. See part II of this post…

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