Obama tells evangelicals that politics has no role in AIDS fight

Lake Forest, Calif. (AP) — Sen. Barack Obama told a packed congregation Friday at Saddleback Church that there was no room for political conflict between religious groups and the government in the fight to prevent AIDS.
“It’s not a question of either treatment or prevention or even what kind of prevention,” the Illinois Democrat said to applause during the Global Summit on AIDS and the Church.

“It is all of them. It is not an issue of either science or values, it’s both,” said Obama, who is considering a run for the White House in 2008.

Obama said faith-based organizations and church ministries like the one at Saddleback have crucial roles to play in the prevention effort.

“I also believe that we can’t ignore the fact that abstinence and fidelity, while ideal, may not always be the reality,” he said. “We’re dealing with flesh and blood men and women, not abstractions.”

The summit came on World AIDS Day and the 25th anniversary of the discovery of AIDS.

When famed pastor and best-selling author Rick Warren invited Obama to the church, it sparked protests from some evangelical Christians angered over the senator’s stance on abortion.

Warren ignored calls to disinvite Obama, who took an HIV test with Warren and Republican Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas during the summit.

Each signed a consent form and received counseling from a doctor before being tested. The results, which came back 20 minutes later, were negative.

“The problem is that America has moved on from this disease. It doesn’t have the cache, the flavor of the month that it did in the 1980s and 1990s,” Warren said before being tested.

“I have to admit that the church was late in coming to the game and we have to repent over that. But we’re here to stay,” he said.

Obama, who took an HIV test in Africa in August, said he was relieved to see the tests Friday were oral swabs.

“When I got the test in Africa, they drew blood. This one is outstanding here, because I was a little bit scared,” Obama joked.

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.”

Obama addressed that criticism on Friday.

“I found that I’ve never learned anything from refusing to listen to other people and refusing to engage in conversation,” he said.

Obama said earlier that his faith led him to the belief that providing condoms and microbicides to those at risk for AIDS was critical, despite the fact that some may be having premarital sex or being unfaithful to their spouses.

“I don’t accept the notion that those who make mistakes in their lives should be given an effective death sentence,” he said.

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Religion News Blog posted this on Friday December 1, 2006.
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