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by Bill Berkowitz

Bush Undermines AIDS Plan With Abstinence Emphasis - GAO

(IPS) -- For a president who had little to do but pardon turkeys on Thanksgiving and throw the switch on the national Christmas tree, little to look forward to but packing his bags and evacuating the White House, and less positive accomplishments to look back on than most presidents, this year's World AIDS Day was clearly a high point. And Pastor Rick Warren was there to share the spotlight with him.

On World AIDS Day, Dec. 1, Warren, pastor of the Lake Forest, California-based Saddleback Valley Community Church and who is well on his way to becoming one of the most recognizable and powerful pastors in the United States, hosted his Saddleback Civil Forum on Global Health at the Washington-based Newseum.

As part of the event, he bestowed upon Bush the first "International Medal of P.E.A.C.E." from the Global PEACE Coalition, in recognition of Bush's "unprecedented contribution to the fight against HIV/AIDS and other diseases," a Saddleback Church press release announced.

Warren discussed with both Bush, and the First Lady, Laura Bush, their "past accomplishments and priorities moving forward regarding international health issues -- including HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria."

President-elect Barack Obama, who appeared with Senator John McCain this past August at Warren's Saddleback Forum on the Presidency, provided a video-taped message addressing the future of global health.

Warren's recognition of Bush revolved around the administration's "implementation and success of the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), which has provided $18.8 billion since 2003 to combat global HIV/AIDS," a pre-event press release pointed out. "Congress has recently authorized an additional $48 billion for ongoing efforts to address this pandemic as well as tuberculosis and malaria over the next five years."

While Bush, whose approval ratings have dipped to all-time lows, got the award, Pastor Rick Warren bathed in the spotlight.

"As my wife Kay and I have been implementing the PEACE Plan in 68 developing countries, we have seen firsthand many of the hundreds of thousands of lives that have been saved through PEPFAR and the President's Malaria Initiative," Warren said. "I hope that this forum will show the American people that our global health programs represent more than compassionate humanitarian efforts, but are also a strong, prudent pillar of American foreign policy."

Two days after World AIDS Day, Warren's remarks to the Fox News Channel's Sean Hannity regarding foreign policy were less than prudent.

Hannity asked Warren if it was possible to "talk to rogue dictators" like Iran's president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and the conservative talk show host suggested that "we need to take him out." Warren agreed, justifying his answer by saying that "the Bible says that evil cannot be negotiated with. It has to just be stopped."

"By force," Hannity asked? "Well, if necessary," Warren responded. "In fact, that is the legitimate role of government. The Bible says that God puts government on earth to punish evildoers. Not good-doers. Evildoers."

Warren, recently dubbed a "celebripastor" by DMN News, is the author of "The Purpose Driven Life," a book that has sold over 50 million copies. He recently announced a partnership with the Reader's Digest Association which will pool their international resources to develop an entity called The Purpose Driven Connection, a multi-media "platform to help people who are seeking their purpose in life and wish to interact with others on their spiritual journeys."

Their will be "The Purpose Driven Connection" quarterly magazine; study materials delivered in DVDs, workbooks and downloadable discussion guides; and a state-of-the-art Christian social networking website.

Earlier this month, Warren released his first book -- titled "The Purpose Driven Christmas" -- since his best-selling "Purpose Driven Life." The book was "part of a special three-tool outreach for the Christmas season," The Christian Post reported.

"People are more open to the Gospel at Christmas than any other time," Warren pointed out.

In August, Warren claimed that he has "never been considered a part of the religious right, because I don't believe politics is the most effective way to change the world."

However, a week before this year's election, Warren dove into the battle over California's Proposition 8. "Here's an interesting thing: there are about 2 percent of Americans [who] are homosexual, gay, lesbian people. We should not let two percent of the population determine -- to change a definition of marriage that has been supported by every single culture and every single religion for 5,000 years. This is not even just a Christian issue, it is a humanitarian and human issue, that God created marriage for the purpose of family, love and procreation. I urge you to support Proposition 8 and to pass that on."

After the anti-gay marriage initiative passed, hundreds of protesters opposed to Proposition 8 targeted Warren's church. According to, a conservative news service, "the same-sex marriage advocates were expressing their anger at Warren, pastor of the Southern California mega-church, for speaking out in support of the California initiative."

Shortly after he hosted the presidential forum in August, Warren told Beliefnet's Dan Gilgoff that "If they [evangelicals] think that life begins at conception, then that means that there are 40 million Americans who are not here [because they were aborted] that could have voted. They would call that a holocaust and for them it would like if I'm Jewish and a Holocaust denier is running for office. I don't care how right he is on everything else, it's a deal breaker for me. I'm not going to vote for a Holocaust denier."

Although he claims otherwise, there really doesn't seem to be that much space between Warren's opposition to same-sex marriage and his flaming rhetoric about abortion, and the oft-stated positions of James Dobson, Pat Robertson and the late Jerry Falwell on the very same issues.

Nevertheless, at a time when the old timers on the Religious Right are passing on and/or losing their cache, Warren is clearly moving on up. His August presidential forum; his relationship with President Obama; his multi-million-dollar media deals; his willingness to broaden the evangelical agenda to include AIDS, combating poverty and global warming; and his celebrity all contribute to his campaign to garner the mantle of "America's Pastor."

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Albion Monitor   December 12, 2008   (

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