The first week of April, a major university conference took place whose speakers numbered some of the most extremist and wiggy religious activists in the U.S.
One might assume that it was sponsored by the Tea Party, or The Family, or some other way-out cult group. But no. The so-called "Social Transformation Conference" was sponsored by none other than Harvard University itself. The conference partnered with Harvard's Extension Service and Leadership Society, which seeks to help students step into public service.
Once upon a time, this Massachusetts school was a respected (if conservative) educational institution whose performance was relied on by many Americans - and that included those concerned with biomedical research. A Harvard degree was an open-sesame to most any career in high places.
But in recent years, however, Harvard has been on a slippery slope of scandal and loss of credibility. It's not hard to see why.
The April 1-2 Social Transformation Conference was titled "Reclaiming the 7 Mountains of Culture." Those buzzwords "transformation" and "Seven Mountains" identify the extremist religious political activists that group together in the so-called New Apostolic Reformation.
In the NAR's view, they are the new Apostles, superceding the old Apostles that the Bible mentions. They are allegedly chosen by God to drive demons out of the U.S. and the world and restore it all to Jesus. "Demon possession" is another buzzword - according to the NAR, demons can and do infest anything from a child to a town, an institution, an entire country. Demons also cause all health problems. Needless to say, the NAR also believe that demon possession causes homosexuality - along with that disease that they equate with homosexuality, namely AIDS.
To cast out the world's demons and achieve their goals, NAR believes they must "reclaim" (i.e. take over and completely control) the Seven Mountains of culture - business, education, government, media, arts and entertainment, family and religion. Reclaiming them means, of course, driving out the demons that allegedly infest them. Interestingly, none of those mountains are specifically dubbed as health science and healthcare. Presumably the "demon-infested" health area falls directly under religion, since exorcism is demanded.
At any rate, the NAR will -- if they succeed in taking over the U.S. government - dictate everybody's healthcare according to their re-interpretation of the Bible. My guess is that healthcare would not even be available to any American who did not subscribe to NAR beliefs. These "new Apostles" also aim to create a global empire - ruled by themselves, of course, as the self-styled representatives of Jesus - through their International Transformation Network (ITN).
NAR and AIDS
LGBT people will surely ponder the lurid details of how these apocalyptic activists view AIDS. Reading about it is a little like looking at a medieval art-work teeming with images of murky and hellish superstition.
One of the conference's featured speakers was Dr. Lance Wallnau, formerly founder of the Lance Learning Group, now a leading NAR activist. In a recent YouTube video, Wallnau quoted the Bible as part of his claim that the "new Apostles: have power to drive out demons and heal maladies. Then he proceeded to give us his version of Uganda's efforts to fight HIV/AIDS through the A-B-C program crafted by this movement. In recent decades, through the ITN, the self-styled "Apostles" have been missionizing hard in sub-Saharan Africa, and boast today that they have 14,000 churches dotted across Uganda. Their organizations were among those benefiting from U.S. PEPFAR financial support of faith-based NGOs. President Museveni of Uganda, his wife Janet and some of his government had become NAR converts. So Uganda turned to the NAR and PEPFAR for help.
According to Wallnau, 35% of the Uganda population was HIV+, including the military, putting the country at risk of occupation by Islam. (Experts put the prevalence rate at more like 29 percent.) So the NAR asked for, and got, access to Ugandan media and education, to put out the word on A-B-C. A meant abstinence from sex outside of marriage. B -- be faithful to your married partner. C -- use a condom if you are already infected. In three years (as Wallnau tells the story), HIV prevalence plummeted to 5%.
In short, according to Wallnau, "The problem with AIDS has already been solved."
What Wallnau isn't telling us, and what less biased experts admit was this: the Uganda figures dropped so dramatically because of massive AIDS deaths in 3 years, not because A-B-C worked. By the following year, 2006, the red-faced Uganda health ministry had to admit that the infection rate was rising again.
Indeed, Janet Museveni apparently contributed to the failure of the program. According to Str8t Talk Chronicle, the President's wife doesn't believe in condom use at all, not even between marrieds. So she used her powerful influence to stop the government's advocacy of limited condom use in mid-campaign - thus contributing to the resurgence of HIV infection.
When A-B-C fails, the NAR has the ultimate solution: drive out demons with "miraculous healings." According to them, countless thousands of alleged "miraculous AIDS healings" are being reported from converts in Uganda and other countries across sub-Saharan Africa. Indeed, U.S. TV faith-healers like Benny Hinn, who is widely viewed as a fraud here in the U.S., have been touring Africa, doing big business.
Beyond AIDS, the NAR believes that homosexuality, too, is caused by demon possession, and can be "cured" by exorcism. Another prominent NAR figure, Lou Engle, who appears to have replaced Rick Warren as the NAR poster boy in Washington D.C., has made his belief very clear in anti-gay statements delivered in his typically frenzied preaching style.
Not Much News Coverage
The Harvard conference didn't make much of a ripple in the U.S. news scene, but it did stir up some minimal protest on campus.
According to the Harvard Crimson, "Gay rights groups criticized the conference for the inclusion of speakers Os Hillman, a prominent Christian business leader, and Lance Wallnau, an expert in personal and organizational transformation, pointing to inflammatory remarks they have made in the past. On Friday evening, approximately 20 activists gathered outside the building to protest the event, and more joined them on Saturday."
The Crimson went on to quote a few people who disapproved. The publication reported, "Harvard College Queer Students and Allies Political Committee Chair Samuel J. Bakkila '11-'12, who participated in the protest, said he felt the conference promoted homophobia. 'It does not send the message, to students and especially to incoming freshmen that were just admitted, that Harvard will be a safe space for them,' he added."
The Crimson also mentioned that protesters were prevented by NAR conference organizers from going inside the building to listen to the speakers.
With this conference, I'd say that Harvard has slid a lot farther down the slope.
Only a few dozen protesters? Most of them LGBT, as it appears? In a student body numbering around 1900? With all respect for the courage and conviction of those who did show up, this wasn't enough protest to make a ripple in the news, let along make a dent in the NAR momentum. Does this indicate that most Harvard enrollees are not concerned about the extremist "Apostolic" takeover of their school?
Whatever happened to the kind of widespread student outrage that once drove ROTC off the Harvard campus?
Kiss Harvard Goodbye?
Indeed, with the formal return of "demon theology" to Harvard, the school is almost back to those dark colonial days when Salem, MA authorities hung people believed to be possessed by the devil.
Why should anybody be surprised that the school might knee-jerk back to its Bible-thumping witch-hanging roots? After all, Harvard was founded as a divinity school in 1636, just sixteen years after the Puritans landed in Massachusetts, when the colony still boiled with persecution of dissenters and obsession with "evil" - culminating in the Salem witch trial of 1692. Not till the 1800s did a group of Unitarians took over and secularized Harvard, transforming it (yes, that's the right word) into the bastion of liberal and tolerant learning that the school became for over a century - till just recently.
But that was then - this is now. Today there is also the Harvard School of Public Health AIDS Initiative on campus. I wonder if the HAI feels that their goals and their credibility are a wee bit undercut by this conference. According to their mission statement, HAI "is dedicated to research and education to end the AIDS epidemic in Africa and developing countries." This sounds pretty mainstream/medical/modern to me. How does HAI view demon infestation as an alleged cause of AIDS, and exorcism as the alleged cure?
And if "the AIDS problem is solved now," as Wallnau claims, why would HAI (or anybody else) be bothering to do more AIDS research and spend millions?
An earlier version of this article was published in A & U Magazine.
Lance Wallnau talk - "How A Nation Ended Their AIDS Epidemic!"