Evangelical Leaders Split Over U.S. Funding To Combat Aids

The evangelical Christian community faces a growing split between hardliners and moderates over the best way to fight the spread of AIDS overseas.

The year 2006 marks the 25th year of the first appearance of AIDS in humans, leading medical professionals to assess their efforts to combat the virus. The United States provides hundreds of millions of dollars annually to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, but some evangelicals are fighting the allocation.

The Swiss-based Fund has spent more than $2 billion battling AIDS and other diseases in 130 countries, a spokesman told Religion News Service (RNS). The United States provided 30 percent of that funding through 2005 and $445 million this year. That figure is slated to rise to $866 million in 2007.

James C. Dobson, head of Focus on the Family, has criticized U.S. reliance on the Global Fund. Dobson says the Fund gives money to programs that provide condoms to prostitutes and clean needles to drug addicts.

When the 2007 funding increase was announced, Dobson went ballistic and issued a statement accusing the Global Fund of promoting “legalized prostitution and all kinds of wickedness around the world.”

Dobson’s group also distributed a five-page letter to members of Congress accusing the Fund of “social marketing” of condoms “to the near exclusion of abstinence and faithfulness.” The missive was signed by the leaders of 29 other right-wing groups.

In response, the Global Fund released a letter supporting its efforts signed by several evangelical leaders. While the list included prominent moderates like Jim Wallis and Tony Campolo, there was one surprise: TV preacher Pat Robertson.

“Robertson would be the first to admit that we don’t agree on many issues, but there are certain issues that get people together all across the theological spectrum and this is one of them,” Campolo told RNS.

The news agency reported that “hardline conservatives” back President George W. Bush’s approach of promoting abstinence and fidelity within marriage to combat AIDS. But others insist that such an approach is unrealistic and argue that attempts to impose conservative religious morality on foreign nations will fail.

Supporters of the Global Fund also pointed out that the agency financially supports many Christian relief agencies and say that condom-distribution programs are only a small part of the Fund’s work.

In related news:

Teenagers who take pledges to refrain from having sex often lie about their level of sexual activity, a new study indicates.

So-called “virginity pledges” are popular among Religious Right groups, but they probably don’t work, the study says. Harvard University researcher Janet Rosenbaum, writing in the American Journal of Public Health, surveyed 14,000 teenagers at two different points over a six-year period and found that 52 percent of teens who pledge to remain virgins until marriage fail to do so. In addition, 73 percent of teens who had taken a virginity pledge later denied having done so and a third of respondents who had admitted to being sexually active later insisted they were virgins simply because they had taken a pledge.

Under Bush’s “faith-based” initiative, several religious groups have received tax funding to promote “abstinence-based” education. The groups often report impressive results, but the new study indicates that the data may not be reliable.