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.

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