At The Daily Beast, Max Blumenthal calls the Obama administration on the carpet for affirming Rick Warren and allies’ efforts to deny access to condoms and prevent Africa’s heterosexual and LGBT people from protecting themselves against HIV/AIDS.
Blumenthal notes that Warren has never been required to prove the efficacy of his anti-condom program. Instead, independent investigation into Warren’ involvement in Africa revealed alliances with Christian Right clergy who sidelined science-based approaches to combating AIDS in favor of abstinence-only education.
These clergy sabotaged Uganda’s once highly successful initiative to combat HIV/AIDS. Comprehensive sex education — consisting of lessons in abstinence, monogamy, and condom use — slashed HIV infection rates during the 1990s and up until 2003, when Christian Rightists in the Bush State Department and Congress began to sabotage the initiative. By 2005, Blumenthal notes, federal aid was being redirected to deny access to condoms and to discourage their use. Progress against HIV infection rates then halted.
Meanwhile, fanatical pentecostal pastor Martin Ssempa became the “special representative of the [Ugandan] First Lady’ Task Force on AIDS in Uganda,” receiving $40,000 from PEPFAR — money that was eventually used to wage war against condom use and to promote vigilantism against LGBT Ugandans. Ssempa’s boisterous crusading and rapid growth in popularity gave him favored status with the Bush administration.
But medical experts warned of trouble, according to Blumenthal.
Dr. Helen Epstein, a public health consultant who authored the book, The Invisible Cure: Why We’re Losing The Fight Against AIDS In Africa, met Ssempa in 2005. Epstein told me the preacher seemed gripped by paranoia, warning her of a secret witches coven that met under Lake Victoria. “Ssempa also spoke to me for a very long time about his fear of homosexual men and women,” Epstein said. “He seemed very personally terrified by their presence.”
When Warren unveiled his global AIDS initiative at a 2005 conference at his Saddleback Church, he 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’ 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’ wife, Kay, said to Ssempa from the stage. Her voice trembled with emotion as she spoke and tears ran down her cheeks.
Joining Ssempa at Warren’ church were two key Bush administration officials who controlled the purse strings of the president’ newly minted $15 billion anti-AIDS initiative in Africa, PEPFAR. …
These Bush officials‚ÄîRandall Tobias, the Department of State’ Global AIDS coordinator, and Claude Allen, the White House’ chief domestic policy advisor‚Äîare closely linked to the Christian right.
Soon, however, annual reports made it clear that the U.S. war against condoms in Uganda had brought that nation’s progress against HIV to a halt. Indeed, infection rates were rising sharply as a result of the programs espoused by Warren, Ssempa, Bush, and the Christian Right.
Instead of reversing course, Blumenthal says, Warren declared war against Democrats who sought to reform PEPFAR. Reform died, and Warren and Ssempa turned their attention in 2007 to a new campaign to eliminate Uganda’s homosexual population.