Expanding access to basic healthcare is an important and valuable goal, but what happens when those made responsible for providing the care also hold conservative religious ideologies? What sort of sexual and health education is being taught? How safe do LGBTQ people feel when seeking services? Are gay men able to access the information and resources they need in order to stay healthy? What options are available to women with unwanted pregnancies?
These concerns were amplified in May when megachurch pastor Rick Warren announced that he will return to Africa yet again in August 2015, this time to host an “All-Africa Purpose Driven Church Leadership Training Conference” in Kigali, Rwanda. He is calling for leading African evangelicals from each of the continent’s 54 countries to join him. Warren is also is enlisting 54 American pastors, who will join him in Rwanda, to “adopt” these new “purpose driven” recruits.
Rick Warren presents himself as a moderate but is actually a right-wing fundamentalist known for his staunch opposition to LGBTQ equality and women’s reproductive freedom. Sometimes referred to as “America’s pastor,” Warren—who claims Rwanda as his “home” and points to his Rwandan diplomatic passport as proof—is also arguably aspiring to be “Africa’s pastor”: he travels extensively in Africa as part of his dominionist agenda,1 spreading his dangerous right-wing ideologies wherever he goes. The millionaire pastor has been especially active in Kenya, Rwanda, and Uganda, where he has built close relationships with members of the political, business, and religious elite, including many prominent anti-LGBTQ pastors.
Rwanda, ranked among the world’s poorest countries, has been the focus of much of Warren’s international work since he first visited at the invitation of President Paul Kagame in 2005. Kagame enlisted Warren’s help in making the small African nation the first “purpose driven country” after reading the famous pastor’s bestseller, The Purpose Driven Life.
The book found its way into Kagame’s hands thanks to Joe Ritchie, a Chicago-area businessman, who first partnered with the President in 2003 on economic development efforts in the wake of the 1994 genocide. It was while visiting Ritchie’s Chicago home that Kagame was initially introduced to Warren’s book. The pastor subsequently received a letter from the President stating, “I’m a man of purpose. Can you come help us rebuild our nation?”
Since their first meeting, the two have become close friends and colleagues.
That Kagame has been accused of numerous human rights violations by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and others seems not to have deterred Warren, who has hosted him multiple times as a guest of honor at Saddleback Church’s main campus in Lake Forest, CA. This isn’t terribly surprising considering Warren’s close ties to Martin Ssempa, an aggressively anti-LGBTQ pastor in Uganda who was responsible for helping to draft and promote the infamous “Kill the Gays” bill.
While Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill was ultimately signed into law earlier this year, similar efforts were thwarted in Rwanda in 2009, when penal code revisions that would have criminalized homosexuality were rejected as violations of basic human rights.
In the nine years since his first visit, Warren has returned to Rwanda countless times. He is a member of Kagame’s Presidential Advisory Council and has developed an extensive relationship with hundreds of congregations in Rwanda through Saddleback’s PEACE Plan, which is described as “an initiative of Purpose Driven Ministries that brings together all Christian churches in Rwanda with the ultimate purpose of building peace within our community.”2
Specifically, Warren’s PEACE Plan endeavors to tackle what he refers to as the five “Global Giants”:
P – Plant churches and promote reconciliation – to address spiritual emptiness
E – Equip leaders – to address corrupt leadership
A – Assist the poor – to address extreme poverty
C – Care for the sick – to address pandemic diseases and suffering they cause
E – Educate the next generation – to address illiteracy and lack of education
Because the HIV/AIDS crisis is a primary focus of Warren’s work in Africa, one of the major PEACE Plan projects launched in Rwanda is the Rwanda Healthcare Initiative, a “grassroots effort to mobilize volunteers in community health who are proficient in home visits and health promotion, with a focus on the early identification, treatment care and support of people living with HIV through the local church.” Citing a lack of hospitals and clinics in the country, Warren has used the Rwanda Healthcare Initiative to promote the use of churches as distribution centers for medicine and basic healthcare.
Which returns us to the question, what happens when those made responsible for providing healthcare and other social services also hold conservative religious ideologies? What happens when the gatekeepers charged with distributing antiretrovirals also promote reparative therapy? Or when those responsible for teaching young people about safer sex insist that condoms are sinful? And where will women turn when the only people resourced to provide safe abortions refuse to do so?
In addition to these concerns, Rwanda is a signatory to the African Union Maputo Protocol, which obligates African nations to ensure women’s health and reproductive rights (including safe abortions). Given that Warren has advanced an explicitly anti-women agenda in the U.S. (earlier this year, Warren referred to Planned Parenthood as the “McDonalds of abortion” and declared it to be the “#1 baby killing franchise”), it is most likely that Warren aims to pursue a similar anti-SRHR (sexual and reproductive health and rights) agenda in Rwanda, and his close ties to political and religious leadership in the country will assuredly pave the way for increased attacks on women and reproductive freedom.
The connections between religious fundamentalism and international aid were further strengthened when the Rwanda PEACE Plan experienced a leadership transition in April of this year, appointing Apostle Dr. Paul Gitwaza as its new director. Gitwaza—who condemns abortion and describes homosexuality as an abomination—is a member of the International Coalition of Apostles, now known as the International Coalition of Apostolic Leaders and the primary organizational structure of C. Peter Wagner’s New Apostolic Reformation.
Wagner, who also served as Rick Warren’s dissertation advisor and mentor at Fuller Theological Seminary, writes in his book Dominion! that the PEACE Plan fits into “the 7-M mandate”―the idea that Christians need to take charge of a country by “capturing” the seven “mountains” that represent cultural aspects of society: business, government, family, religion, media, education, and entertainment. This suggests that rather than actually being interested in the empowerment and self-determination of Rwandan people, Warren’s primary interest is controlling the destiny and rights of others.
Warren often explains this multi-pronged approach to development (bringing together business, government, and church) with his “three-legged stool” metaphor. He says that public-private sector partnerships are equivalent to a two-legged stool, which will fall over without a third leg—that of the church. According to Warren, the church is the critical missing link affecting a country’s development.
Unfortunately, Warren’s stool—presented as an instrument of benevolent humanitarianism—is actually more like a soap box for his white savior neocolonial agenda. And as a relatively small country (Rwanda is approximately the size of Maryland) with a population of just over 12 million people (94% of whom are Christian), Rwanda is the perfect test site for this Wagner-inspired, Warren-driven quest for global dominionism.
- Dominionism: The theocratic idea heterosexual Christian men are called by God to exercise dominion over secular society by taking control of political and cultural institutions. This competes in Christianity with the idea of stewardship, which suggests custodial care rather than absolute power.
- Warren’s PEACE Plan has since grown, expanding to targeted “Gateway Cities” around the world in order to “live out the Great Commandment and Commission in 12 key cities and all unreached people groups by 2020.”