Tuesday, August 19, 2008

An Open Letter to the Mrs. Rick Warrens of America

While sifting through the whole Saddleback/Warren/McCain/Obama brouhaha, I came upon this page on Saddleback's sebsite. I was rather struck by it, but for reasons other than what the site wanted to project.

Why care about HIV/AIDS?
Why should we care about HIV/AIDS? Why not focus on cancer, tuberculosis, diabetes, or heart disease? For a very simple reason: HIV carries a stigma that other diseases don’t carry.

No one ever gets banished from her village because she’s infected with tuberculosis. No one loses his job simply because of malaria. Husbands don’t beat or divorce their wives for developing the flu, diabetes, or cancer. No relatives refuse to care for children whose parents were killed in an accident. But all of those things and more happen on a daily basis where HIV/AIDS is involved.

I then sent a letter to Elizabeth Styffe, R.N. M.N. who works for Kay Warren and who is listed as a principle contact. I've had no reply. (Was I so audacious as to think I would receive one?). But here it is, and I would like to consider it an open letter to the Kay Warrens of America who always seem to think that AIDS is far away in third world countries (or that we in America have enough AIDS agencies).

Dear Ms. Styffe:

Please excuse this intrusion on your time, but I was surfing the net researching some information about Saddleback Church and realized that it actually has an AIDS/HIV ministry.

Something bothers me a great deal and maybe you could help for sake of clarity. I am an older (61) gay man who has been fortunate enough to live with HIV for 28 years (yes, that's right). I was also privileged to live in one of the most compassionate communities in the country - San Francisco - and VERY privileged to be a part of the AIDS Emergency Fund (3 years as client intake - 1990-93 and 3 years on the working Board of Directors). During the time I did client intake, I believe I saw the worst of the worst: men, women, and children who were, for lack of attention, literally dying in the streets.

Oddly enough, there were also people who were dancing in the streets: the Falwells, Robertsons, Thurmonds and Helmses were thanking God that a wonderfully hideous disease had been showered down upon the people they loved (and lived) to hate.

It was at this time I had an epiphany of sorts: I saw tens of thousands, knew of hundreds of thousands of people who were giving their time, their money (!!) and their very lives to help PWAs. And I realized that those people were by far the truest "Christians" and a million times more human than all the Falwells, Robertsons, etc. combined.

Several years ago, in doing research for a book (still ongoing), I posed a question to many denominations and ministries: what/where was the first faith-based AIDS agency outside of San Francisco? Many answers came back: they didn't know. Period. Finally I received a comprehensive portrait of the Episcopal Archdiocese of Los Angeles - they had reached back into their records and told me that, to their knowledge, they were the first - in 1986.

By 1986, 65,000 people had died.

I've researched, in particular, the Southern Baptist Convention and their members. To this day, they have no AIDS agencies/ministries outside of Africa.

That begs the question: WHY?

Look at it this way: what could have been Christianity's finest hour was passed by. "But we all thought it was communicable!" So? Did Father Damian live on Molakai for his health? Besides, scientists proved fairly early on that toilet seats were not dangerous. More dangerous were the people who believed they were.
And the people who taught them to believe that way were even more...

So now I see that Kay Warren has an intense interest in AIDS in Africa. How old is she? Perhaps she was too young in the 80's and 90's to care about other people as she now does.

Again, I'm so very sorry to have taken up your kind attention and time. It's just that people do not know how it rankles me to know that people in foreign countries have garnered more "Christian charity" sooner - and with more compassion - than my neighbors.


Dan Vojir
from San Francisco

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