Rick and Kay Warren condemn the denial of link between HIV and AIDS as promoted by the AFA’s Bryan Fischer

Early in January, Bryan Fischer, issues analyst with the American Family Association, threw his support behind the belief that HIV does not cause AIDS. On his daily talk show, Fischer hosted University of California, Berkeley professor, Peter Duesberg, who is the principle proponent of the theory that HIV is a harmless virus and that AIDS is the result of lifestyle choices, such as drug use and promiscuity, which weaken the immune system. Duesberg says that gay men are at special risk since they use drugs and engage in casual sex more so than other groups.

In a column on the AFA website, Fischer wrote:

So what is the cause of what we know as AIDS? What is the cause of this condition that is killing people? Duesberg’s answer can be found in one word: drugs.

And specifically, drug use connected with the kind of sex that is far too common in the homosexual community. While the average heterosexual has somewhere between seven to 14 sexual partners in a lifetime, it is not uncommon for homosexuals to have hundreds, even thousands, of sexual partners.

By partnering with Duesberg, Fischer brought AIDS denialism closer to the mainstream of evangelicalism. In response, Saddleback Church pastor Rick Warren and his wife Kay issued a statement to me about Fischer’s and Duesberg’s denial of the HIV-AIDS link. The Warrens’ statement is powerful and decisive. It is reproduced here in full:

Since AIDS was first discovered in 1981, 30 years of non-stop scientific research by the US military, the medical community, our government, and by every international health organization has proven over and over, with countless irrefutable results, that ONLY people with HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) develop AIDS.  To imply the disease is caused by anything besides HIV is quack science, like claiming the earth is flat, or the moon is made of cheese. Since 1985, when the virus that creates AIDS was isolated, every doctor on the planet, except Peter Duesberg, has known that HIV is the only cause of AIDS.

Duesberg’s denial of the entire body of research, and his rejection of thousands of scientific trials and papers, would be laughable if millions of lives weren’t at stake.  But his view is deadly.  Unfortunately, Duesberg convinced some people in Africa that HIV was not the cause of AIDS and as a result many people there needlessly became infected with the virus, and some have subsequently suffered and died.

It is frustrating – and frightening – for those of us in AIDS ministry to see someone like Dr. Duesberg play to people’s bias and prejudices.  For the past eight years we have worked with thousands of churches around the world and in America who have ministries to those infected and affected by AIDS.  No one deserves this illness, and we must not ignore those among us who are infected or affected by HIV and AIDS.  There are numerous ways to acquire the virus – sexual activity, blood transfusions, being born to an HIV positive mother, dirty needles –  but what matters isn’t  how a person became infected as much as how we will respond. People with living with the virus are people that Jesus created, loves, and died for. Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan teaches us that when you find someone bleeding on the side of the road, you don’t say “Was it your fault?” You just help them in love!

Let’s be very careful about what reality we deny; lives are at stake.

When the Warrens write that Duesberg convinced some in Africa that HIV and AIDS were not related, they are referring to the period of AIDS denial in South Africa from 2000 to 2005. In 2000, Duesberg was invited by South African President Thabo Mbeki to provide advice on AIDS policy. Subsequently, the South African government displayed antagonism toward AIDS treatment and prevention programs which involved anti-retro viral drugs (ARVs). Nicolo Nattrass, writing in African Affairs, said that President Mbeki questioned the science behind the epidemic. However, the consequences were devastating. According to a Harvard University press release and a study from the journal African Affairs, over 330,000 deaths could have been prevented if ARVs had been used. The Harvard release, citing a 2008 study, added that 35,000 babies were born with HIV due to failure to implement appropriate drug based prevention programs.

If anything, the African epidemic provides evidence counter to Duesberg’s theory. The epidemic there is driven by heterosexual activity. The stereotype about gay men spreading HIV via lots of drugs and sex is not applicable there.

Given what is at stake, the Warrens’ statement is important. The American Family Association has a sizable audience which includes GOP Presidential candidates. Confusion over something as basic as what causes AIDS could become a barrier to the progress made in ministry and treatment for those with HIV/AIDS. As the Warrens remind us, lives are at stake.

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  • I see a growing division in the evangelical world. And the division is not along the lines of theology, but along the lines of what Christianity means. Is it theocracy or is it loving your neighbor – yeah, that neighbor? Is it the Great Commission or Christs Commandments? Is it being a shining city with all the latest gadgets, or is it being a good samaritan?

  • Facts, Schmacts.

    Here is the Christian World View on Psychology and Counselling.

    We affirm that the scientific method is useful in carrying out the creation mandate of Genesis 1:28 to subdue and have dominion over creation when the investigators have Biblical presuppositions and when the Bible does not directly give us the answers we seek; that the use of the scientific method is entirely controlled by the presuppositions of the investigators and therefore the results are a pronouncement of faith rather than of scientific fact; and that the faith nature of the results of scientific investigation is evidenced by the investigators’ proselytizing intent, that is, their attempt to transform man into their idea of what man should be.

    We deny that the scientific method can ever be applied in psychology without its being thoroughly determined by the presuppositions of the investigators.

    Mr. George C. Scipione, Th.M., M.A., Chairman

    Dr. Lawrence Crabb, Ph.D., Co-Chairman

    Dr. Ed Payne, M.D., Co-Chairman

    With contributions by members of the Psychology and Counseling Committee of

    The Coalition on Revival

    Dr. Jay Grimstead, D.Min., General Editor

    Mr. E. Calvin Beisner, M.A., Assistant to the General Editor

    That HiV causes AIDS is a statement of Faith, not Fact, according to them. Evidence? It can only be valid if it supports the Truth. Their Truth, which is God’s Truth.

    Lest you think this is a fringe view, only held by a few….

    The 17 World View Documents were developed within 17 different committees made up of leaders with experience and expertise in the 17 different fields over an intensive three-year period of dialogue, critique, editing, and finally, a consensus conviction. Sixty of COR’s National Steering Committee members with over 300 other theologians, pastors, lawyers, doctors, businessmen, and Christian workers made up the 17 committees.

    People of Anabaptist, Arminian, Lutheran, Calvinist, and Wesleyan denominational backgrounds are all represented among COR’s leaders. Pre-, a-, and post-millenialists are cooperating with each other, sharing the exciting task of getting God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven insofar as that is possible between now and whenever Christ comes back to Earth. Charismatics and non-charismatics, covenant and dispensationalist theologians, have joined arm in arm in prayer and hard work to see revival, renewal, and reformation in the Christian Church and the American culture.

    COR views itself as a “Bible obedience, holiness movement” that crosses denominational and theological lines. The next step on its agenda, now that its basic documents are complete, is to disseminate them widely and to educate hundreds of thousands of Christians on how to make Christ Lord of absolutely every aspect of life. We plan to do that through publications, and through seminars, and training workshops in the major cities of America and Canada. COR will also work in cooperation with other Christian networking groups to help unify the pastors in major population centers around the vision of mobilizing their people to “Get God’s will done in their city as it is in heaven” to whatever degree that is possible before the return of Christ. We believe America can be turned around and once again function as a Christian nation as it did in its earlier years. We believe that wherever the pastors of any city in the world join together in unity to make Christ Lord of every sphere of life, and, with Spirit led strategy, mobilize their people into a unified spiritual army; that city can and will become “a city set upon a hill” and be “a place where righteousness dwells.”

    COR steering committee members from all walks of life were joined by many hundreds of other interested Christian scholars, pastors, and laymen in developing the COR documents during many series of workshops and conventions. Each document therefore, reflects input from theologians, philosophers, professionals in their respective fields, pastors, and lay Christians. We have sought to avoid denominational and theological bias in the documents; our aim has been to focus on principles so fundamental that we are convinced no Bible-believing Christian who studied the major questions related to each sphere of life would come to a contradictory conclusion.

    Copyright 1989 and 1999,

    This is not new. Mainstream Evangelicals have been doing this for decades – you just haven’t noticed. This “Christian World View” cannot be reconciled with Science, it is its antithesis. Facts are what they say they are, everything else illusion sent by the Father of Lies. That’s not them speaking, it’s God saying that.

  • David M.

    @Zoe Brain: “Here is the Christian World View on Psychology and Counselling.”

    Am I missing something here? I poked around a bit and can’t find any evidence that this view is held by evangelicals, except for those of a certain type, mostly Reformed, with Larry Crab being the most recognizable name. Has this view been endorsed by others in the evangelical movement? The National Association of Evangelicals, for instance?

    Timothy Kincaid, I remember it being said decades ago that the evangelical movement might not survive long after the death of Billy Graham. It has been a strange concoction of theologies, to be sure, coopted in large measure by the political right. I don’t want to be too quick to pronounce its death. But I’ve had my doubts about its survival too.

  • StraightGrandmother

    I am curious why Rick Warren’s wife is mentioned. Are they co-ministers? Off topic but it reminds me of Jim and Tammy Baker, a husband wife duo.

  • It’s pretty amazing to see Rick Warren on the right side of anything, but what disappoints me is that his statement is focused so strictly on Duesberg and doesn’t even touch Fischer. Of course, the reason is that Fischer generally agrees with Rick Warren, so he has to pick a scapegoat in this whole affair that doesn’t hurt the guy who usually spreads an anti-equality message Warren can get behind, saving him the trouble of having to say those things himself. If Rick Warren really cared about truth, he would have a message every week about the lies Bryan Fischer spreads, but really what we have here is somebody who has been forced to empathize with one group while demonizing another and looking for a way to weasel out of the cognitive dissonance.

  • David Blakeslee

    The pattern is getting quickly identified: feel confused and worried, reject modern science, look for someone, anyone who dissents, review paranoid thoughts, interview the dissenter as “the authority”, feel comfort and self-righteousness.

    Repeat as necessary.

  • Throbert McGee

    The weird thing is that Peter Duesberg was — at least in the past — championed by some gay “HIV denialists”, who invoked Duesberg to support their wacko arguments that condomless anal sex (aka “barebacking”) was not a significant risk factor, and that the whole “use a condom” campaign was part of some homophobic right-wing conspiracy to make anal sex less enjoyable!

    Thus, if HIV was essentially harmless, then the logic went that it was okay for gay men to engage in promiscuous barebacking (and thereby become HIV+), so long as they ate healthy, exercised regularly, and abstained from heavy use of recreational drugs. (Note: The claim was NOT that drug use merely aggravated HIV infection; the claim was that drug use was an essential trigger, without which HIV remained totally harmless.)

    This kind of conspiracy-minded kookery helped to destroy the reputation of ACT-UP’s San Francisco chapter — because at the national level, it was deemed too fringe for ACT-UP!!!

  • Throbert McGee

    One thing I should add as a follow-up to my previous comment — as crazy as the gay HIV denialists were, their heyday (as far as I know) was almost 20 years ago, at a time when AZT with all its toxic side effects was the only treatment available, and there was much less data on why some people respond differently to HIV infection (and to anti-HIV drugs) than others do.

    So for Fischer to be peddling this BS now is 20 years less excusable.

  • Kaoru

    Statements that start with “If he really…” generally are nothing but an excuse to demean the good work someone has done. “If Mother Teresa really cared about the lepers in India she would… [fill in unreasonable demand here].”

    As for Rick Warren, I gained a lot of respect for him during the Uganda situation. He was slow to respond and dismissive at first, but once he actually read the proposed bill he responded with as firm a statement as could be hoped for.

    Far from perfect, but a man with good intentions.

  • Throbert,

    Yes there used to be a noticeable chunk of gay men who dismissed HIV as a cause for AIDS. They tend to get less attention for their ideas because they tend to hold fewer press events, being inconveniently dead.

  • Richard Willmer

    @ Zoe

    Christianity is very diverse religion (perhaps the most diverse there is). I don’t think there is a single ‘Christian World View’, particularly in ‘the West’, on the science of HIV-AIDS.

    What we are hearing are the noisy protestations of people who know deep down that they have already lost the argument on the incontrovertible link between HIV infection and AIDS. And if God ‘intended’ AIDS for people with certain ‘lifestyles’, then one might reasonably conclude that God is an incompetent buffoon … or worse. (After all, we all know people – both gay and straight – who don’t fit the kinds of stereotype cited by the likes of Fischer and who have died of AIDS.)

    What strikes me as particularly odd is that Fischer & Co. should ‘play down’ HIV infection/transmission. One might suppose that, given how HIV is often transmitted, they would get all excited about it. After all, we all know that much HIV transmission is the result of heterosexual or homosexual activity … and it often seems that sex (and especially gay sex) is about the only thing that really interests the Fischerites!

    (Of course, avoiding the abuse of alcohol or the use of ‘recreational’ drugs reduces the risk of infection and, for someone who is infected, the [still severe] damage that HIV can do to the human body. It must be remembered that HIV infection can not only cause AIDS but also exacerbate, among other things, cardiovascular and other conditions that are not generally categorized as ‘AIDS-defining’ illnesses. Nor should it ever be forgotten that there are many many HIV+ persons – both gay and straight – who have neither been highly promiscuous nor ever touched ‘hard drugs’.)

  • David M.

    Am I missing something here? I poked around a bit and can’t find any evidence that this view is held by evangelicals, except for those of a certain type

    Ask them.

    Or look at the list of those who authored one or another of these tracts. You’ll find NARTH members, a former Florida AG responsible for some virulent anti-gay measures in that state, amongst others. Powerful people, active politically, and speaking for all Evangelists without opposition from within that group.

    Ask the membership of the Christian Counselors. Michelle Bachman for example.

  • Richard Willmer

    (And it should be remembered that there are many people who are, or have been, highly promiscuous and/or dabbled in ‘hard drugs’ or have not got, nor probably ever will get, HIV or AIDS. And since the Fischerites like to [ab]use the Bible in an attempt to validate their prejudices, here are a couple of things in the Holy Gospels – the most important Books of the Bible – for them to consider and reflect upon: Matt. 7 : 45b and Luke 13 : 1 – 5.)

  • Richard Willmer

    @ Zoe

    I do agree that there is often a ‘weak’ (or even non-existent) response by too many Christians to certain views peddled by extremists. Those extremists say they ‘speak for Christians’ and those of us who know that this is not true need to make our voices heard.

    That said, we should not ‘tar all Christians with the same brush’, just as we should never ‘tar all gays / Americans / Brits / Ugandans / Australians / conservatives / liberals / HIV+ persons / … with the same brush’. Reality always mitigates against this.

  • Richard Willmer

    @ Timothy K.

    I agree with your first comment, except that the various dichotomies you rightly mention are in fact profoundly theological issues, because where one stands in relation to those dichotomies is pursuant to one’s understanding of God. (I have always maintained that the real problems with ‘fundamentalism’ are essentially theological – which is why I take the view, rightly or wrongly, that at the heart of ‘fundamentalism’ is heresy … usually a form of gnostic heresy. That said, we all in our way ‘get God wrong’ – precisely because none of us possesses complete gnosis – so I wouldn’t wish any material harm on gnostics, my own profound antipathy towards them notwithstanding.)

  • max arnold

    duesberg.com provides a mind-opening wealth of information on this hot subject,and really should be seriously visited by anyone interested in knowing whether the maverick microbiologist is promoting a hoax, or whether his critics are.

  • David M.

    @max arnold: “duesberg.com provides a mind-opening wealth of information on this hot subject”

    Yeah, it doesn’t take long on the duesberg site to find fallacies, such as the argument from ignorance, which is, of course, a favorite of conspiracy theorists. Definitely mind-opening. Next they’ll be saying that childhood vaccines cause autism. Oh, wait…

    I propose another theory: HIV/AIDs is a disease perpetrated on gays by fundamentalist to carry out God’s command to kill us all. You’ve got to admit, there’s some evidence.

  • I think the last time I heard the term “mind-opening” it was from a proponent of LSD.

  • @Richard Wilmer –

    I do agree that there is often a ‘weak’ (or even non-existent) response by too many Christians to certain views peddled by extremists. Those extremists say they ‘speak for Christians’ and those of us who know that this is not true need to make our voices heard.

    That said, we should not ‘tar all Christians with the same brush’,

    Agree completely. Most Christians do not support this kind of thing.

    They’re just enablers who let it happen, and often apologists too, making excuses.

    They’re too sane, reasonable and rational you see. They treat others kindly, and just don’t “get” that some are preaching pure essence of Hate in Jesus’ name. They don’t see it in their daily lives, so don’t really believe it exists, except in small, isolated cases of no consequence.

    If this wasn’t the case, there wouldn’t be one Warren Thockmorton, but tens of thousands. But one is all there is, a lone voice crying in the wilderness.

    Full marks to his college for supporting him. I think no other top-flight Evangelical academic institution would have done so. Can you imagine if he was at Regent College? Or Liberty University?

    Now think about that… why not? He’s a rigorously intellectually honest seeker after truth, always has been, always will be. Oh he’s been wrong in the past, I think he’s wrong on some issues now (and really really want to discuss those with him), but no-one of goodwill and honesty could question his academic ability and integrity, his scientific honesty.

    There’s no place for those in most Evangelical halls of academe, is there? And we’re all used to that, we don’t make a fuss, we don’t ever ask ourselves how in Heaven’s name did we get into this sewer?

    You have no idea how much I hate activism. I just want a quiet life, out of the limelight, I’m so shy I border on Social Anxiety Disorder. I just don’t have the ability to pass by the wayside, no matter how uncomfortable I feel at being noticed. This post. calling out others who are really good people and showing them just how badly they’re screwing up is particularly painful to write. I have so many of my own shortcomings, I feel awful pointing out others’, I feel I’m a hypocrite.

  • Richard Willmer

    Very fair points, Zoe.

    I know I often feel a sense of ‘guilt’ when I ‘hit out’ at the extremists (there’s always that little voice inside me saying “there but for the grace of God go I” or something similar). It is also the case that, in many situations, one can see two (or more) ‘sides’ to a story.

  • Richard Willmer

    @ Zoe

    I would say that I don’t know enough about ‘Evangelical academe’ to comment intelligently on your contentions in their regard. I’m not an Evangelical myself (rather I’m someone towards the liberal end of the Anglo-Catholic spectrum), and I’m British (and we don’t tend to have ‘religious’ universities, as they are mostly ‘regulated’ by the State).

    Of course, I entirely agree with your comments on Warren’s integrity! (Incidentally, integrity is always more important than [alleged] ‘rightness’ or ‘wrongness’, since all human judgements about ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ are ultimately relative and proximate, whereas integrity is always truthful.)

  • FWIW I’m in Australia, and was born in the UK. First church I attended was one of the few Baptist congregations in the UK in the 60’s, and later, I was a choirboy in ruff and surplice in a High Church Anglican congregation.

    I used to top the class at Bible Study. Even at 7 though, the differences between what the Bible said, and what I observed through a telescope were enough to make me a sceptic. I’d read it, you see. All of it. I didn’t understand much of it, the pornographic nature of Judges 19 for example, but I understood enough to know that my teachers were telling porkies about “biblical inerrancy”.

    I was the kid who got utterly filthy at age 4 verifying that no way could Santa descend from a chimney by climbing into the fireplace and having a look for myself.

    It was only later in life that I discovered that amidst the superstitious nonsense and “fairy stories” there was much wisdom and true good.

    I have continuing issues with the UK government BTW, and UK law. Biologically, I’m Intersex, but more F than M. My UK Birth Certificate says “boy” as that’s what I most looked like at birth. My UK passport says “F”, not just based on appearance, but medical data.

    I always identified as female – but hated having to wear a surplice , as I thought it made me look effeminate. I was terrified at the prospect of my secret – “girl with boy body” – being found out. OK, I’m not technically Transsexual (a diagnosis of Intersex precludes that – which is why I can’t get a Gender Recognition Certificate and consequent Birth Certificate change), but yes, Gender Dysphoria starts screwing kids up well before age 10.

    Even if you’re a biological female with the 3-beta-hydroxysteroid-dehydrogenase deficient form of congenital adrenal hyperplasia, so the male appearance is partial and (sometimes, rarely) temporary.

  • Richard Willmer

    I suspect that a relatively small proportion of Christians in Britain today would buy the ‘biblical inerrancy’ line: for example, the story of the Flood is not generally understood to be representing historical ‘fact’. (There is another issue with biblical interpretation, and that concerns the meaning of – particularly OT – passages. Take the story of the Flood: it suggests that God dealt with the fact that ‘it had all gone wrong’ by wiping the slate clean and starting again. However, the Gospels make clear that this is NOT how God deals with ‘things going wrong’. One function of many OT stories is to show us how God and his ways should NOT be understood, and this is why these stories are ‘instructive’ [cf. 2 Tim 3 : 16]. The writers of those stories had their ‘theories’ about God; those ideas were often ‘corrected’ by the core message of the NT. A good eucharistic Lectionary will often, for a particularly day, provide seemingly contradictory passages from each of the OT, or sometimes the NT, and the Gospels … a passage from the Gospels must always be there, of course, otherwise the Mass is invalid!)

    I believe that the scientific and theological paradigms have much in common. I remember when I was engaged full time in scientific research: I often had a sense of looking at things I knew I could never fully understand. (Specifically with regard to HIV-AIDS, the corpus of evidence indicating the generally-accepted relationship between to the two is so overwhelming, that questioning the link seems utterly pointless; better by far to focus on how to beat the HIV pandemic, and how best to respond to those living with HIV and AIDS, both with regard to their well-being, and the well-being of others.)

    I know little about the genetic and/or hormonal basis of the phenomenon of transgender / transsexual / intersex identities (though I am aware that these are different), but am interested, partly because a very close friend of mine is a transgendered woman, and – from talking to her – I have become aware of the deficiencies of English and Welsh law with regard to people who are transgendered. Perhaps you could direct me to some relevant research in this field.

  • @Richard Wilmer

    I know little about the genetic and/or hormonal basis of the phenomenon of transgender / transsexual / intersex identities (though I am aware that these are different), but am interested, partly because a very close friend of mine is a transgendered woman, and – from talking to her – I have become aware of the deficiencies of English and Welsh law with regard to people who are transgendered. Perhaps you could direct me to some relevant research in this field.

    Try this collection.


    Not so much on identities, just the biology.

    As regards my own situation – it’s a little different from the usual. I belong in the same broad category as those with 5ARD or 17BHDD syndrome, I have the 3BHDD form of Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia.

    Which all can involve being born looking like one sex, but changing to look like the other. This can either cause or cure the same symptoms as transsexuality, depending on the neuro-anatomy (which remains mostly invariant – only the parts affected by hormonal levels change).

    5ARD and 17BHDD can cause FtoM changes. 3BHDD and a few other syndromes can cause changes either way.

    See http://www.usrf.org/news/010308-guevedoces.html for examples of 5ARD.

    Such people cause severe problems to the legal system. Changing sex by artificial means is barely tolerated by the law; to do it naturally is far worse.

    See http://edition.cnn.com/2009/WORLD/meast/12/17/gaza.gender.id/ – that’s 17BHDD.

  • Richard Willmer

    Thank you very much indeed, Zoe.

    It’s the BIOLOGY I’m most interested in!