ST. LOUIS (BP)–Only the church has the authority to completely eradicate AIDS, said Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church and an increasingly prominent AIDS activist, during the 2006 Urbana Student Missions Conference, Dec. 27-31 in St. Louis.
“Even if we had drugs for everybody today, if we had a cure for everybody today, we could not get it to the people without [the help of] the churches. It’s not going to happen,” Warren said during a Dec. 30 news conference with his wife Kay and several AIDS activists with World Vision.
“The church is the only global organization in the world,” the California pastor said. “It was global 200 years ago before anyone started talking about globalization. It’s bigger than China and India put together. People don’t realize it is the only network in the world. It meets in far more languages than the United Nations.”
Because of its unique influence and spiritual mandate, Warren said the church should play a leading role in stopping AIDS.
“There is a component that only the church has the authority to deal with,” he said. “When I hear non-church people talking about AIDS, the things they are dealing with will slow it, but it will not stop it.”
Recapping the four most popular methods to combating AIDS using the acrostic “SLOW,” Warren said the S stands for supply condoms.
“How can anyone doubt that supplying condoms saves lives? There is no doubt about it, it saves lives. But will it stop the pandemic? Absolutely not, because there are not enough condoms in the world and you can’t get them delivered to some places in the world, so there is a certain percentage of failure.”
The L in SLOW stands for limiting the number of partners, Warren said, commenting, “Well of course this will slow the pandemic, but it is not enough to just limit the number of partners.”
The O in SLOW is offer needle exchange, Warren continued. “Who could doubt that needle exchange has saved lives? You may be morally opposed to that, but there is no doubt that it has saved lives,” he said. “As a pastor and someone who cares about getting people into heaven, I’m concerned about keeping people alive at any cost so that I can get the Good News to them. And I think that is the ultimate pro-life decision -– keeping people alive at whatever the cost.”
The W in SLOW is wait for the first onset of sex, Warren noted.
“Those are the four most popular methods to AIDS prevention, and they will work to a degree,” he said. “But if you want to stop it, now you have to bring in the church.”
Warren proposed a new acrostic in the fight against HIV/AIDS. Using the word “STOP,” Warren said there are four things the church has the moral authority to talk about.
“S is save sex for marriage,” he said. “There is no doubt that if people saved sex for marriage we could probably stop [AIDS] in a generation because the blood supplies are clearing up.”
Warren noted that there are some remaining problems to be addressed like needle exchanges, but he said saving sex for marriage would stop the pandemic over time.
“T is teach men to respect women and children,” Warren said, because women can still contract AIDS if their husband has been unfaithful in the marriage. “So we have to teach men to treat women and children with respect. The government can’t do that. That’s my job. That’s my job as a pastor. There is a moral authority as a leader in the church to teach that.”
The O in STOP is to offer treatment through churches, Warren said. Calling on his experiences in setting up AIDS ministries in Rwanda, he said there are only three hospitals within a two-day walk, two of which are church-based. Out of the 16 clinics in Rwanda, only two of them are government-based. Yet, the country has 836 churches.
“So even in the hospitals, the churches were doing most of the work,” Warren said. “Which is the most likely –- if you have to get your refills, wouldn’t you like to get them at the closest church rather than a two-days’ walk? There are millions of villages where all they have in it is a church. And so we would have to offer treatment through churches.”
The P in STOP is pledge yourself to one partner for life, Warren said. “When you talk about being faithful, it helps to have faith in being faithful. Faith gives me the motivation to be faithful,” Warren said. “My natural desire as man is to be unfaithful to my wife. I am faithful to my wife because of my faith not because of my desire.”
With 4.3 million new infections of HIV each year, Warren said the HIV/AIDS pandemic is a dilemma to which all churches and believers must respond. “The difference between SLOW and STOP means it won’t happen without the church….”