In an address that melded her personal faith and her campaign vow to battle AIDS, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton on Thursday said that if elected, she would boost U.S. spending on the disease and encourage abstinence and the use of condoms to eradicate it.
"AIDS remains a plague of biblical proportions," the New York senator told hundreds of church members gathered at the annual Global Summit on AIDS and the Church at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest. "Where ignorance and prejudice builds, AIDS thrives. Stigma is one of the real evils that has to be combated."
During her lengthy appearance, Clinton cited Scripture, talked about the role faith played in her upbringing and value system, and reiterated a $50-billion plan announced days ago to fight AIDS and malaria.
The plan would increase U.S. spending to fight AIDS by about 20%, according to David Bryden, a spokesman for the Global Aids Alliance. All of the Democratic presidential candidates have committed to the same funding proposal, he said.
Clinton was the only major presidential candidate, Democrat or Republican, to speak in person at the annual summit, sponsored by Saddleback pastor Rick Warren and his wife, Kay.
Five others -- Democrats John Edwards and Barack Obama, and Republicans Mike Huckabee, John McCain and Mitt Romney -- gave short videotaped speeches that were shown on the church's giant overhead screens after Clinton's appearance. Obama spoke in person at last year's gathering.
Though one part of Clinton's plan calls for affordable medication for global AIDS treatment, she did not emphasize the point Thursday. By contrast, former North Carolina Sen. Edwards and Illinois Sen. Obama hammered on their desire to curb pharmaceutical company profits on AIDS drugs and make lower-cost generic medications more widely available.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Romney and Arizona Sen. McCain praised AIDS-fighting efforts initiated by President Bush, with McCain saying he would favor continuing an "abstinence-only approach" to education about sex and sexually transmitted diseases in U.S. humanitarian efforts abroad.
But as the only candidate who appeared in person, most of the attention belonged to Clinton. She noted that when it comes to AIDS, the poor, minorities and women are most vulnerable. Part of the solution, she said, is to teach "abstinence, be faithful and use condoms if necessary." She detailed her plans to wipe out mother-to-child transmission and to launch public education campaigns to eliminate the stigma of the illness.
And she referred often to the role faith has played in her life.
"I've often been asked if I'm a praying person," she told the audience. "Had I not been, probably one week in the White House would have turned me into one."
Citing what she said was her favorite Bible passage from the book of James -- "For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also" -- Clinton said she had come to believe that religious faith is an integral component of charity efforts.
"I have concluded that works without faith cannot be sustained," she said.