'Purpose Driven Life' Author Takes on AIDS Fight

ByABC News
December 1, 2005, 5:11 PM

Dec. 1, 2005 — -- Today, Rick Warren -- best-selling author and pastor of one of the nation's largest megachurches -- publicly took an AIDS test.

Egged on by his wife, Kay, Warren has convened 1,700 pastors at his church in California. He's urging them to start serving people with HIV/AIDS -- a disease that many evangelicals have either long ignored or called God's punishment of gays.

"The fact is the evangelical realm of the church has failed in this area," said Warren. "They put it off too long; they didn't care."

"We've been wrong," said Kay Warren. "We need to repent, say we're sorry, and open our doors to everyone who's HIV positive and say, 'He loves you.'"

Fueled by the revenues from his massively successful book, "The Purpose Driven Life," Warren has, for years, ministered to people with AIDS in Africa.

He's now trying to shift the focus back home.

This is a significant development in the evangelical community for two reasons: it's an attempt to broaden the agenda beyond abortion and gay marriage, and it's a remarkable departure from the community's traditional view of AIDS as simply a gay disease.

"For many years, evangelicals have claimed that they hate sin but love the sinner. Now here's an example where they're starting to live that out," said Dr. John Green of the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

Warren said ministering to people with AIDS isn't about their behavior. "The issue is not, how did you get it? The issue is -- what now?" he said.

This does not mean evangelicals have changed their views on gays and lesbians.

"People ask me, is homosexuality evil? I say, it's just not natural," Warren said.

That thinking creates some hesitancy for people like Bishop Zachary Jones -- an AIDS activist in New York City for 22 years.

"Absolutely. Absolutely. It raises questions and it raises suspicion," said Jones.

The Warrens say they know they're late to the table, but they say they're here to stay.

"It doesn't surprise me that people would be skeptical," Kay Warren said. "I totally accept skepticism and I think we deserve skepticism. And we have to earn our stripes here."

ABC News' Dan Harris filed this report for "World News Tonight."