For many in the reproductive health community, evangelical Christians have become synonymous with retroactive policies, scientific ignorance, and in too many cases, bigotry and arrogance that together have made them the bane of protecting sexual and reproductive health and rights. For many in the HIV-positive community, these sentiments have often been felt with as much—if not more—fervor, as evangelicals’ dislike for homosexuality has nearly authorized widespread ignorance about the epidemic, and the epidemic has created a platform for expressing their views.
So when Rick & Kay Warren of Saddleback Church in Orange County start talking about HIV in a new way, all kinds of ears start listening (Rick has been called “America’s Pastor”—it might be that he functions a bit like America’s Pope?). Reporting last week in the San Francisco Chronicle looked at Kay Warren’s recent apology to the HIV-positive community and to the world for evangelicals’ track record on HIV, and her subsequent call to her church members to begin learning about the issues surrounding HIV and take them more seriously.
Kay Warren has drawn fire from other evangelicals for “going soft” on homosexuality, but she has carried on (even without affirming homosexual relationships). She has been using Bible verses not to offend opponents, but to temper judgments passed by her flock: “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God,” she told one class, quoting Romans 15:7.
And she has begun to defy party lines on condoms and sexuality in general as well:
“We want to talk about sex…We are sexual beings. God has made us sexual beings…so when we neglect to talk not just about sex, but our sexuality, we are cutting off such an incredible part of the richness of how we are made.”
While this is a far cry from the obtuse views of other evangelicals like Family Research Council who would rather not talk about sex at all, Warren does maintain the “little c” approach to ABC prevention, underemphasizing. Still, we can’t expect history to change in a day, and at least she’s kept it.
The Warrens have plenty of skeptics out there still, and they have admitted that they need to earn their stripes to prove that they’re for real. But if this is any sign of a shift happening within evangelicalism, we might have some hope for the future of America’s largest religious movement. Now we just hope and ask that they stay the course.