Very often in life we face this question – though we may not recognize it in those terms. When a friendship or relationship has had a bad spell and feelings are hurt we have to decide our next action. Do we lash out and cause pain for pain, or do we find a way to mend the rift and bring peace.
Sometimes this decision has to be made when there is little or no cost to oneself. Do you gloat when you’ve won a political battle? Do we inflict pain after an argument is over? We have to decide whether we are people who show compassion and mercy or if we are people who “kick them while their down”.
Today this dilemma is being played out on a grand scale. Today is World AIDS Day and the evangelical Christian community is presenting two responses which diametrically oppose each other. One seeks to heal, one seeks to blame. The contrast could not be clearer – and ex-gays are prominent in both positions.
Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church and author of the hugely influential The Purpose Driven Life, is holding an AIDS Summit at his church. Warren and his wife Kay have made concern about the AIDS pandemic a part of their mission and vision for hands-on work of Christianity. They believe that caring for those in need brings purpose to one’s life.
I want to be clear at this point that Warren is not ideologically favorable to homosexuality nor does he espouse a pro-gay theology. His summit includes many, such as Senator Sam Brownback and Rev. Franklin Graham, who are extremely hostile to every civil right that gay persons claim as a member of the body of humanity. He also includes ex-gay advocates such as Tim Wilkins and Chad Thompson.
However, some evangelicals have become angered with Warren over his scheduling of the conference. And the reasons for their anger do not reflect positively on their character. Their primary complaint is that amongst the speakers, Warren included Barack Obama who is on record as being pro-choice.
Warren’s decision to invite Obama infuriated some evangelical Christians. On Tuesday, Rob Schenck, president of the National Clergy Council, sent an e-mail to reporters calling Obama’s support of abortion rights “the antithesis of biblical ethics and morality, not to mention supreme American values.”
Radio host and blogger Kevin McCullough wrote in an online column that Warren, author of “The Purpose Driven Life” had “joined himself with one of the smoothest politicians of our times, and also one whose wickedness in worldview contradicts nearly every tenant of the Christian faith that Warren professes.”
It should be stated that Obama is not a spokesman for equality. Nonetheless, I welcome his efforts to join Rev. Warren in their efforts to raise awareness of this horrible disease and to provide care for those suffering from it both here and abroad.
To their credit, a list of Christian leaders, including such luminaries as Tony Campolo, Paul de Vries, and Jim Wallis, wrote an open letter to pastors across the country showing support for Warren’s efforts
We also wonder why any organization claiming to represent believers in Jesus Christ would choose to play what amounts to partisan politics instead of encouraging our leaders to address the scourge of AIDS.
AIDS has claimed the lives of 25 million people since 1981. Forty million people across the globe, including 2 million children, live with this wretched disease. And nearly 7 million people are now in desperate need of life-saving drugs, without which they will die. 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 Reverend Warren — Christians both — for working together to stamp out AIDS.
Critics also decried Warren’s invitation to global AIDS coordinator Mark Dybul because he is openly gay.
However, the most vile response to Warren’s efforts to fight the global AIDS pandemic comes from a coalition of anti-gay activists calling itself the “AIDS Truth Coalition” led by Peter LaBarbera and featuring ex-gay James Hartline and Stephen Bennett.
This group issued a missive that does not address the global AIDS pandemic at all, but rather serves as nothing other than a hateful rant.
As we have discussed here before, more than 90 percent of all worldwide adolescent and adult HIV infections have resulted from heterosexual intercourse. This fact is neither obscure nor unknown to anti-gay activists. It’s simply inconvenient to their campaign. Willfully choosing to ignore the truth, this “Truth Coalition” claims that the real solution is to “address homosexuality and ‘gay’ promiscuity in [an] effort to stop [the] pandemic.”
Ignoring infection rates as high as 25% in parts of Africa and skyrocketing rates in Asia, this coalition criticizes Warren’s compassion for people on other continents and claims his priority should be in shutting down bathhouses and closing gay-straight alliances in schools. Quoting Hartline, whose mental deterioration we’ve discussed here, the coalition challenges Warren’s priorities.
It is noble that Rick Warren cares so much for the Africans living 10,000 miles away from his church who are infected with AIDS. It is tragic, though, that he and others like him have not spoken out forcefully against the holocaust of homosexuality and the dozens of bathhouses in California where so many men are getting sick and dying.
Now I am not the champion of bathhouses. But anyone who has thought about it realizes that the elimination of bathhouses will not likely significantly reduce anonymous sex, it will only move such activity to locations where information about STI prevention is not available. A sizeable chunk of the patrons of these establishments are married or closeted and have little immediate access to information about disease prevention.
Besides, only a fool or an anti-gay activist would believe that closing every bathhouse in America tomorrow would have any measurable impact on the “effort to stop the pandemic”. The 34 million HIV infected persons in Africa and Asia did not become so because of a gay bathhouse in California. Less than 4% of worldwide HIV infected persons live in North America.
Yet “AIDS Truth Coalition” front man Stephen Bennett makes this astonishing claim
The spread of HIV and AIDS worldwide CAN come to an end ONLY when the promotion, acceptance and tolerance of homosexuality worldwide comes to an end.
Surely Stephen knows that the area in which HIV infections are the highest, sub-Saharan Africa, is an area in which there is little “promotion, acceptance and tolerance of homosexuality”. On the African continent, only the nation of South Africa has any tolerance whatsoever of gay persons. Surely an organization that wanted to speak the “truth” would bother to spend three minutes on vetting their claims. But Stephen and the other members of the “AIDS Truth Coalition” are not interested in truth or accuracy or, for that matter, in those who suffer from AIDS. They are only interested in condemning homosexuality and honesty or compassion are not a part of that effort.
Here on this World AIDS Day we have been presented with a contrast. On one hand we have conservative evangelicals and ex-gays who came together to try and find a way to heal the sick and care to those in suffering. On the other hand we have conservative evangelicals and ex-gays who came together to heap invective on those people whom they despise and criticize those who seek to lend a helping hand.
It is not difficult to see who wants to heal and who wants to blame.