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.

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  • Karen

    We really have to educate people about Warren’s misogyny. The newsblog I read and trust stated only 9% of people disapproved of Warren at the inauguration. The percent should have been well above 50%. But what actually disgusts me more than chauvinistic men are women who encourage their behavior and who convince other women to be submissive because they are acting against the empowerment movement that is meant for all women, them included.

  • sister of ye

    “Men of God” like Warren are so strict when it comes to browbeating the women in their congregation. They’re such literalists when it comes demonizing gays.

    I have one for you, Rick Warren. Jesus said that if a man’s right hand causes him to sin, he should cut it off. If his left eyes causes him to sin, he should pluck it out. If a man is engages in sexual offenses (adultery, premarital sex, prostitution), I think Jesus’ preferred remedy is clear. Gonna preach that one in your church anytime soon?

    Nope, with you guys it’s always the wives’ fault the husbands “stray.” Not much of a churgoer anymore, but I do recall that Jesus had a description for “religious” men like you. Let’s see … ah, yes, “whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness.” Sounds about right.

  • Anna

    Nina – This series you’re writing is excellent. The word needs to get out there.. This is one among so many issues that the public is woefully unaware of thanks to the bias of the msm.

    Karen – I saw that stat as well and my jaw nearly dropped to the ground. The electorate have been shaped by the msm’s packaging and it’s a frightening state of affairs.

    We have to get the word out there onto a larger platform, otherwise we’re just preaching to the converted (no pun intended).

  • Karen

    Oh, awesome quote by Jesus, sister of Ye! Throw that back at him!

    Nina, have you contacted Fox News? Maybe Greta. It’s the anti-thesis of CNN, so you should have an easier time speaking there. You can also contact some news blogs.

    One thing I want to do with this campus group once I find a professor to sign onto it – I want to have a few local and powerful women give speeches about what makes them empowered. I also want to educate people about the sexism of Warren and Obama. It’s hideous.

  • Marion Silverstein


    Are you aware of any of the 8 errors in your article or did you intentionally include them anyway to reinforce a phony case? Simply repeating the errors Max made in his article reveals that you are not doing any direct research. You’re just quoting secondary and third sources who repeated errors.

    For instance, you obviously don’t know that as long ago as 2006 Ssempa was disinvited and banned from the Saddleback conference after the Warren’s heard what he said in 2005. They have had no contact with him since! Warren is certainly not an ally of Ssempa.. They completely disagree with the man and will have had nothing to do with him. This is well documented in African papers, who follow Ssempa closely.

    Another example of errors is the man you claim is Kagame in your photo is not
    the President of Rwanda! Ooops! Readers should wonder what else you got wrong if you missed these two quick examples.

    Here’s an ethical idea? Contact Warren and get your facts straight before you keep embarrassing yourself. Find out what he REALLY believes, not all that you’ve heard.

  • valentina

    I am truly disappointed that Geithner sailed through the confirmation process in light of his “housekeeper” and tax problem. This has previously derailed the nomination of women from both parties.

    Now CK’s appointment was, arguably, derailed for the same reason (a woman again). Although I am happy other more qualified women have the opportunity to fill HC senate seat…I still think all should be held to the same standard, and Gheitner should not get through the confirmation process.

    There are plenty more qualified women for that position. A woman taking care of our moneys would be more suitable in this times.

  • valentina

    Housekeeper and Taxes Are Said to Derail Kennedy’s Bid


  • valentina

    sorry…”these times”

  • Ms. Silverstein: I am responsible for the photos and captions, not Nina M., so if there is a mistake I’ll take responsibility for it.

    The image of Rick Warren in Rwanda is from ABC News, which captioned the photo “Rick Warren and President Paul Kagame in Rwanda.” However, since you raise the question of whether that is actually Kagame, I have amended the caption to refer only to Warren.

  • Zee


    Yes, indeed…women have been derail for that. I know one who was!

    It’s inexcusable. Especially at this time.

    Meanwhile….it looks as if Paterson has chosen a woman to replace Hillary, to be announced tomorrow at noon:

    it’s Kirsten Hillibrand:


  • Anna

    Marion –

    I have confidence that the writers on the blog want to present their work in an integrous way. At least one would hope so. Just so you know, I took it upon myself to contact Rick Warren to try to clarify some of the issues we’ve been discussing here on the blog about him and his church and the positions put forth by them. I have yet to hear back from him or anyone at Saddleback, which I think is regretable. I wrote a very gracious e-mail that simply asked a few straight forward questions with the expressed intention of my desire to better understand certain positions.

    You’re a new name on this blog and I’m curious to hear more about your relationship to feminism along with your knowledge of Rick Warren.

  • ER

    We need to stand against misogyny every time we see it! Here is the latest on the Boston Globe Magazine selecting Jon Favreau as one of 6 ‘Bostonians of the Year.”

    From Anna’s post (1/18/09) in the Grassroots section: “The Boston Globe Magazine section letters to the editor from the issue about the 6 Bostonians of the Year came out today. There are a couple of letters about Favreau, with one edited down to a single sentence that at least addresses the fact that he groped a life size image of Clinton.” http://www.boston.com/bostongl.....8/letters/

    I know the Globe Magazine must have received MANY Letters to the Editor protesting Favreau’s selection as Bostonian of the Year. They printed one – one sentence long.


    1. Leave your comments about Favreau and the Globe’s barely acknowledging the comments and mail they received about their appointing Favreau as one of 6 Bostonians of the Year. You can comment here: http://www.boston.com/bostongl.....8/letters/

    2. Nominate the Boston Globe Magazine for for NOW’s Media Hall of Shame.

    (They ask for a URL. The original Globe Magazine article is here: http://www.boston.com/bostongl....._in_chief/

    P.S. Can someone post this Action Plan on Puma Responders and other relevant sites so many people can take action? (I don’t need credit for it nor to be named). Thanks.

  • Ken

    God does not hate divorce as God does not hate! God is love and infinite so dualisms do not pertain to God, ie. love-hate.

  • A

    This post is giving me crazy flashbacks. I actually met Martin Ssempa, years ago (I had to do a double take and look up his web site to verify that he is indeed the same person). He and his wife were supported by the church I grew up in, where my family, along with about half the congregation, were practically run out for challenging the pastor’s teaching that a woman can never be in authority over a man (not even in a secular workplace–if she’s a good Christian woman she’ll refuse promotions or quit her job in order to avoid such a position).

    Fun times.