Religious leaders speak of the evolution of church’s role on HIV

Nikki Kahn THE WASHINGTON POST WASHINGTON, DC, JULY 23: Ana Paola Castro with the Cia Paulista de Artes from Brazil … Continued

Nikki Kahn


WASHINGTON, DC, JULY 23: Ana Paola Castro with the Cia Paulista de Artes from Brazil dances to the beat of the drum during the The XIX International AIDS Conference at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C., on Monday, July 23, 2012. (Photo by Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post) in Washington, D.C., on Monday, July 23, 2012.

For many years, Kay Warren was a good wife, mother and church member, but she “just didn’t care about HIV.”

That changed a decade ago, after she read an article about people in Africa with the disease. She took up the cause, and now the church she co-founded with her husband Rick, the Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., is deeply involved in AIDS ministry domestically and abroad.

Warren spoke at the 19th International AIDS Conference on a panel entitled, “The Role of Faith-Based Organizations in Turning the Tide on the HIV Pandemic.” She and her fellow panelists Phramaha Boonchuay Doojai, a monk from Thailand, MacDonald Sylves Sembereka, an Anglican priest from Malawi, and moderator John DeGioia, president of Georgetown University, discussed the evolution of faith-based organizations’ thinking on AIDS and HIV since the epidemic began.

Many religious organizations were slow to address the crisis and leery of discussing anything related to sexuality–a necessary component of any discussion of AIDS – Warren said in an interview, adding that now her church is mentoring pastors on how to minister to people with HIV.

View Photo Gallery: Robert Gallo and Luc Montagnier identified HIV — the virus that causes AIDS — in 1983. The three decades since have seen wide medical and cultural advancements in our understanding of the virus. The years have also brought much hardship and controversy. Here’s a photographic history of the AIDS epidemic in the United States.

“We’re seeing them move from apathy to awakening,” she said, as followers stood waiting for her to sign their conference programs.

DeGioia said that faith-based organizations had initially put up “tremendous blocks in attempting to deal with the pandemic,” and added that the inclusion of a session on faith based organizations in the conference was a sign of their evolution.

Sembereka said that early on, “the way the epidemic was expressed to most of us was that it affected the promiscuous, and sinners, and people said, ‘What do we have to do with sinners? We are supposed to be holy.’”

Faith-based organizations now need to gain people’s trust, he said.

“There are people who still up to now don’t want to hear anything about the church because of the approach the church had taken toward HIV-AIDS,” he told a session hall packed with listeners, adding that his own awakening on the matter came when his older brother was diagnosed with the virus. “

It is time to confess,” he said, “to sins of omission.”

View Photo Gallery: A look at events — inside and out — in connection with the 19th International AIDS Conference.

Comments are closed.

Read More Articles

This God’s For You: Jesus and the Good News of Beer

How Jesus partied with a purpose.

Jesus, Bunnies, and Colored Eggs: An Explanation of Holy Week and Easter

So, Easter is a one-day celebration of Jesus rising from the dead and turning into a bunny, right? Not exactly.

Hey Bart Ehrman, I’m Obsessed with Jesus, Too — But You’ve Got Him All Wrong

Why the debate over Jesus’ divinity matters.

Dear Evangelicals, Please Reconsider Your Fight Against Gay Rights

A journalist and longtime observer of American religious culture offers some advice to his evangelical friends.

How Passover Makes the Impossible Possible

When we place ourselves within the story, we can imagine new realities.

The Three Most Surprising Things Jesus Said

Think you know Jesus? Some of his sayings may surprise you.

How to Debate Christians: Five Ways to Behave and Ten Questions to Answer

Advice for atheists taking on Christian critics.

Heaven Hits the Big Screen

How “Heaven is for Real” went from being an unsellable idea to a bestselling book and the inspiration for a Hollywood movie.

This Passover, We’re Standing at an Unparted Red Sea

We need to ask ourselves: What will be the future of the State of Israel — and what will it require of us?

Just As I Am

My childhood conversion to Christianity was only the first of many.

shutterstock_127731035 (1)
Are Single People the Lepers of Today’s Church?

In an age of rising singlehood, many churches are still focused on being family ministry centers.

Mysterious Tremors

People like me who have mystical experiences may be encountering some unknown Other. What can we learn about what that Other is?

Five Bible Verses You Need to Stop Misusing

That verse you keep quoting? It may not mean what you think it means.

What C.S. Lewis’ Marriage Can Tell Us About the Gay Marriage Controversy

Why “welcome and wanted” is a biblical response to gay and lesbian couples in evangelical churches.