Obama at AIDS Conference Despite Controversy

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Despite protests from conservative Christians, U.S. Senator Barack Obama spoke at Saddleback Church on World AIDS day, Dec. 1.

Obama called for spiritual efforts to address the AIDS pandemic. “The relationship between men and women, between sexuality and spirituality, has broken down and needs to be repaired,” said Obama, a Democratic senator from Illinois.

Obama was one of more than 50 speakers at Saddleback’s second annual AIDS conference. The Lake Forest, Calif., megachurch is headed by Rev. Rick Warren, author of The Purpose Driven Life.

Anti-abortion activists wanted Obama kept off the roster because of his support for abortion rights. “If Senator Obama cannot defend the most helpless citizens in our country, he has nothing to say to the AIDS crisis,” said activists including Tim Wildmon of the American Family Association and Phyllis Schlafly, president of the Eagle Forum.

The anti-abortion activists’ statements prompted a response from more than two dozen religious leaders who rejected what they called “the creation of an unbiblical litmus test.”

“In the face of this crisis, it boggles our minds and offends our God-given sense of justice that these groups would choose to attack Senator Obama and Rev. Warren—Christians both—for working together to stamp out AIDS,” read an open letter signed by leaders that included Bishop Vashti McKenzie of the African Methodist Episcopal Church and evangelical speaker and author Rev. Tony Campolo.

Obama did not address the criticism, but Warren did. He noted that while people on the left and right wings of American politics may differ on abortion, “you gotta have two wings to fly.”

“America has moved away from this disease. Much of Hollywood has moved on,”  Warren said at the conference attended by more than 2,000 people. “It is the church that needs to take the lead on HIV/AIDS.” (RNS)


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