Warren’s Counterproductive AIDS Efforts in Africa
January 7th, 2009
Last month, I commented on how Rev. Rick Warren’s efforts to fight AIDS in Africa seemed to be more of a means by which to influence religious doctrine and public policy in several African nations than a charitable effort. My analysis seems confirmed by an article for the Daily Beast by Max Blumenthal, in which he investigates Warren’s AIDS efforts and finds them closely tied to anti-gay political activists and driven by dogmatic ideology.
In addition to the Anglican Bishops that are seeking to destroy the Church of England and remold it under their personal control, Warren has aligned himself with an evangelical pastor in Uganda, Martin Ssempa. This pastor quickly became interested in AIDS prevention after the US allocated 15 billion dollars (the PEPFAR program). While taking a salary from US taxpayers, he implemented efforts to remove condom use from Uganda’s successful ABC (abstinence, be faithful, condoms) anti-AIDS efforts.
By 2005, billboards promoting condom use disappeared from the streets of Kampala, replaced by billboards promoting virginity. “Until recently, all HIV-related billboards were about condoms. Those of us calling for abstinence and faithfulness need billboards too,” Ssempa told the BBC at the time. A 2005 report by Human Rights Watch documented that educational material in Uganda’s secondary schools falsely claiming condoms had microscopic pores that could be penetrated by the HIV virus and noted the sudden nationwide shortage of condoms due to new restrictions imposed by on condom imports.
Due in part to these efforts by Ssempa, HIV began to increase in the country.
AIDS activists arrived at the 16th International AIDS Conference in Toronto in 2006 with disturbing news from Uganda. Due at least in part to the chronic condom shortage, HIV infections were on the rise again. The disease rate had spiked to 6.5 percent among rural men, and 8.8 percent among women—a rise of nearly two points in the case of women. “The ‘C’ part [of ABC] is now mainly silent,” said Ugandan AIDS activist Beatrice Ware. As a result, she said, “the success story is unraveling.”
This should have given concern to those most familiar with AIDS in Africa. However, Rick Warren did not seek to return to the success of ABC. Rather, he took personal action to continue the program that had been shown to increase HIV infection – abstinence only.
In February 2008, Rep. Tom Lantos sought to reform PEPFAR to lift the abstinence-only earmarks.
His maneuver infuriated Warren, who immediately boarded a plane for Washington to join Christian right leaders including born-again former Watergate felon Chuck Colson for an emergency press conference on the Capitol lawn. In his speech, Warren claimed that Lantos’ bill would spawn an increase in the sex trafficking of young women. The bill died and PEPFAR was reauthorized in its flawed form.
But Ssempa was not content to put his anti-sex agenda ahead of the AIDS-prevention efforts of his nation. He also used his political connections and US backing to advance a harshly homophobic political atmosphere in their nation.
August 2007, Ssempa led hundreds of his followers through the streets of Kampala to demand that the government mete out harsh punishments against gays. “Arrest all homos,” read placards. And: “A man cannot marry a man.” Ssempa continued his crusade online, publishing the names of Ugandan gay rights activists on a website he created, along with photos and home addresses. “Homosexual promoters,” he called them, suggesting they intended to seduce Uganda’s children into their lifestyle. Soon afterwards, two of President Yoweri Museveni’s top officials demanded the arrest of the gay activists named by Ssempa. Terrified, the activists immediately into hiding.
The more I learn about Rick Warren’s AIDS efforts in Africa, the less I respect him. He has endorsed policies that he knows are not the most effective and he has befriended and supported some of the most homophobic religious leaders in Christendom in their anti-gay political actions.
It is commendable that Rick Warren feels compassion for those suffering from AIDS in Africa. It is not commendable that he has used this suffering as a way to get a political and religious foothold in the region or that he capitalized on – and encouraged – hatred against gay people in the process.