HIV and the Church

Posted by Clayton Heilman

At the conference, most of the people walking by Saddleback’s HIV&AIDS Initiative booth did a double take at the sign. Many stopped to thank Brittany for being part of a church that was willing to show up and care. Brittany noticed a woman, Gina, slowly walking by the booth staring at the sign. As she paused, Brittany greeted her and introduced herself. Gina smiled politely and returned the greeting. But she wanted to ask Brittany a question – one that revealed a painful past.

A few years earlier, Brittany was a bright eyed, outgoing student who didn’t know much about HIV or AIDS. When she heard that there would be a global summit on AIDS at Saddleback Church she didn’t think much of it. But the girls in her Life Group were attending so she decided to tag along. “I sat in the worship center listening to the statistics and stories, realizing that I had been making a lot of assumptions that simply weren’t true,” Brittany said. “Kay Warren shared how our church wasn’t going to stand on the sidelines any longer, that our church was going to get involved and show we care. Listening to that vision inspired me to learn more and get involved.”

First, Brittany had signed up for the Orange County AIDS Walk. Showing up with a group from Saddleback, she saw firsthand the shocked reactions of community members. “When I saw the looks on their faces in reaction to a church that shows up, cares, and supports people who are living with HIV, I felt further motivation to stay involved,” Brittany said.

When the opportunity arose for Brittany to join the HIV&AIDS Initiative team at the United States AIDS Conference in Washington D.C. this past year, she jumped at the chance.

As Brittany spoke with Gina, she welcomed the complex question thrown her way. Brittany sensed there was something deeper going on. “First and foremost, I wanted to show her that we care,” Brittany said. “That moment wasn’t about theological differences, it was about caring for people who are sick.”

As Brittany stood there talking with Gina, tears began welling up in Gina’s eyes. Brittany asked if she’d had a bad experience with a church before. Gina nodded as the tears flowed down her cheeks. Brittany asked if she could give Gina a hug and they both fought back tears as Brittany wrapped her arms around Gina.

“That moment represented someone perhaps stepping closer back towards trust in Jesus,” Brittany recalls. “We were able to begin restoring a bridge that had been burned. I’m praying it was the beginning of Gina’s reconciliation and healing with the Church.”

“People infected with HIV often approach religious groups with hesitancy, from fear or bad experiences in the past. They don’t see it as a place of hope. When I’m serving on this team, I feel like I’m being the hands and feet of Jesus to the marginalized. We are coming alongside people who have been wounded and ignored for way too long.”

Learn more about the HIV&AIDS Initiative at Saddleback Church by going to

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