Evangelical writer Rick Warren's latest sermon is on AIDS prevention. At a recent AIDS confab in Toronto, Warren, author the of the bestselling "The Purpose-driven Life" (Zondervan, 2002) announced that the "Church needs to take the lead in the greatest health concern on the planet" -- causing some to dub Warren the leader of an upcoming AIDS "reformation."
What Warren is doing is divine, but not entirely new. He's putting a purpose-driven spin on the simplest idea: "abstinence, be faithful and condoms" (ABC) -- to replace the old, hasn't-quite-worked approach -- "safe sex" -- with a much more promising strategy for saving at-risk people in Africa, and everyone else whose activities are liable to expose them to HIV.
Truth is, there's nothing mysterious about AIDS prevention. The ABC approach is the one that has shown results. As Harvard researcher Edward C. Green has phrased it, "Uganda rocked the world of AIDS prevention by promoting 'sticking to one partner' and delaying the age of first sex." He wrote earlier this year: "The broad trend in Africa is in fact toward higher levels of monogamy, fidelity and abstinence, and the trend in HIV prevalence is incrementally downward. We now see HIV prevalence decline in Kenya, Zimbabwe, Senegal and probably other African countries as well." Seeing a winner, the Bush administration has based its own program for AIDS prevention in Africa on this ABC approach. Green, who knows Rick Warren and his wife, Kay, (and will be speaking at their conference in November), tells me from South Africa that the message Warren has embraced is the key: "no sex outside of marriage ... if both partners follow this, we will 'stop AIDS.'"
Warren seems to thoroughly get that. He talks about "transformation": "That involves saving sex for marriage, training men to respect women, offering treatment through churches, and encouraging individuals to pledge themselves to one partner." And while this is an old-school teaching, it also has the potential to be revolutionary. Whether you're a Kenyan or a Bostonian, that's how real change happens.