By Larry Jones
Rick Warren, the Southern Baptist pastor of the Saddleback megachurch in Orange County, California, does not have the religious soft side many assume in light of his widely touted AIDS program. In the wake of the uproar over Barack Obama’s selection of Warren to pray at his inauguration, people have begun to see Warren for the biblical literalist, homophobic, right wing, rock-ribbed fundamentalist that he is, despite his aloha shirts and laid back manner. Nevertheless, he has been praised by many from Bush to Obama for his work for AIDS victims, especially in Uganda.
Warren’s point man in that AIDS-ridden nation is an unusual, nay weird, minister named Martin Ssempa, pastor of Makerere Community Church in Kampala. Ssempa preaches an AIDS gospel of abstinence only and no condoms, which has been condemned by AIDS activists because it damages efforts to prevent the disease and only allows treatment to an ever-increasing number of victims. Experts say that with that approach, for every two people treated, five more are infected.
Uganda once had one of the highest HIV/AIDS levels in the world, but in the early 1990s President Yoweri Museveni's administration began a three-part program known as ABC. A = abstinence until marriage, B = be faithful within marriage, and C = condoms correctly used. The success of this program reduced the HIV rate from over 20 percent to a rate of about six percent in 2006. But the president’s wife was on the other side. First Lady Janet Museveni, also a member of parliament, was “born again” and sides with Ssempa on the AIDS issue.
The First Lady has led abstinence marches and called for a census of the number of virgins in Uganda, which, to say the least, would have been a most difficult census to take. She is a close ally of pastor Ssempa. On New Year's Eve 1999, she held a huge stadium revival to dedicate Uganda to the "lordship" of Jesus Christ. A local minister anointed the nation, saying: "We renounce idolatry, witchcraft and Satanism in our land!”
A 2006 a UN information report begins: “Pumping his fists in the air, Pastor Martin Ssempa strides up and down the stage at one end of a swimming pool at Uganda's Makerere University, where thousands of students listen excitedly to the evangelist's simple message: HIV/AIDS kills - If you want to guarantee yourself 100 percent protection, abstain. The occasion is 'Prime Time at the Pool', a weekly abstinence rally held at the country's largest and most prestigious university.” The event is sponsored by the Makerere Community Church, which received a grant from the US government for AIDS prevention.
The Bush regime also has a policy requiring groups which receive U.S. money to "have a policy explicitly opposing prostitution and sex trafficking." That policy has led to the closure of numerous programs that had been teaching job skills to sex workers, forcing many prostitutes out of brothels and into the street, according to Jodi Jacobson , executive director for the Center for Health and Gender Equity, an advocacy group based outside Washington, D.C.
Furthermore, the man Bush appointed to be his AIDS czar in the State Department, Randall Tobias, said in 2004 that condoms “really have not been very effective,” even though science has proved otherwise. He was also an outspoken advocate against prostitution. But in 2007, he resigned “for personal reasons” after ABC News revealed that he was a regular patron of two DC escort services. He claimed, of course, that it was for massages, not sex. Sure!
Critics of Ms. Museveni and pastor Ssempa say that the HIV/AIDS problem is neither a moral issue nor a religious issue; it is a health issue and must be dealt with as such. Nevertheless, Ms. Museveni runs a US-funded National Youth Forum which trains young people between 12 and 25 to commit to the abstinence only ideology. One Ugandan youth who was interviewed said that “those that try to abstain end up backsliding and then they look for sex like there’s no tomorrow. Abstinence is doing more harm than good. What we need is easy access to condoms.” Meanwhile, the US cuts funds for condoms in it anti-AIDS program.
In Max Blumenthal’s excellent article in “The Daily Beast” in early January, he reported that “. . . Janet Museveni flew to Washington at the height of a heated congressional debate over PEPFAR [the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief]. She carried in her hand a prepared message to distribute to Republicans. Abstinence was the golden bullet in her country's fight against AIDS, she assured conservative lawmakers, denying the empirically proven success of her husband's condom-distribution program. Like magic, the Republican- dominated Congress authorized over $200 million for Uganda, but only for the exclusive promotion of abstinence education. Ssempa soon became the ‘special representative of the first lady's Task Force on AIDS in Uganda,’ receiving $40,000 from the PEPFAR pot.”
When Ssempa learned that seniors in a men’s dormitory at Makerere University were promoting safe sex for new freshmen by creating a huge dummy wearing a condom, he went to the dorm and grabbed a box of free condoms and set them on fire. "I burn these condoms in the name of Jesus!" Ssempa shouted as he prayed over the burning box.
He has also proclaimed wrongly that condoms should not be relied on because they have microscopic holes that allow the HIV virus to penetrate.
Ssempa, like Warren, is wildly homophobic.  He sees same sex activity as illegal and abnormal and has mobilized large demonstrations by this followers demanding harsh punishment for gays and lesbians, with signs declaring “Arrest All Homos.” He has posted on his website the names, photos, and addresses of gay rights activists, obviously providing the means for hate crimes to occur.
For his part, Warren defends himself by claiming to have hundreds of gay friends. Yet his church was a major supporter of California’s infamous anti same sex marriage Prop 8 and has a program to “cure” homosexuals and turn them into straight people. And Obama recruited a gospel singer who is homophobic and does gay “cures” to participate in his South Carolina campaign, although he may have been unaware of this aspect of her activities.
Thanks to the powerful influence of Ms. Museveni, US funding of religious right programs, and Martin Ssempa’s dramatic actions, gay African men are largely ignored regarding HIV prevention services, and organizations with a homophobic ideology are receiving funds for programs which will further stigmatize homosexuals.
Dr. Helen Epstein, author of “The Invisible Cure: Why We’re Losing the Fight Against AIDS in Africa,” has interviewed Ssempa and is a solid source of information on his machinations. She reports that Ssempa told her “that Satan worshipers hold meetings under Lake Victoria, where they are promised riches in exchange for human blood, which they collect by staging car accidents and kidnappings.”
Isn’t it wonderful that Rick Warren works so closely with a good witch- hunting fellow Christian to promote an anti-condom campaign in Uganda and also helps get rid of those nasty Satan worshiper under Lake Victoria? Perhaps he should also fund some right wing Christian scuba divers to go down and root out those Satanists under the lake. Surely that would be an evangelical first.
Since Obama likes Warren for his AIDS program, we should hold his feet to the fire on whether he will continue Bush’s AIDS program, including Bush’s support for Ssempa’s nutty approach, or design one that is scientifically based and focuses on prevention through condom use as well as treatment for all those infected, including gays and
lesbians. The abstinence only aspect should be scrapped since it has been proven to be ineffective and has become a tool of the religious right to evangelize using federal money both In the US and abroad.
Whether we get the change many hoped for remains to be seen and will depend on millions demanding it.




World Can't Wait mobilizes people living in the United States to stand up and stop war on the world, repression and torture carried out by the US government. We take action, regardless of which political party holds power, to expose the crimes of our government, from war crimes to systematic mass incarceration, and to put humanity and the planet first.