Barack Obama’s speech at Rick Warren’s conference

In case you didn’t see it, here is a link to Barack Obama’s speech at the recent 2006 Global Summit on AIDS and the Church organized by pastor Rick Warren, author of The Purpose Driven Life and founder of the Saddleback Church. Apparently, Obama’s appearance was controversial given his stand on abortion.

Obama’s speech is masterful, both in terms of his appreciation for the complexities about treating the disease, his sincerity, and his willingness to challenge his audience in ways that respect differences. As you can probably tell, I’m an Obama fan.

Now, too often, the issue of prevention has been framed in either/or terms. For some, the only way to prevent the disease is for men and women to change their sexual behavior – in particular, to abstain from sexual activity outside of marriage. For others, such a prescription is unrealistic; they argue that we need to provide people with the tools they need to protect themselves from the virus, regardless of their sexual practices – in particular, by increasing the use of condoms, as well as by developing new methods, like microbicides, that women can initiate themselves to prevent transmission during sex. And in the debate surrounding how we should tackle the scourge of AIDS, we often see each side questioning the other’s motives, and thereby impeding progress.

These are issues of prevention we cannot walk away from. When a husband thinks it’s acceptable to hide his infidelity from his wife, it’s not only a sin, it’s a potential death sentence. And when rape is still seen as a woman’s fault and a woman’s shame, but promiscuity is a man’s prerogative, it is a problem of the heart that no government can solve. It is, however, a place where local ministries and churches like Saddleback can, and have, made a real difference – by providing people with a moral framework to make better choices.

Having said that, I also believe that we cannot ignore that abstinence and fidelity may too often be the ideal and not the reality – that we are dealing with flesh and blood men and women and not abstractions – and that if condoms and potentially microbicides can prevent millions of deaths, they should be made more widely available. I know that there are those who, out of sincere religious conviction, oppose such measures. And with these folks, I must respectfully but unequivocally disagree. I do not accept the notion that those who make mistakes in their lives should be given an effective death sentence. Nor am I willing to stand by and allow those who are entirely innocent – wives who, because of the culture they live in, often have no power to refuse sex with their husbands, or children who are born with the infection as a consequence of their parent’s behavior -suffer when condoms or other measures would have kept them from harm.

He also weighed in on the South African government’s history of AIDS denialism.

That’s why it was so frustrating for me to go to South Africa, and see the pain, and see the suffering, and then hear that the country’s Minister of Health had promoted the use of beet root, sweet potato, and lemon juice as the best way to cure HIV. Thankfully, the South African government eventually repudiated this, but it’s impossible to overestimate how important it is for political leaders like this to set a good example for their people.

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One Response to “Barack Obama’s speech at Rick Warren’s conference”

  1. […] Kay Warren, wife of Rick Warren, author of The Purpose-Driven Life and founder of the Saddleback Church, was recently interviewed in Newsweek. The Warren’s earlier this month hosted a summit attended by more than 2,000 on the role of the church in fighting AIDS. As I recently posted, Warren invited Senator Barack Obama whose views on abortion fell foul of some of the evangelical base. […]