Rick Warren, AIDS, and the Saddleback Church

I should be dead.

Several times over, in fact.   Obesity, bad surgical outcomes, being disabled — these things alone are life shorteners and enders.  But nothing in my life compares to the years of searching for love, stability, companionship, and an end to the overwhelming, soul-vanquishing loneliness.

In short, I had a lot of ugly sex.

I say this not to brag (far from it) but to point out that the very fact I am HIV negative today is nothing less than a miraculous dispensation of grace from the Heavenly Father.

So, as you can imagine, my heart leans heavily towards those in this country who suffer from HIV/AIDS.  There are times that I look at ministries that reach out to those suffering from HIV/AIDS in Africa and I want to join them, but something in the darkest recesses of my heart speaks to the true bitterness that lies underneath:  Yeah, great job.  Those people need help.  But they got their disease through “approved” sins.  What about those living in this country who committed some sort of “unapproved” moral outrage like unprotected gay sex or IV drug use?  Why does the Christian compassion extend all the way to Africa but not in our own back yard, to those who are suffering and dying in silence, cowered in shame for their “unapproved” sins?

My heart has always been for the underdog.  (This may explain, in part, why I am a Mariners fan.)

So imagine my surprise a couple of years ago when I heard that Rick Warren, pastor of the Saddleback Church, decided that now was the time to extend themselves and begin an HIV/AIDS ministry in this country.  I’ve added the link in the Blogroll today and you can find their website here:  http://www.purposedriven.com/en-US/HIVAIDSCommunity/HIV_homepage.htm

There is a sort of “AIDS 101” Q and A session on their website, and I found some of the answers there pretty remarkable.  Example:

Q: Is AIDS a punishment from God?

A: While some have expressed that view, we could not disagree more. AIDS is no more a punishment from God for sexual misbehavior than a hurricane is. This is a broken, fallen world we live in, and sadly, sickness and death are a part of our existence. If God began handing out sickness for moral failure, most of us would be dead by tomorrow. The Bible clearly states that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” We don’t come close to meeting his standards of purity and holiness and neither do you. AIDS will someday be eradicated off the face of the earth—maybe not until Jesus returns—but it will gone, and with it, all the suffering, torment, anguish and sickness it has brought will disappear as well. Many people have HIV because something terrible was done to them or by them. The role of the church is to love them no matter what.

To which all i can say is “Thank you, Jesus.”

But even more remarkable are the church’s C.A.R.E. teams whose goal is to come along side people living with HIV or even full-blown AIDS, and to come along side them and help minister to them during their time of needs.  I was stunned at this:

infected or affected by HIV/AIDS in their local communities, assisting them in living out a purpose driven life.

2. Led by small groups – CARE Teams are small groups that follow a strategy to provide care. They are not small groups formed only to care for those with HIV. They are purpose driven small groups that meet regularly for Bible study and the other purposes. Caring for someone with HIV is a way the small groups live out their mission in the world, but it is not the defining element that keeps the small groups together. The small group dynamic promotes healthy relationships. Working together enables these small groups to serve without any one person feeling over-burdened, and as a team they are accountable to one another.

CARE Teams are asked to commit to one year, serving from less than an hour to four hours per week, to provide a variety of services and support for the person with HIV/AIDS. CARE Teams have been known to pick up groceries, drive to doctor appointments, go to church together if they desire, offer light housekeeping, prepare meals, serve as reading partners, walk dogs, or just call frequently. The possibilities are endless, but always guided by what the cared-for individuals have said they need.

3. Attacks global giants – Like the P.E.A.C.E. Plan itself, CARE Teams follow a holistic approach, looking at the needs of the entire person. This includes caring for a person’s physical, emotional, and spiritual needs. What makes CARE Teams unique is that they are not afraid to address individuals’ spiritual needs, said Styffe. They do not press an agenda, but they respond to individuals’ expressed desires.

4. Networks church to church – If the CARE Team’s friend is interested in seeking spiritual nourishment, the CARE Team works to establish a link to a local church to provide that feeding. It’s not about creating converts to any denomination. It’s about using local church resources to meet needs.

5. Sends to the whole world – CARE Teams are exponential in strategy and preparation; the model can be transferred anywhere across the globe. Multiplied through local churches around the world, they have the potential to reach those infected and affected by HIV/AIDS everywhere.

When it comes to finding HIV/AIDS survivors in a community, the church or CARE Team may need to make the first step. Be willing to introduce yourself to health care organizations, Styffe said. Don’t expect them to come to you.

“Confidentiality is a huge factor,” Styffe said. “CARE Teams are trained to respond to the HIV/AIDS survivor’s needs and not to impose their own agenda.”

Not to impose their own agenda?  I can already hear the slings and arrows of “heresy!” being spread, but if the overwhelming goal here is to look, touch, taste, hear, smell and love like Jesus in the life of a person with HIV/AIDS, then the goal has been met.  Anything above and beyond that is personal moralizing or, worse, politics.  More light is needed, less heat.  More love, less moralizing.

This isn’t meant to be an exhaustive overview; there’s a ton here and this shows the enormous courage and dedication it takes these days for the church as a whole to sit up and acknowledge that some people get AIDS.  I recommend Rick’s website for bookmarking.


~ by WriterRand on July 18, 2008.

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