By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
According toTeam America: World Police, everyone has AIDS. My father (AIDS!). My sister (AIDS!). The gays and the straights and the whites and the spades.
Actually, in my family, everyone has Hep C. (It must have been all those prison stints.) But we have AIDS too, or we did; my son's first mom (my stepmother) died of it when he was a baby.
So did I go to Friday's Global Summit on AIDS at Saddleback Church in some kind of activist solidarity? Because this time, it's personal? No, not really. Eleven years later, I don't think about Leslie that often—except sometimes to mumble an apology to her when I've been particularly menstrual and rotten to her sweet son, and to promise her I really am taking good care of him, mostly.
Really, I just went to see Senator Barack Obama address Rick Warren's megachurch, and to find out how the holy rollers would welcome him.
Quite well, as it turned out. If nothing else, they're a very welcoming lot.
All those e-mails I got from the Worldview Weekend nutso types promising hellfire for Obama's positions on abortion and gay marriage (he's actually, and very uncoolly, against gay marriage, but not according to the good reverends—and Phyllis Schlafly—at Worldview)? Well, they managed to find two sad people willing to protest the gathering, down miles of winding driveway where the Saddleback "campus" meets the street. "Stop AIDS," read their signs. "Stop sin." I stopped myself from flipping them off, and just glared at them instead. I hope Miss Manners realizes how much I do for her.
* * *
Rick Warren, who started Saddleback with his wife, Kay, 26 years ago, was getting ready to testify when I arrived. White people were clapping choppily to a kind of actually rocking band. For serious! My lip was twitching. Do. Not. Laugh!
I was greeted by multiple greeters—right on its website, Saddleback promises you will always be greeted, and that's one promise they kept. But it's nice, being smiled at and given a good morning; it's like Wal-Mart, except people are there because they want to be, not forced to work—at Wal-Mart—despite their arthritis and general anciency.
Also unlike Wal-Mart, the space (chapel? Meeting hall? Coven?) is modern and airy, with exposed white pipes and easily a hundred grand in stage lights.
Warren talked a long time—he's a talker, that Rick Warren—and he looked like an older version of my brother-in-law, with his goatee and jeans and general puffiness. But Rick Warren is an interesting guy. He may look like your typical white OC kind of . . . you know . . . asshole. But he was talking about how he never realized AIDS was a problem until Kay made him look at the situation in Africa, where 12 million orphans wander the streets, their parents dead of AIDS.
"That," he said, "is a continent sliding into the sea."
So what else had he missed? He made a list of the world's most pressing problems, the ones governments couldn't or wouldn't fix. Why couldn't he, Rick Warren, focus the energies of his 12,000 parishioners (are they called parishioners?) to fight spiritual emptiness, "egocentric leadership" (or corruption—"There are little Saddams in every country, in every community, in every church and in every homeowners association," he said. "Give a man a little power, he turns into Stalin."), poverty, pandemic diseases and illiteracy?
"My goal," he said, "is to turn the American church from selfish consumerism to selfless contribution. I want to see a woman, who was once only interested in her diamond tennis bracelet, sitting under a banyan tree, holding a baby with AIDS."
Hey, why not?
And when did Rick Warren start sounding like Fidel Castro?
* * *
There is a religious Left in our country. (We love you, Catholic Worker.) Rick Warren isn't among them. But I like it when the religious Right starts actually talking about the things Jesus talked about—feeding the poor and healing the sick—and there's been precious little of it since Jerry Falwell and his Moral Majority took control of the airwaves and the agenda back in the '80s.
What did Jesus say about abortion and gays? Not a goddamn syllable. He did have a few thoughts on Mammon, however.
That's why it was terribly interesting to see Kansas Senator Sam Brownback take to Warren's pulpit.
The little I knew of Brownback was from reading Thomas Frank's marvelous What's the Matter With Kansas? (Answer: a lot!) I knew he had converted to Opus Dei-style Catholicism and made his bones on such issues as Third World sex slavery and, of course, abortion. (He had originally gotten involved in Kansas politics, however, as a pro-choice moderate.) I also knew that in his original post as Kansas ag secretary—not elected or appointed by the governor, but actually chosen by the heads of the agriculture industry!—he had made limits on dangerous herbicides "voluntary," and he never found a thorny issue, either there or in the House, that couldn't be fixed with deregulation. Unless, of course, that issue took place on your queen-size bed.