Thursday, January 26, 2006

Paul Bonicelli/USAID: The rest of the story

A number of high-powered Christian evangelical organizations have set up shop in Africa, aiming to transform the continent one small country at a time. USAID's Paul Bonicelli may help fast track these projects

Most Americans pay little attention to what's going on in Africa, and even less to the work evangelical Christian organizations are doing there. Except for the occasional article about the AIDS pandemic, a devastating drought, or an armed conflict, generally speaking only Africa-focused academics, inveterate news junkies, and/or former and current Peace Corps volunteers have their fingers on the pulse of developments in Africa.

Several high-powered U.S.-based Christian evangelical organizations are not only following developments in Africa, but they are making news. Some of these groups view the small countries of Africa as a Petri Dish for religious and social transformation.

Evangelicals' evangelizing is not surprising. However, the fact that many of these groups have teamed up with -- and are receiving significant support from -- the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) (website), is worth paying attention to.

While the AIDS pandemic may have provided an entry point, evangelical Christian groups working in Africa have laid out a much larger mission for themselves. And that's where Paul Bonicelli comes in.

In late-December I wrote an article posted at this site about the appointment of Paul Bonicelli, the former dean of academic affairs at Patrick Henry College -- a small fundamentalist Christian college located in rural Virginia -- to oversee USAID programs as the new Deputy Assistant Administrator at the Bureau for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance.

The report focused on two points: a) Whether Bonicelli was qualified for the USAID position, and b) the goings-on at Patrick Henry College (website), the relatively unknown school founded primarily for home-schooled kids by longtime Christian Right activist and home schooling advocate Michael Farris.

Shortly after the story appeared, it was cited at a blog called "Herescope."

The Herescope blog is organized by the Discernment Research Group, a project of Discernment Ministries, Inc. (website.) Discernment Ministries was founded in 1989 by Travers and Jewel van der Merwe, who after years of "pastoring" became "deeply concerned with what they perceived within the church as a radical shift away from the authority of Scripture." Herescope "contains information revealing heresies and false teachings affecting the Church today."

It doesn't take the proverbial rocket scientist to figure out that Media Transparency and Herescope are light years apart politically and philosophically.

Here, for example is a quote from a Herescope post dated Friday, December 23:

"We've observed with growing alarm how the continent of Africa has been targeted to receive an onslaught of the heretical theologies, marketplace transformation, collaborations with the United Nations, poverty programs of rock stars, and Rick Warren's global "P.E.A.C.E. plan."

Despite its mixed bag of concerns, Herescope's research into the activities of major Christian evangelical organizations in Africa is worth checking out. And, their revelations helped place the appointment of Paul Bonicelli in a much broader context.

In a posting titled "Christian Imperialism: Update #1" (December 21, 2005) Herescope maintained that Bonicelli's appointment "is a key development because USAID has been a major player in the 'transformation' of the African continent."

In a February 2004 interview with Timothy C. Morgan, the deputy managing editor of Christianity Today, Anne Peterson -- a former missionary doctor to Zimbabwe and Zaire who was appointed by the Bush administration as head of global health for USAID -- commented on the administration's policies regarding AIDS in Africa.

She was also asked about the work of Christian evangelical groups:

Morgan: "Some prominent Christian leaders such as Bruce Wilkinson, Rick Warren, Franklin Graham, Rich Stearns from World Vision, and Clive Calver from World Relief have recently seized on this issue. What do you see as their role in addressing the HIV/AIDS problem?"

Peterson: "I think there's a huge role, because this is an issue that fits with the Christian message. And the prevention of AIDS fits with the righteous living and moral standpoint [of Christianity]. But equally important is the church's role in giving a message of forgiveness, of compassion, of caring for the sick, of caring for the widows and orphans; there's almost no part of the AIDS epidemic where the faith orientation doesn't have a very, very strong message. I think there is an absolutely huge role, and I am thrilled to see this outpouring of interest."

Peterson wasn't understating the case: Herescope pointed out that a brochure posted at the website of USAID entitled "Faith-Based Partnerships," described a number of the African faith-based funding initiatives undertaken by U.S. evangelical groups.

One of the projects listed amongst the "examples of USAID partnerships with faith-based organizations," was Bruce Wilkinson's Dream for Africa in Swaziland project:

"Swaziland: In June 2005, more than 500 Swazi pastors participated in a USAID-funded HIV/AIDS prevention conference. The conference was led by Dr. Bruce Wilkinson, Chairman of Dream for Africa, a faith-based organization that mobilizes volunteers to work in sub-Saharan Africa on many issues, including AIDS. As a well-known pastor and author, Dr. Wilkinson has trained pastors on ways of talking appropriately and effectively to their congregations about abstinence until marriage, fidelity to one's partner, and reducing stigma. Unequal treatment of women contributes to the spread of HIV/AIDS, so he challenged pastors to make clear to their congregations that men and women are, according to their own sacred text, created equal."

In late-December, however, the Wall Street Journal reported in an article titled: "Unanswered prayers: In Swaziland, US preacher sees his dream vanish" that Wilkinson's Swaziland Dream had come up short. In May, Wilkinson "tried to win the Bush administration to his side ...T[aking] U.S. Ambassador Lewis Lucke to the proposed site of the Dream Village." According to the newspaper, Lucke, who " had served in Haiti, Jordan and Iraq, much of the time with the U.S. Agency for International Development ... admired ..Wilkinson's enthusiasm and altruism, but [Lucke] was wary of groups with little overseas history claiming to know the answers for Africa."

In short order, Ambassador Lucke told Wilkinson that "he considered it unwise to move orphans away from their villages. 'It's laudable that you're trying to do something about Swazi orphans,' he said, but he suggested that he "do it in a way that doesn't conflict with Swazi culture.'"

The Wall Street Journal continued, "Mr. Wilkinson felt the situation was so urgent that the time for cautious measures had passed. Mr. Lucke wasn't persuaded, and he didn't think the Swazi government would be either. 'You'll never get the land,' he warned. The ambassador's words seemed prophetic a couple of weeks later, when a Dream for Africa draft plan found its way into Swazi newspapers, turning public opinion sharply against Mr. Wilkinson. Under the headline 'British Colony or Dr Bruce Colony?' one op-ed writer in the Swazi News wrote, 'Why can't he simply tell us that he wants to be given the whole country so that he can gloat to his friends overseas that he owns a modern day colony in Africa called Swaziland?'"

Another USAID web posting, this one titled "Faith and Community-Based Organizations," maintained that "Community and faith-based organizations have a critical role to play in the provision of HIV/AIDS prevention, care and treatment. They possess an extensive geographic reach and a well-developed infrastructure in the developing world. This, in addition to their unmatched staying power, makes them an invaluable asset in the fight against the HIV/AIDS pandemic."

In a story titled "USAID's Work with Faith and Community-Based Organizations" the agency talks about how the U.S. has made fighting AIDS "a top priority, not only for humanitarian reasons, but because the HIV/AIDS crisis threatens the prosperity, stability, and development of nations around the world." The agency pointed out that it "is proud to be a partner in the $15 billion," which President Bush announced in 2003, and noted that to fulfill its goals, USAID was working together with community and faith-based organizations. "USAID's Office of HIV/AIDS is reaching out to these groups with increased funding, technical support, networking, capacity building, and information outreach including workshops, new publications, and the development of additional website content."

The Bonicelli "appointment to USAID, coming out of the political dominionist sect, means that there will likely be even more financial payoffs for the corporate/mission structures that are being put into place," Herescope concluded.

(For more information see "The Second Reformation", published in the July/August issue of Discernment Newsletter, "which details how these corporate/mission partnerships are working with USAID.")

media transparency


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