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december 2, 2005

Rick Warren Takes Public HIV Test on World AIDS Day

Dr. Rick Warren voluntarily submitted to a free HIV screening in front of media and staffers at a World AIDS Day press briefing, which closed out the "Disturbing Voices" HIV/AIDS Conference held at Saddleback Valley Community Church this week.

"I am taking this test publicly so we can start the process of reducing the stigma related to just being tested," said Dr. Warren. "Silence is deadly, and so is ignorance. Until you know your status, you are in denial."

According to Christian Communication Network, Paul Cimoch, M.D., Director of the Center for Special Immunology in Fountain Valley, Calif, performed the test on Warren using the OraQuick Advance mouth swab and demonstrated the process in its entirety. This test screens for both HIV1 and HIV2, and uses the tissue fluid in between the cheek and gum as opposed to saliva, as is often mistakenly assumed.

"By law, I am required to go through pre-test counseling with you," said Dr. Cimoch, before outlining the high risk behaviors that are most associated with the spread of HIV/AIDS, including casual sex, intravenous drug use and blood transfusions before explaining how the test would be performed.

"We are actually testing for antibodies to HIV, the virus that leads to AIDS, a syndrome characterized by opportunistic infections that come along and attack the already compromised immune system," Dr. Cimoch said.

While waiting in real time for the result after the test was completed, Dr. Warren and his wife Kay – who hosted the unprecedented church-based conference attended by nearly 1700 international ministry leaders -- took questions from the media. However, the more than 200 individuals who participated in the free HIV testing offered to attendees and the community over the past two days were accompanied by Saddleback ministerial staff during the wait, which some said was the longest 20 minutes they had ever experienced.

Kay Warren talked about Acts of Mercy, the foundation that she and her husband formed for the purpose of distributing the proceeds from "The Purpose Driven Life," which has made publishing history as the best-selling book in the world for the past three years.

Also, during that wait time, David Miller, founder of the AIDS activist group Act Up, stepped to the microphone to ask what the Warrens are planning to do for the 16th World AIDS Conference to be held in Toronto in August, 2006.

"If we are invited, we will be there," answered Dr. Warren. "There is no place I wouldn't go to talk about this."

Mrs. Warren pointed out that she had attended the 2004 World AIDS Conference in Bangkok, and it was there that she saw the great need for the Church. "I was shocked by all that I saw," she said. "There was everything from ball gowns made of condoms to booths dedicated to the normalization of prostitution. And I came away saying 'Where is the Church?'"

Because of Miller's extensive involvement in AIDS not only as someone living with the virus, but also as an ardent activist, he was invited to come to the front and address the press to give his perspective on this conference and comment on how this event differed from the countless others he has attended over the past 20 years.

"First of all, it's in a church," Miller said. "But this isn't like any other church. I have never seen this many HIV negative people in one place talking about HIV/AIDS. And I just have never seen this many healthy people caring about the sick."

After being informed by Dr. Cimoch of his result, Dr. Warren chose to share with the group present that he had tested negative for the HIV antibody, at which time he leaned over and kissed his wife.

At the conclusion of the media briefing, Dr. Warren gave the floor to Miller for closing comments. "Thank you for what you are doing and I am waiting to see where you go with this," he said. "When you meet God, you come to Him on His terms. When you meet AIDS, you meet it on its terms. And for those of us infected with HIV/AIDS, everyday is World AIDS Day."

In addition to the two-day conference, to commemorate World AIDS Day, Saddleback Church sponsored a service of prayer and remembrance, organized teams to provide practical assistance to individuals in the community who are suffering from HIV/AIDS, and held a free concert featuring Grammy and CMA award winning headliner artists including Wynonna, Tait, Tommy Walker, Out of Eden, LA Symphony, Jimmy Wayne, David Pack, Lincoln Brewster, Milele, Rick Muchow, Justin Adams and "The House Superband" with Abe Laboriel, Vinnie Colaiuta, Paul Jackson, Jr. and Tom Brooks.

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