Rick Warren speaking yesterday at his conference “AIDS and the Church” at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif. (WND photo)

LAKE FOREST, Calif. – One year after Sen. Barack Obama’s controversial appearance, Sen. Hillary Clinton is preparing to take the stage here today at pastor Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church to address the highly influential evangelical congregation’s third annual “Global Summit on AIDS and the Church.”

Responding to a question from WND at a news conference, Warren alluded to protests last year that Obama – a pro-choice Democrat – was being given the pulpit of an evangelical church that opposes abortion.

“The first thing is that this is not a church service, and, second, there isn’t a pulpit on stage,” said Warren, author of the best-seller “The Purpose-Driven Life.” “And it’s not a worship service. This is a summit, which does include people from every kind of background.”

Warren and his wife, Kay, invited all of the major Republican and Democratic candidates to come and speak, but only Clinton accepted. Five candidates, however, will present taped messages today via satellite: Republicans Mike Huckabee, John McCain and Mitt Romney; and Democrats Obama and John Edwards.

Clinton issued a statement prior to the summit, saying, “I commend Rick and Kay Warren for their work to fight HIV/AIDS.”

“Our churches have a powerful role to play in raising the consciousness of the nation and the world to this pandemic and urge compassion for the sick and the suffering,” the New York Democrat said. “When we come together, seeking the common good, we can find solutions to our biggest challenges and reinforce our faith that a call to action can change lives.”

Kay Warren at her church’s AIDS summit yesterday (WND photo)

Advocating the building of a public, private and faith partnership, Kay Warren says her church is urging all of the presidential candidates to expand the Bush administration’s $30 million Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief.

This year’s summit, which runs through Saturday, features more than 50 speakers and experts from business, government, medicine, non-profit and Christian groups.

No compromise

At the news conference, Warren was asked by WND to respond to concerns that battling AIDS alongside groups and movements that oppose Christian moral values might require compromise.

“I don’t believe in compromising biblical convictions,” Warren said. “I don’t believe in that at all. If it’s in the Word, then that’s the way it should be done. I do believe in treating people with respect, even people that I disagree with. I think Jesus did that.

Warren noted as an example that he disagrees with Catholics on the issue of birth control.

Rick Warren at news conference yesterday (WND photo)

“Does that mean I can’t work with a Catholic? Of course not,” he said. “I work with them to the area that they will agree to, and I don’t force them to accept a Protestant view of birth control.”

Warren argued that if he only worked with people who agreed with him 100 percent, he wouldn’t even be able to work with his wife.

“I see Jesus as my model, not politics,” he explained. “And I think too many people look at issues from a political viewpoint, and they choose politics over saving lives.

“To me, if someone is dying on the side of the street, and I need help to save that person, it doesn’t matter to me if they are Republican or Democrat, or Jewish and Christian, Muslim or atheist,” Warren continued. “If they will help me get that person to the hospital, I want their help.”

Warren insisted his church has not lost sight of its mission to “help people to get into heaven.”

“That’s my number one goal,” he said. “I am an evangelist.”

In the last 10 years, said Warren, his church has baptized more than 20,000 new believers.

“There’s not a church in America that wins more people to Christ than Saddleback Church. So this is no way has diluted our evangelistic efforts.”

Warren pointed to one of the summit speakers, David Miller, a founder of the radical gay-activist group Act Up who become a Christian after he was invited to Saddleback’s first AIDS conference.

“I have watched the transformation in this man,” Warren said, from hating the church all his life to becoming a follower of Christ.

Greetings from the White House

Jay Hein, director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, gave greetings from President Bush and first lady Laura Bush, who, he told the Warrens, “have long admired you, Rick and Kay.” First daughter Jenna Bush is scheduled to speak Saturday at a special youth conference on AIDS at Saddleback.

Warren was asked by WND at a second news conference yesterday whether he saw any potential pitfalls in the church partnering with government, which tends to be coercive in its support.

“We accept no government money, zero, for that very reason,” he said. “We work directly with private donors in the church. Any time you have money involved there are going to be issues, so that’s just a very important concern.

Kay Warren at news conference yesterday (WND photo)

“What we’re interested in doing is not getting money to us but to indigenous churches,” Warren said. “What we have found is that the closer you get to the bottom, the more effective it is. Money that’s given up here, by the time it gets down here, a lot of it gets lost in all kinds of layers and hierarchies.

Warren said he is trying to encourage churches to give directly, from church to church rather than through a centralized system.

Summit speaker John Thomas, senior pastor of Fish Hoek Baptist Church in South Africa, asserted the AIDS pandemic is “too big for governments, too big for organizations like World Vision, but not too big for the church.”

“We’re the most grass-roots organization imaginable,” Thomas said. “We can be networked all over the place.”

The South African pastor argued the church is uniquely equipped to address AIDS because “95 percent of it is a moral problem, and we have the solution.”

“We have biblical standards, and we need to get out there and bring the love of Jesus as we [present] the standards,” Thomas said.

The first lady of Rwanda, Jeannette Kagame (WND photo)

The first lady of Rwanda, Jeannette Kagame, co-founder of the Organization of African First Ladies Against AIDS, told the summit HIV and AIDS is a “problem of development,” not “because some populations are more sinful and therefore deserving of punishment; it’s because of systems.”

When she opened the summit, Kay Warren warned the delegates “you are going to hear things you don’t agree with.”

“I have one very intentional goal, and it is to disturb you,” she said. “I want your heart to be disturbed.”

The president of the first ladies group, Maureen Mwanawasa, the first lady of Zambia, called for setting sights high, seeking not to manage or contain the disease but “to conquer AIDS.”

“Remember, we are more than conquerors in Jesus Christ,” she said.

In his opening remarks, Rick Warren declared “the church has come to the table, and the church is not going to flake out. The church is here to stay; this is not a flavor of the week or a flavor of the month for us, not when millions of people are dying.”

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