January 22, 2009 / Uncategorized

Misogyny Kills: Rick Warren, Mark Dybul, and AIDS (Part Two)


Editor’s note: This is Part Two of a three-part series on the links between the religious right, President Obama’s “AIDS czar” Mark Dybul, and the faith-based programs that are killing women and girls around the world. Part One was published yesterday, and Part Three will conclude the series on Friday.

Rick Warren on the giant screen at his Saddleback megachurch.

Rick Warren on the giant screen at his Saddleback megachurch.

God Hates Divorce

Rick Warren enjoys his reputation as a mainstream, compassionate champion in the fight against AIDS. But a close examination of his Saddleback Family website reveals a darker side to his ministry.

Warren instructs his parishioners that the Bible does not permit a wife to divorce a physically abusive spouse. In an audio clip on the church website that addresses the question “What should I do when abuse is happening in my marriage?”, Saddleback pastor Tom Holladay states, “Having been involved as a pastor in situations of abuse, there’s something in me that wishes there were a Bible verse that says if they abuse you in such kind of way, then you have a right to leave them,” but no such permission is given. “God hates divorce,” Holladay explains.

The underlying message is that it is more important for a wife to save her marriage than to save her own life. A Christian who divorces another Christian will ultimately look back and say, “I told myself it was for a right reason but now I realize it was more my selfishness than anything else,” according to Holladay. This gives abusive spouses one more tool – the Bible – to control their victims.

On the Saddleback website Pastors.com’s Ministry Toolbox, women are instructed that God created them to be submissive wives: “Think of marriage as a three-legged stool. The legs are a submissive wife, a loving husband, and Christ.” The author, Beth Moore, exhorts women to look on the bright side; submission is not so bad if you lay back and enjoy it. “It is a relief to know that as a wife and mother I am not totally responsible for my family. I have a husband to look to for counsel and direction. I can rely on his toughness when I am too soft and his logic when I am too emotional.”

Rick Warren in Rwanda

Rick Warren in Rwanda

Warren’s male supremacist teachings are not reserved for his North American audience. In fact, Warren openly discusses his ambition to export his “Purpose Driven” theology. Warren’s wife Kay boasts that “200,000 church leaders from around the world have been trained in Saddleback’s purpose driven philosophy.” And Time magazine reported that President Paul Kagame of Rwanda has committed to working with Warren to turn the country into “the first purpose-driven nation”:

“Warren says he was ‘looking for a small country where we could actually work on a national model,’ and Kagame, impressed by The Purpose-Driven Life, volunteered Rwanda in March. In July Warren and 48 other American Evangelicals, who have backgrounds in areas like health, education, micro-enterprises and justice, held intensive planning meetings with Rwandan Cabinet ministers, governors, clergy and entrepreneurs. One dinner was attended by a third of the Rwandan Parliament. Says Scott Moreau, a professor of missiology at Wheaton College in Illinois: ‘I’ve never heard of this level of cooperation in the last 100 years between any megachurch, mission agency or even a denomination and a national government.’”

The Purpose-Driven Lobbyist

Warren claims he receives no government funding for his work, and PEPFAR’s rules make it difficult to track exactly who receives what, and how much. But Jodi Jacobson, a respected expert on PEPFAR and gender issues, stated in a comment to her article on the website RH Reality Check that in the course of her research in developing countries, “I encountered organizations funded by PEPFAR whose message included telling teens that if they had premarital sex they would burn in hell…I encountered faith-based organizations telling women experiencing domestic violence that they should work a bit harder to make their husbands happy…a case of blaming the victim if ever there was one.”

Warren has aggressively lobbied U.S. lawmakers to maintain PEPFAR’s emphasis on religion-based abstinence programs. Early last year, when the House of Representatives took up the task reauthorizing PEPFAR, efforts were made by a broad coalition of experts, advocates, and lawmakers to correct flaws in the original legislation. As described by the International Women’s Health Coalition, new language was proposed that would lift restrictions on prevention programs “that have been proven by numerous studies to be undermining efforts to slow the spread of new HIV infections. Among other changes, the new bill strikes an earmark requiring that 33 percent of all funding for prevention activities be spent on abstinence-until-marriage programs and eliminates a requirement that organizations sign a ‘pledge’ opposing prostitution.” The bill also struck restrictions that prevented women from getting one-stop access to both HIV/AIDS and reproductive health services.

Warren moved immediately to stop this effort. In February 2008, he was the headline attraction at an emergency press conference organized by some of the most conservative Republican members of the House of Representatives and right-wing advocacy groups. Their press release announced: “Pastor Rick Warren, Chuck Colson and Others to Join Members of Congress to Make Stand Against Democrat Plan to Hijack Successful Prevention Program”:

“[T]he Democrats have decided to radically change or abandon the principles of this widely successful program. Their radical rewrite will pour billions into the hands of abortion providers with little or no regard for the pro-life, pro-family cultures of recipient countries. It also strips provisions that ensure priority funding for the highly effective abstinence and fidelity programs, which have reduced HIV rates in African nations that have implemented it.”

Warren and his friends successfully scotched the one-stop HIV/AIDS and family planning service provision that would have made it easier for women to access life-saving care.

A billboard in Uganda promoting abstinence.

A billboard in Uganda promoting abstinence.

Along with political advocacy, Warren’s modus operandi is to secure funding for his African protégés to carry out his work. In a disturbing expose published this month in The Daily Beast, Max Blumenthal writes “Warren’s involvement in Africa reveals a web of alliances with right-wing clergymen who have sidelined science-based approaches to combating AIDS in favor of abstinence-only education.”

Blumenthal spotlights one of Warren’s most prized allies, Ugandan pastor Martin Ssempa:

“Warren’s man in Uganda is a charismatic pastor named Martin Ssempa. The head of the Makerere Community Church, a rapidly growing congregation, Ssempe enjoys close ties to his country’s First Lady, Janet Museveni, and is a favorite of the Bush White House. In the capitol of Kampala, Ssempa is known for his boisterous crusading. Ssempa’s stunts have included burning condoms in the name of Jesus and arranging the publication of names of homosexuals in cooperative local newspapers while lobbying for criminal penalties to imprison them.”

Martin Ssempa and Kay Warren (right)

Martin Ssempa and Kay Warren (right)

Blumenthal interviewed public health consultant Helen Epstein, who met Ssempa while conducting research on AIDS prevention strategies in Uganda. Epstein told Blumenthal that Ssempa seemed paranoid and spoke to her at length about his fear of women, gay men, and a coven of witches who met at the bottom of Lake Victoria. “He seemed very personally terrified by their presence,” she told Blumenthal.

In 2005, Warren invited Ssempa to the first Global Summit on AIDS and the Church to help him unveil the global AIDS initiative that would later attract the admiration of Barack Obama. According to Blumenthal,

“[Warren] cast Ssempa as his indispensable sidekick, assigning him to lead a breakout session on abstinence-only education as well as a seminar on AIDS prevention. Later, Ssempa delivered a keynote address, a speech so stirring it ‘had the audience on the edge of its seats,’ according to Warren’s public relations agency.

“A year later, Ssempa returned to Saddleback Church to lead another seminar on AIDS. By this time, his bond with the Warrens had grown almost familial. ‘You are my brother, Martin, and I love you,’ Rick Warren’s wife, Kay, said to Ssempa from the stage. Her voice trembled with emotion as she spoke and tears ran down her cheeks.”

On that occasion, Warren flaunted his high-level African connections by featuring a videotape of the Ugandan first lady, who offered her praise for church-based abstinence-until-marriage programs.

Dybul’s predecessor as AIDS czar, Randall Tobias, was another of Warren’s honored guests. Shortly thereafter Ssempe became, according to Blumenthal, ‘special representative of the [Ugandan] First Lady’s Task Force on AIDS in Uganda,’ receiving $40,000 from the PEPFAR pot.

To be continued in Part Three.