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AIDS battle needs to involve Christians, Franklin Graham says

WASHINGTON (BP)–Evangelist Franklin Graham has called on Christians to become involved at last in the battle against AIDS, which he described as a greater threat than terrorism, according to news reports.

“Unfortunately and shamefully, the church has been somewhat asleep on this issue, and maybe it’s because of the social stigma,” Graham said, adding many Christians believe only homosexuals and drug users contract HIV/AIDS, The Washington Post reported.

“For me, as an evangelical Christian … I have to point the finger at myself and say, ‘I’m late.’ I believe that if Jesus Christ were here … today we would find him on the front line of this issue.”

His comments came at a Feb. 18 news conference during a five-day international Christian conference in Washington on AIDS. More than 800 people from more than 80 countries attended the conference, which was sponsored by Samaritan’s Purse. Graham, the son of evangelist Billy Graham, is president of the North Carolina-based relief organization.

For some evangelical Christians, however, Graham’s wakeup call may be somewhat muted by his refusal to denounce the efforts of those who promote condoms as a solution to the spread of HIV/AIDS.

While his ministry does not promote condom usage, Graham said he does not condemn organizations that do, The Post reported. “That’s not going to be a mountain I’m going to die on,” he said, according to The Post. “I’m just glad they’re in the field doing something.”

Graham also refused to take issue with recent comments by Secretary of State Colin Powell in which he advocated condom usage by those participating in sexual intercourse, according to The Post. “I just appreciate that Powell was willing to speak on this issue,” he said, The Post reported.

Speaking to an international audience on the MTV cable network Feb. 14, Powell said he believes “condoms are a way to prevent infection [from AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases], and therefore I not only support their use, I encourage their use among people who are sexually active and need to protect themselves.”

Powell added he thinks it is important the “whole international community come together, speak candidly about it, forget about taboos, forget about conservative ideas with respect to what you should tell young people about it.”

Graham’s response to Powell’s advocacy of condom usage differed markedly from that of other conservative evangelicals. The presidents of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, Focus on the Family, Family Research Council and Concerned Women for America were among those who denounced Powell’s remarks.

ERLC President Richard Land said he was “very disappointed” with Powell’s comments.

Using “condoms does not guarantee ‘safe sex,’ just slightly less dangerous sex, since condoms are not a guarantee against conception and even less of a guarantee in protecting against sexually transmitted diseases,” Land said.

Some of the critics of Powell’s remarks cited a National Institutes of Health study released in July that showed a lack of evidence condoms provide protection against a majority of STDs. According to FRC, the report said condom use can decrease the risk of HIV infection but has shown no evidence of preventing the transmission of several other STDs, including one that increases the odds of being infected with HIV.

At the Feb. 18 news conference at which Graham spoke, Sen. Bill Frist, R.-Tenn., a physician, said he was proud of Powell. “He spoke truthfully to the people he was talking to that day,” Frist said, according to The Post.

Prior to the conference, however, a report in the Raleigh (N.C.) News & Observer said Graham and many other Christians at the Washington meeting would promote abstinence and not condom distribution.

“God gave sex for us to use,” Graham said, according to the News & Observer. “It’s to be used in a certain way. If we go outside those parameters, we’re at risk. We may die. People need to understand those parameters.”

In a speech on the opening day of the conference, Graham said, according to ASSIST News Service, “Sermons about how to avoid AIDS are good but provide no solace to those already infected by the virus. Those infected are 40 million souls. The Bible tells us that every soul is precious in the sight of God. Shouldn’t they also be precious in our sight?”

Later in the conference, Graham announced Samaritan’s Purse would build the first “city of hope” in Kenya, where AIDS is ravaging the population. In such villages, children whose parents have died from AIDS would live with the elderly, who also have been left without the care of adult children dying from AIDS. The orphans would help care for the elderly, who would care for and teach the children.

Such a project “could be done as a model village, which could be replicated in other African countries where AIDS has destroyed the middle generation,” Graham said, according to a news release from the conference. “That’s what I want this conference to be about. I want us to go home challenged and ready to take action, not wait for someone else to do something about this horrible pandemic.”

At the Washington news conference, Graham said while 3,000 people died in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, about 20,000 adults and children in North America died of AIDS last year, The Post reported.

“We’re not spending near as much money on HIV as we are on terrorism. But which is the greater threat?” he said, according to The Post.

“We need a new army of men and women who are prepared to go around the world to help in this battle.”

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