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Rick and Kay Warren Challenge Church Leaders to Play a More Vital Role in the Global AIDS Response By Leveraging Their Unique Resources

Best-Selling Author/Pastor Differentiates Between Slowing and Stopping Pandemic; Offers Practical Solution to Integrate Churches With Government and Business Efforts

Contact: A. Larry Ross 469-774-6362, Whitney Kelley 214-457-1398

TORONTO, Aug. 14 /Christian Newswire/ -- Dr. Rick Warren and his wife Kay emphasized that the Church can and must play a more vital role in the global response to HIV and AIDS. They also challenged ecumenical Christian leaders from around the world to recognize the unique resources they bring to this struggle at the Ecumenical and Interfaith Pre-Conferences being held over the weekend in advance of the XVI International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2006), August 13-18 in Toronto.

"We are here at these conferences to say to fellow Christians that we believe the Church needs to take the lead in the greatest health concern on the planet," Dr. Warren, best-selling author of "The Purpose-Driven Life" and pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., told delegates at the closing plenary. "We also want to make a statement to the watching world about how much is already being done by churches around the globe to bring hope where many feel hopeless."

More than 500 participants representing numerous Christian denominations and traditions came together for a two-day pre-conference, followed by a one- day inter-faith gathering before the bi-annual International AIDS Conference this week.

Dr. Warren told delegates it is imperative to define their purpose in working towards prevention before the solution can be determined. "Is your goal to merely reduce or to resolve this issue; do you want to decrease or to destroy this pandemic; do you want to just slow it down or stop it altogether?" he asked rhetorically. "Each requires a different strategy, which can't be addressed until you know the answer to that question."

According to Dr. Warren, most prevention efforts are directed towards slowing, not stopping the spread of HIV/AIDS, because the tactics are easier and more popular. These include supplying condoms, encouraging limited sexual partners, offering needle exchange and advocating delaying the initial sexual experience. "Those efforts will slow down the pandemic, but not stop it," he said. "The solution to eliminating the threat of HIV/AIDS is not education, it is transformation," Dr. Warren said. "That involves saving sex for marriage, training men to respect women, offering treatment through churches and encouraging individuals to pledge themselves to one partner."

"I believe that faith, ethics and morals play an important role in the fight against HIV/AIDS," Dr. Warren continued. "I am not a scientist, a medical professional or activist. I am a pastor, whose motives are different. I love people, and I have a Savior named Jesus who said, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'"

Dr. Warren stressed that it is not a sin to be sick. "We need to move from asking, 'How did you get HIV?' to 'How can I help?'" he added. "This is the greatest opportunity for the Church to be the Church and meet hurting, suffering people at their point of need."

In her workshop, Kay Warren further challenged that there needs to be an integrated effort between governments, business/NGOs and the church in order to keep AIDS from galloping into the next generation. "My generation was given an epidemic, but we are handing our children a pandemic," she said. "That means we need to respond to this crisis on all fronts with everyone doing their part -- at times working in groups with which you may not agree -- if we don't want HIV to spiral out of control."

In that context, the Warrens said they are pressing for a "coalition of civility," where diverse groups can disagree without being disagreeable or denouncing one another, and seek unity without requiring uniformity in order to reach critical mass in the response to HIV/AIDS.

Dr. Warren emphasized that the Church brings several distinctives to the table that neither governments nor business/NGO organizations will ever have, including the largest distribution network; the biggest pool of volunteers -- representing 2.3 billion individuals; local credibility, the longest record of caring -- more than 2,000 years; moral authority to carry out its mission; and the power of God. "I make no apology that the Church can lead the way in the name of Jesus Christ," he said.

Dr. Warren also encouraged fellow Church leaders to stop apologizing for who they are in their uniqueness, beliefs and convictions. He said there are six ways that every church -- no matter what size -- can get involved in caring for people infected and affected by HIV/AIDS. These can be summarized in the acronym C.H.U.R.C.H.: Care for and comfort the sick; Handle testing and counseling; Unleash a volunteer labor force; Remove the stigma; Champion healthy behavior; and Help with nutrition and medications.

The Warrens arrived in Toronto as the last stop of a 35-day international tour of 14 nations in Asia and Africa. In each country they met with business and government leaders -- including several heads of state -- and challenged thousands of pastors on how they can become involved as part of an integrated, three-pronged response to HIV/AIDS. They will be in town all week to also attend the International AIDS Conference.