Free HIV tests prove hit at U.S. evangelicals AIDS meeting

November 30, 2007

Saddleback Church’s Pastor Rick Warren Hillary Clinton, AIDS and U.S. evangelicals might not seem like natural bedfellows but a three-day international conference at the influential Saddleback Valley Community Church in Southern California this week is seeking to change all that.

Among the numerous calls at the conference for conservative Christians to actively care for and support HIV/AIDS victims around the world was the suggestion that the 1,500 attendees get themselves tested for the virus.The idea is for white evangelicals to abandon judgement and put themselves in the shoes of those millions in the United States and around the world who have the disease.

Saddleback Church officials said about 100 people had already taken advantage of the free finger prick blood HIV tests offered on the vast campus in the first 24 hours of the conference. About 400 are expected to take the test — results in 10 minutes — and counseling by the end of the three-day meeting of Christian pastors, non governmental organizations and AIDS victims from around the world.

“We have had all ages, nationalities and demographics come through ” said Kirk Tilly, a Saddleback volunteer who helped organize the testing. “We’ve got a pretty low risk population here. Some people are getting tested because they have never done it before, but the second reason is to reduce the stigma.

“Even if you have very low risk factors, if you had never had a test somehow your heart still patters and you get a little anxious,” Tilly said.

Barack Obama takes oral AIDS test at 2006 Global Summit on AIDS and the Church, 1 Dec. 2006Last year, U.S. Senators Barack Obama and Sam Brownback along with Saddleback pastor Rick Warren — author of the best selling book “The Purpose Driven Life” — all took public AIDS tests at the conference.

But there were no plans for this year’s celebrity guest — Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton — to publicly go through the procedure.

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