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FOR THE WASHINGTON POST
WASHINGTON, DC – JULY 25: Project Coordinator John Eliot Murray, from Montreal Canada, hangs photos of hands with messages encouraging the fight against HIV and AIDS on the “hands wall” in the Youth, the Arts, HIV & AIDS Network booth at the XIX (19th) International AIDS Conference at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, DC on Wednesday July 25, 2012. By recognizing and facilitating the importance of artistic expression and the Internet in the everyday lives of youth, YAHA.net aspires to empower youth to take action in the fight against HIV & AIDS.
The challenges of melding HIV/AIDS – a disease that forces uncomfortable, frank talk about sex—and conservative Christianity was on full display Wednesday at a conference about faith groups’ work in fighting the epidemic.
A roomful of prominent development, health and faith leader listened and then clapped politely as a leading Zambian evangelical pastor told the Georgetown University-hosted conference that African nations work with Western non-governmental organizations (NGOs) has “had a downside.” That downside, said Bishop Joshua Banda of the Assemblies of God, is the pro-choice “slanted manner” of health outreach.
NGOs are targeted toward working with girls and young women toward their empowerment, “but really cause them to make choices that take away their lives rather than build them,” he said. The pro-choice approach is “purely medical”, not spiritual, and is “in a manner that says to my daughter, if she becomes pregnant, that she can make the choice to throw away the baby. That mindset is destroying Africa.”
Megachurch pastor Rick Warren, considered one of the country’s leading evangelicals on fighting AIDS said he was willing to work with anyone “who wants to end AIDS,” but blamed the government for trying to get traditional faith workers to what he called “change” their anti-abortion views in order to partner. Warren, who leads Saddleback Church in California, wasn’t specific but Catholic and some evangelical institutions are suing the Obama Administration for its mandate that American employers ease health care coverage of contraception for U.S. workers.
Multiple speakers agreed that Christian churches are indispensable in the AIDS fight.
“If you want to stop AIDS, and you’re serious about it … you must go through the local church,” Warren told the Summit on the Role of the Christian Faith Community In Global Health and HIV/AIDS. “The first thing in every village is a church. The second is a bar .. Christians are the largest organization in the world. Nothing comes close.”
The panel ended with a prayer from Kay Warren, Warren’s wife and partner at Saddleback Church, one of the country’s largest.
“Some things we agree on, some things we don’t, but we have had dialogues,” she prayed as the room stood. “We haven’t solved a whole lot. But we have reaffirmed that your people serving in your name can make a difference in the world.”