Hillary Clinton speaking today at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif. (WND photo)
LAKE FOREST, Calif. – Within days of introducing a $50 billion plan to combat AIDS, Sen. Hillary Clinton received a standing ovation at one of the nation’s most influential evangelical churches after addressing its “Global Summit on AIDS and the Church” today.
If the Democratic presidential frontrunner’s aim was to make inroads into the heavily Republican evangelical electorate, her appearance at Saddleback Church with pastor and “The Purpose Driven Life” author Rick Warren apparently didn’t hurt.
Saddleback Church member Cindy Logan told WND after Clinton spoke to some 1,700 conference attendees that as a Republican, the senator’s visit was “a little bit of a challenge for me,” but she, nevertheless, was impressed.
“I saw a softer side of her that I hadn’t seen before,” Logan said, adding she thinks it’s quite possible some minds were changed about the New York Democrat.
“She was very articulate. I liked her approach,” Logan said. “I liked the fact that she’s been to Africa, she’s been with people who have been affected by AIDS, and she’s here because of her heart for people. And I appreciated that.”
Hillary Clinton at Saddleback Church today (WND photo)
Logan emphasized, however – as did Warren before introducing Clinton – that all of the leading presidential candidates, both Democrat and Republican, were invited to come and speak. Democrats Barack Obama – whose appearance at last year’s summit drew controversy – and John Edwards sent taped messages addressed to the summit, as did Republicans John McCain, Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee.
“She’s a presidential candidate,” Logan said, responding to opposition by some Christian leaders to Clinton’s visit. “And as a presidential candidate, she has her voice. And she may be the future leader of our country, and so as that person, I think she deserves to be on stage. I think all of them should have been here.”
At a Wednesday news conference, Warren explained, “The first thing is that this is not a church service, and, second, there isn’t a pulpit on stage,” Warren said. “And it’s not a worship service. This is a summit, which does include people from every kind of background.”
Tim Wildmon, president of the American Family Association, believes it was “a mistake to invite [Clinton] to speak at an evangelical Christian church on AIDS or any other issue, because her political stances are contrary to biblical teaching.”
“What Saddleback is doing is helping raise her profile as a legitimate presidential candidate in the eyes of evangelical Christians, and I think that is a huge error,” Wildmon told Reuters.
‘I wanted to be here’
Warren and Clinton engaged in laughter-filled banter prior to her speech, with the Saddleback pastor asking in jest, “Before you speak, I have just one question, why did you show?”
Hillary Clinton greeted by Rick Warren before her speech at Saddleback Church in Orange County, California (WND photo)
“Well, first you asked me, and second, in a burst of enthusiasm, I said I would,” she said to laughter from summit attendees.
“I have been looking forward to this. I really have,” Clinton told Warren. “I know what this church is doing; I understand the commitment that is here and this conference which you’re holding that is attracting people literally from all over the world.
“I wanted to be here,” she added. “I thought I needed to be here, to share my thoughts, to have a better idea of what it is you’re achieving far beyond the boundaries of Saddleback.”
Clinton said, “The commitment you have demonstrated, both to our faith in God and to doing his work here on earth is exemplary. And that is one of the many reasons I wanted to be here today.”
‘The sustaining power of prayer’
Clinton, raised in the United Methodist Church in suburban Chicago, began the speech telling the largely evangelical audience of her Christian commitment.
“My own faith journey is approaching a half century, and I know how far I have to go,” she said. “But I have been blessed in my life, starting with my family, and in the church of my childhood, to be guided every step of the way.”
Plaza outside Saddleback Church’s worship center where Sen. Hillary Clinton spoke today
The senator pointed to a number of significant influences on her faith: “A mother who taught Sunday School and a mother who made sure that my brothers and I were there the moment the church doors opened; a father who kneeled by the side of his bed every night of his life to say his prayers; a minister of our youth fellowship who took it as part of his mission to show this group of white, suburban, middle class kids that there was a bigger world outside; a prayer group that formed for me shortly after I came to the White House, a group of extraordinary women, both Democrats and Republicans, whose love and support sustained me.”
Clinton said she’s often asked if she’s a “praying person.”
“I’ve always responded that I was fortunate enough to be raised to understand the power and purpose of prayer,” she said.
“But had I not been,” the senator quipped, “probably one week in the White House would have turned me into one.”
“It’s wonderful to know that the sustaining power of prayer is there for so many of us,” she said.
Clinton said one of her favorite passages of the Bible is the book of James’ admonition that “faith without works is dead.”
“But I have concluded that works without faith is just too hard,” she said. “It cannot be sustained over one’s life or the generations. And it’s important for us to recognize how, here in what you are doing, faith and works comes together.”
Clinton commended Saddleback Church for living that out.
You understand that, or as Rick might say, ‘creed and deed,'” she said. “And what extraordinary and important work your faith supports, fighting against spiritual emptiness, corrupt leadership, poverty, illiteracy and diseases – like AIDS – around the world.”
Burns Strider, Clinton’s senior adviser and national director of faith-based outreach, told WND the senator’s visit to Saddleback is one of the most important recent stops on her heavy campaign schedule.
Hillary Clinton talks about her Christian faith at Saddleback Church, which draws as many as 20,000 to weekend services (WND photo)
“This is something we have been talking about and working on for a number of months now,” he said. “We’ve been very focused on this opportunity to come together with people of faith and then talk about an issue that has real common ground, and that’s about ministering to those with HIV/AIDS and eradicating it.”
Strider, raised a Southern Baptist in the Mississippi Delta, previously served as policy director for the House Democratic Caucus and did “faith outreach” for the House Democratic Caucus under Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
“Obviously coming to Saddleback, being with Rick and Kay Warren and all these leaders brought together, it’s a substantial opportunity for anybody,” said Strider, who now is part of a United Methodist congregation in the D.C. area.
The evangelical community is not a monolith, he emphasized.
“The last few years, people have started seeing that diversity as they’ve started talking about more issues, and younger leaders are opening the door to more dialogue,” he said. “So that’s a good thing. We certainly welcome it. We’re coming to that table, we’re saying sure, we want to talk about these issues.”
Strider says he’s convinced Sen. Clinton’s faith is genuine.
“What I find and know about the senator is very real and very honest,” he said. “You know, there’s a life of works and deeds. … There’s an amazing connection there between what Senator Clinton believes and the way she carries it out. I do find it authentic.”
In her speech, Clinton discussed her AIDS plan, which calls for at least $50 billion to provide universal access to treatment, prevention and care for global HIV and AIDS by 2013. It also includes $1 billion per year toward the goal of “stamping out malaria deaths in Africa altogether by the end of her second term.”
An estimated 1,700 people heard Hillary Clinton speak at Saddleback Church (WND photo)
The proposal would provide health insurance for all HIV patients in the U.S., and promote “evidence-based” prevention programs, which typically has meant condoms and needle-exchanges rather than encouraging abstinence.
Asked about Clinton’s plan, Warren told WND in a brief interview prior to the speech that he could not take a position on it because he had not seen it yet.
After hearing the plan’s main points described, he pointed to the “three-legged stool” metaphor illustrating the balancing of government, private sector and church. Government, he said, plays an important role in paying for medications, such as anti-retrovirals used to treat AIDS that could cost $10,000 to $20,000 a year per person.
“The church is never going to have that,” Warren told WND. “Churches are poor around the world. But they have the people.
“We bring the manpower,” he said. “Even if you’ve got the meds, you can’t get them to the people unless you have a network.”
He pointed, as an example, to the relief effort after the tsunamis in South Asia killed more than 225,000 people in 2004.
“All these resources went to the coast, and they sat there and rotted, because they didn’t have a network to distribute them. If they had used the church, we have more boots on the ground than anybody.
Warren said that while he’s in favor of government paying for the drugs needed to combat AIDS he’s not in favor of government prescribing the prevention programs.
“That’s a spiritual issue,” he said, “and that’s my issue.”
In his videotaped message to the summit, Huckabee injected some of his trademark humor into references to his longtime friendship with Warren going back to their studies together at Southwestern Baptist Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.
“Rick, some of us from your class didn’t turn out so well, so I’ll just do the best with what I’ve got,” Huckabee quipped.
The former Arkansas governor advocated covering not just AIDS under Medicaid, but HIV, and pointed out the disease affects minorities disproportionately. Three out of five cases are minorities, and the problem is 10 times worse among African-Americans, he said.
Mike Huckabee addresses summit in video message (WND photo)
Edwards came next, declaring, “We have a moral imperative to do much more,” including a goal of universal access to treatment by 2010. He drew some scattered applause calling for a halt to “protecting the profits of big drug companies.”
McCain said, “I want to thank Rick and Kay Warren for their leadership on this worldwide problem,” pointing out the “Gospel tells us to recognize life as sacred and to love our neighbors as ourselves.”
He advocated supporting President Bush’s AIDS initiative, saying he believes in the abstinence plan it supports.
As president, McCain said, “I will fund HIV/AIDS programs at levels befitting a wealthy nation.”
“Lifting nations out of poverty is essential,” he said, “but first step is raising awareness, and this summit is an important part of that step.”
Obama told the conferees “how blessed I feel to count Rick and Kay Warren as friends.”
The Illinois senator said “it’s time to increase our contribution to the global fund” to fight AIDS, expanding it by $1 billion a year over the next five years.
Obama called for adopting “humanitarian” drug licensing policies, to make it easier to license generic drugs. He also pledged to double foreign assistance for AIDS from $25 billion to $50 billion by 2012.
“With prayer and hard work, I believe we’ll make real strides addressing this scourge and doing God’s work on earth,” he said.
Obama ended with, “Please keep me, my wife and my family in your prayers.”
John Edwards address AIDS summit via video (WND photo)
Romney called for leadership “on behalf of what Jesus in Matthew called ‘the least of these.'”
He referred to Warren’s opening statement in “The Purpose Driven Life” that “it’s not about me,” calling for “servant leadership.”
One of his first acts as president, he said, would be to call a “summit of nations” to address issues of poverty around the world.
“America is blessed and has been a blessing to nations staggering under poverty,” the former Massachusetts governor said.
“Thank you Rick and Kay,” Romney said, “for responding so passionately to God’s call.”
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