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Purpose driven AIDS plan

"Purpose driven AIDS plan" Continued...

Issue: "2006 Daniels of the Year," Dec. 16, 2006

Some U.S. pastors, on the other hand, are more optimistic. Charles Williams pastors a small congregation at Horizon Church in Statesville, N.C. He wanted to reach out to HIV/AIDS patients in his community, but he was skeptical about his congregation's response. "Quite honestly, we're in the Bible Belt. If it doesn't look like them or smell like them, they want to kill it."

Unsure of what reaction he'd get, he explained to his church that a person doesn't have to be a homosexual to get HIV/AIDS, yet everyone who gets it has a death sentence. "If we don't condemn people for having it and instead love them through it, we may not see them get healed, but we may see them go out with a healed heart," he said.

Of about 120 people, half a dozen said yes, they'd be willing to help. But when Williams began looking for ways to start a church-based HIV/AIDS outreach, he found nothing-until he found Saddleback's C.H.U.R.C.H. model.

Still, skeptics have suggested that the Warrens, in working with international HIV/AIDS groups, will be forced to compromise on their positions on biblical morality. But at the AIDS summit, speaker after speaker made clear that current infection-fighting approaches (such as condom use, needle-exchange programs, and delay of sexual activity) can only slow the disease, not stop it-and that only the church has the moral authority to promote "risk elimination" strategies such as abstinence until marriage, monogamy thereafter.

"One place Christians get stuck is that others perceive us as not seeing the science," Mrs. Warren said. "Our acknowledging evidence that risk reduction strategies are slowing the pandemic leaves [activists] more open to our asking them, 'Is slowing it good enough?'"

Many disagree with the Warrens that people can be abstinent, then monogamous, she said. "That turns into a really rich dialogue, because we can say, 'Actually, millions of people can and do.'"

'I should have been better prepared'

Warren takes an "unofficial" trip to Syria-and flak for it at home

By Edward E. Plowman

As a megachurch pastor and bestselling author, Rick Warren learned from his four-day visit to Syria last month that travel in such politically charged anti-U.S. territory can be hazardous to one's reputation. Warren said he decided to include Syria on a missions tour that began in Germany and ended in Rwanda after his neighbor, Yassar Bararak, a Muslim, urged him to visit his homeland and its many historic Christian sites. As the itinerary took shape, Bararak and his contacts also arranged introductions to Syrian president Bashar al-Assad and other political and Muslim leaders, as well as church leaders.

Warren said he notified the White House and the National Security Agency about the planned visit and discussed it informally with government officials and experts on Syria. Their caution: The Syrians would look for propaganda openings via the media. When he asked evangelist Franklin Graham, who had extensive relief-work experience and contacts in the Middle East, what to say to the president, Graham replied: "Thank him for protecting the freedom of Christians and Jews to worship there."

The visit seemed to go much as planned for Warren and his team: a large welcome dinner with his neighbor's relatives, sightseeing at historic Christian locations, meetings with church leaders to discuss outreach ideas, appointments with government and Muslim leaders.

Warren promoted his Saddleback Church's domestic and international P.E.A.C.E. outreach program: "Planting churches, Equipping servant leaders, Assisting the poor, Caring for the sick, Educating the next generation." According to a Saddleback news release, its aim is to "train local churches to attack poverty, disease, corruption, illiteracy, and spiritual emptiness, in cooperation with businesses and governments." Saddleback, which attracts more than 20,000 people to weekend services, is training and dispatching teams across the world to help spread the concept.

Assad gave Warren permission to send P.E.A.C.E. teams to Syria. Warren expressed appreciation for worship protection for Christians and Jews, and endorsed a call for greater dialogue with the West. He underscored America's support for President Bush, U.S. troops in Iraq, and the war on terrorism. When asked by a Muslim leader if it were true that American public opinion had turned against the Iraq war, Warren agreed and cited a New York Times analysis of Election Day exit polls showing up to 80 percent of Americans now oppose keeping troops in Iraq. Syrian press accounts and editorials subsequently portrayed Warren, en route to Rwanda by then, as a critic of American policy and a champion of Syria's interests. Some reporters even placed in his mouth pro-Syria words he did not say, as at least one tape-recorded interview showed.

Some U.S. conservatives criticized Warren for going at all to a country that supports terrorism. Although the Associated Press avoided the inaccuracies in the government-run Syrian media, internet bloggers widely publicized the flawed Syrian accounts. Among critics who relied on the Syrian coverage were broadcasters at Milwaukee-based VCY America Radio Network's Crosstalk, a talk show aired nationally on Christian stations.

Crosstalk's Ingrid Schlueter said, "It is an affront to Israelis and Americans both that Rick Warren . . . now fancies himself a foreign-policy expert and official international man of peace. . . . [He] owes an apology to Israel, to the American people, and to the victims of Syrian-sponsored terror."

Warren insisted to Saddleback members in a statement his visit was "neither official nor political." He acknowledged he should have been better prepared: "We would have handled some meetings differently, watched our words more closely, and been more aware of the agenda of their state press."

But taking issue with "inaccuracies, misquotes, and misperceived motivations" passed along by Christian media, he asked: "Does it seem ironic to you that some believers trust Syrian press releases without even checking with the Christian pastor they criticize?"

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