At the International AIDS Conference in Mexico City, there has been some discussion of religion and the role in plays in either helping or harming the cause of those infected with the HIV virus. Some AIDS activists are hostile to religion because of perceived prejudice and some conservative religious leaders are hostile to homosexuals and regard AIDS as a punishment from God. But, as VOA's Greg Flakus reports from Mexico City, at least one prominent US Christian has embraced the AIDS cause and is working to change those attitudes.
Kay Warren is the wife of one of the most popular Christian preachers in the United States, Rick Warren, pastor of the Saddleback Church in southern California and author of the best-selling book The Purpose Driven Life. Although she had been involved in a number of charitable causes through the church, she says she was totally oblivious to the issue of AIDS.
"Six years ago I just did not care at all," said Kay Warren. "I did not know anybody who was HIV positive and I thought AIDS was a gay disease and that I did not have to care. Then one day I picked up a news magazine article and it had a story on AIDS in Africa. There were just these pictures that were so graphic of people skeletal and dying."
The article said there were 12 million children orphaned by AIDS and that 33 million people had been diagnosed as HIV positive. Kay Warren says she realized how isolated she was from this world of suffering and decided to visit AIDS clinics in California. From there, she became deeply involved in the cause of helping people suffering from the disease and those who carry the potentially devastating virus in their bodies.
Today she says she is very familiar with people who are infected.
"I would have to stop and think," she said. "I do not even know if I could count all the people I know who are HIV positive, in my own church, in my community, in my state, in my country and around the world."
In 2005, she and her husband Rick started an AIDS conference at his church to bring Christians together to assist those dealing with AIDS and HIV infection. She has also visited AIDS projects around the world. This is the third International AIDS Conference she has attended.
Kay Warren says her involvement with this issue has not changed her basic Christian belief that people of all sexual orientations should abstain from having sex outside of marriage and that abstinence is a good way to protect oneself from infection.
Most AIDS activists say abstinence has proved to be very ineffective. They recommend safe sex practices instead. Because of this, Warren says, she sometimes confronts hostility.
"There are a lot of people who won't speak to me because they know how we stand, our beliefs in God's standard," said Kay Warren. "There are others who say, 'we may not agree on all this, but I love it that you are willing to talk to us and engage in dialogue."
Kay Warren says she has also tried to speak with conservative Christians to help them understand that AIDS victims and people infected with HIV are God's children. She says not all Christians are open to her ideas, but that keeping communication channels open is important if attitudes are to change.
Kay Warren recounts her journey from indifference to AIDS champion in her book Dangerous Surrender.