California megachurch pastor Rick Warren, speaking at a White House discussion on HIV/AIDS, said the church has been a latecomer to addressing the pandemic but is now “here to stay.”
“The church was late to the table on this issue and we have repented of that, but we are here to stay,” he said. “This is not flavor of the week for me. This is a long-term battle, the eradication of HIV/AIDS.”
Warren and his wife, Kay, traveled to Washington to join more than 130 ambassadors, federal officials, and ministry leaders for a roundtable discussion hosted by the White House Office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives.
Speakers cited examples of international and national partnerships between faith-based groups, businesses, and governments to work on prevention and treatment of AIDS and urged continued efforts to reduce the stigma some attach to the disease.
“This is a problem that demands our attention, and the local church is among the actors making a big difference,” said Jay Hein, director of the Faith-based and Community Initiatives office.
Marty McGeein, executive director of the Presidential Advisory Council on AIDS, said groups like the Salvation Army and Esperanza, a Hispanic faith-based organization, are working with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on HIV prevention.
“We need faith leaders to address the stigma that continues to allow HIV to spread,” said McGeein, a deputy assistant secretary at HHS.
Dr. Adnan Hammad, director of the ACCESS Community Health & Research Center in Dearborn, Mich., said leaders have to go through a “journey” with religious officials to help them come to a point where they can address the AIDS crisis. Once, he said, mosques burned flyers about AIDS that were left in their buildings.
“Now we screen for HIV in our local mosques,” he said. (RNS)