(Photo: Saddleback PICS Ministry)
Best-selling author and pastor Rick Warren, who along with his wife, Kay, have for several years championed an initiative to combat HIV/AIDS globally, are outraged that a Christian conservative radio host is promoting a college professor’s theory that HIV is a harmless virus.
Earlier this month, Bryan Fischer, who is also the director of Issues Analysis for the American Family Association, featured the author of Inventing the AIDS Virus, Peter Duesberg, on his "Focal Point" radio show. Fischer told The Christian Post that he agrees with Duesberg that HIV is not the cause of AIDS and that he came to this decision after reading the University of California, Berkley professor’s book in 1996.
He said he also agrees with Duesberg that AIDS is the result of lifestyle choices, such as drug use and promiscuity, which weaken the immune system. Duesberg says that homosexual men are at special risk since they use drugs and engage in casual sex more so than other groups.
Kay Warren, who leads the HIV/AIDS initiative at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., told CP on Wednesday that she became aware of Fischer’s opinion aligning with Duesberg’s theory by an Internet search engine email alert set for "HIV."
“In some ways it’s a mystery to me because the science just doesn’t support [Duesberg’s conclusions]. It’s just indefensible,” Warren said. “For [Duesberg] to be this voice in the wilderness as if he’s got some truth that nobody else understands is just absurd. The science does not support what he has to say.”
“When I read the article I was shocked. I don’t know what was so compelling about what Duseberg said as opposed to the 99.9 percent of scientists, health care workers, doctors, nurses, and researchers, who believe differently and have evidence to back it up,” she added. “Why [Fischer] would believe this one man over all of those others I can’t even begin to speculate.”
Warren said she wanted to make it clear that although she is not a scientist she is “speaking out against incorrect scientific information, not correcting someone’s personal opinion about AIDS – even if I completely disagree with it.”
The Warrens released a statement in response to Fischer’s endorsement of Duesberg through a blog post by Warren Throckmorton, associate professor of Psychology at Grove City College in Pennsylvania.
The statement reads:
“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!”
Kay Warren – who became passionate about helping HIV/AIDS victims nearly a decade ago after learning about the millions of children who are orphaned due to the pandemic – told CP that Duesberg’s theory is not only dangerous to the people for whom his ideas could become deadly, but to people in the United States.
“The American public remains largely uninformed still and even misinformed about HIV,” she said. “There are still people who think HIV can be transmitted through a mosquito bite, or that if you hug somebody who is HIV positive, or that if you touch a door handle that somebody else who is HIV positive just touched, that the virus can be transmitted.”
“Since there are enough Americans who still believe that 30 plus years later, to have someone espouse this kind of a misinformation is frightening to me,” she explained.
Fischer, who told CP that his opinion is not the official position of AFA, said that pouring money into HIV research is a waste of finances and that the focus should be on the behavior that leads to AIDS.
When asked about the Warrens’ statement, he said, “If Rick Warren could change Peter Duesberg’s mind he could change my mind.”
However, Fischer believes it is the Warrens that need to change their approach.
“Duesberg’s theory with which I agree is that HIV is not the cause of AIDS, but promiscuity and drug use is the cause, which really ought to be a liberating message for Rick Warren because this would mean that the cause of AIDS is strictly behavioral and we don’t need to spend billions and billions of dollars on research,” Fischer said.
“We just simply need to get the message out to people that the kind of behavior that goes on in the homosexual community is hazardous to human health,” the radio host continued. “That seems to me to be a message that Rick Warren would be happy to declare because that is exactly what the Bible teaches.”
Kay Warren is well aware of the stigma that is attached to HIV/AIDS but for years now she has called on Christians to remember, “It is not a sin to be sick.”
She told CP that although it is impossible to talk about AIDS without also discussing sex and God’s desire for it to take place in marriage, there are countless other ways that the disease is transmitted, sometimes to unknowing victims and newborns.
“There are people who want to divide it into the idea of innocent victims and perpetrators and it just isn’t that clear and that simple,” she said. “There are people who acquire HIV through no absolute action of their own.”
“It’s very short-sighted and it’s wrong to put it in these categories of victims and perpetrators. The fact is that HIV is a virus and you can get it through blood transfusion, breast feeding, being born to an HIV positive mother, you can be raped...”
People that promote “this whole idea that it is all about promiscuity or that it’s all about homosexuality or all about drug use, really don’t understand how HIV is transmitted,” she stressed.
“Jesus didn’t ever take the bait [from Pharisees] to try to pin somebody’s actions on why they were sick. He just said, ‘How can I help?’ You will never find in the New Testament where Jesus said, ‘What did you do? Did you sin here or were you sinned against?’ He just said, ‘What do you need? How can I help you? Do you want to be well?’”
Warren, who is known worldwide for her AIDS ministry work, added, “I can’t heal anybody else, but I can be part of bringing them to health. To me that’s the scriptural basis for what we do and why I believe in what we do and why I believe that this is the Christian response to people infected with HIV.”
Kay and Rick Warren launched the HIV/AIDS Initiative at Saddleback Church in 2004 to encourage the Church to get involved. The Warrens believe the global pandemic is “the Church’s greatest opportunity to serve the hurting like Jesus did.”