Guest post by Bruce Wilson, cross-posted at Talk To Action.
Government funded missionaries in public schools? The idea would flabbergast many of America’s founders, most certainly the architects of the United States Constitution. Here’s the background: As a February 23rd, 2011 story from the Florida Independent, by Andy Kopsa, describes, the American leader of the Florida-based abstinence-only education program Project SOS endorses Martin Ssempa, a leading Uganda backer of the so-called “Kill the gays” bill that may soon come up for a vote in Uganda’s parliament. Project SOS has received over six and a half million dollars in federal funding, from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services since 2002, to teach abstinence education in Florida public schools. The funding continues into the present – in September SOS received over $450,000 from HHS.
But the Uganda tie is far from the most controversial aspect–the founder and head of SOS says the program was inspired by God, and her church identifies the Project SOS program as one of the “ministries” it supports, with SOS head Pam Mullarkey as a “missionary”…federally funded, that is.
To begin with, should federal funding still be flowing to a sex ed approach proven to be largely or wholly ineffective, according to a 2007 federally commissioned large scale study by Mathematica Research?
And, what if the program founder says plans for Project SOS came directly from God, advocates child-beating, and suggests that Catholics aren’t truly saved? What if SOS is actually a stealth ministry backed by a right wing church that teaches both anti-labor union ideology and Young-Earth Creationism, and whose longtime pastor is promoting antigay doctrines in Florida prisons?
Well, that’s all true – and more.
Welcome to Pam Mullarkey’s Project SOS and the Jacksonville, FL Beaches Chapel Church–it would be hard to find a starker example of how George W. Bush’s Faith Based Initiative has opened the gates, allowing federally-funded missionaries to flood into and evangelize in America’s public schools. In tow, in this case, comes an entire worldview – not simply antigay but fiercely opposed to labor unions, fraught with Global Warming denial and chock full of ideologically-laden conspiracy theory and falsified history.
The Uganda connection
Kopsa’s Florida Independent article focuses on ties between founder of the SOS program Pam Mullarkey and Ugandan pastor Martin Ssempa, widely credited as one of the leading evangelicals promoting antigay hate in Uganda and a dedicated supporter of pending legislation before Uganda’s parliament that would impose a death penalty for many of Uganda’s homosexuals and also create an antigay surveillance state in which citizens would be required to report to government authorities all suspected homosexual activity.
Contacted by Kopsa, SOS founder Mullarkey claimed to be unaware of the controversy surrounding Martin Ssempa or Uganda’s so-called “Kill the Gays” bill, stating, “I know Martin well enough to know that because of his Christian faith he would never support the death penalty.”
Mullarkey’s claim seems directly contradicted by footage from a February 15, 2010 rally organized by Ssempa in which the Ugandan pastor states, “people keep saying homosexuals ‘yes, homosexuals can change, yes we can make a law that protects our children’, and we have also asked a simple question – ‘If you do not want the death penalty for pedophiles, what punishment do you want otherwise?’”
Ssempa was voicing a claim promoted widely in Uganda by evangelicals and rebroadcast in Ugandan media, that there is a link between homosexuality and pedophilia. Martin Ssempa has also promoted the claim that homosexuals commonly engage in coprophilia.
Referring to the fact that several of Ssempa’s family members have died of AIDS, Mullarkey told the Florida Independent that homosexuals in Africa “have destroyed people’s lives.” The reality, however, is that Martin Ssempa has spearheaded a push, which many attribute as inspired by American evangelicals such as Rick Warren, to impose an ideologically-driven approach to HIV/AIDS prevention in Africa, one which de-emphasizes promoting condom use and instead attempts to curb the spread of HIV with (now discredited) behavior-change programs such as abstinence-only training.
As Max Blumenthal put it, in a punchy 2009 article for the Daily Beast, it’s an effort that has “rolled back key elements of one of the continent’s most successful initiative, the so-called ABC program in Uganda. Stephen Lewis, the United Nations’ special envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa, told the New York Times their activism is “resulting in great damage and undoubtedly will cause significant numbers of infections which should never have occurred.” “
As Harvard epidemiologist Helen Epstein described, in a New York Times Review of Books excerpt from her book God and the Fight Against AIDS, the issues seem much the same regardless of whether we are talking about religious NGO’s in Uganda or American faith-based nonprofits in America:
“US law forbids organizations receiving federal funds from evangelizing, but every abstinence event I attended [in Uganda] involved much praying and discussion of Jesus. As Human Rights Watch points out, it was sometimes hard to tell what the aim of these organizations actually was–preventing AIDS or saving souls. “
As Washington Post writer Laura Session Stepp detailed the findings of a federally commissioned and funded Mathematica Research study released in 2007,
“A long-awaited national study has concluded that abstinence-only sex education, a cornerstone of the Bush administration’s social agenda, does not keep teenagers from having sex. Neither does it increase or decrease the likelihood that if they do have sex, they will use a condom. “
In other words, the likelihood is that Mullarkey’s Project SOS, which by the time Mullarkey wrote her 2005 book had, according to the Project Save Our Schools founder, 40 full time and part time (government-funded) employees, was ineffective, at least in terms of teaching sexual abstinence and awareness of sexually transmitted disease prevention.
If government funded programs such as Mullarkey’s don’t achieve those purposes, they aren’t necessarily wholly ineffective. They’re spreading ideas. In functional terms, they amount to government-backed covert religious indoctrination programs.
In Mullarkey’s case, judging by Youtube videos of the skits her organization presents in schools, the indoctrination is more subtle than some religiously based abstinence only programs operating in public schools, but ideological content is there nonetheless.
In one SOS video, the natural model for the family is presented as one man, one woman, and two children. By definition, this brands familial arrangements among LGBT Americans as unnatural, or deviant. In another, a young man holds a young woman’s hands and turns his forearm towards the audience. On his forearm in large letters is a tattoo, “God is my judge.” Given those videos are the official public face of what Mullarkey’s program is up to in public schools, we have to wonder what other ideologically-driven content the SOS Project insinuates into schools.
According to an ACLU Florida study, “Sex Education in The Sunshine State”, Mullarkey’s SOS programs “Employ Fear- and Shame- Based Tactics” and some “Teach Misinformation on HIV/AIDS.”
Pam Mullarkey’s enthusiastic support for Martin Ssempa is not the only reason her leadership of a federally-funded abstinence-only program that teaches in public schools might be controversial. There’s more at stake – such government-funded programs give evangelicals access to target populations, in many ways that might not be obvious.
In her 2005 book All Teens: Destined For Greatness, Mullarkey states that her inspiration for founding the SOS program came directly from God:
“I was scared to death when God woke me up in the middle of the night for five nights in a row and had me go to the kitchen table and write the entire plan for Project SOS. I knew the task was too big. It didn’t fit into my plans, and I was not capable of starting and leading a nonprofit organization, but God knew better. He believed in me and surrounded me with people to encourage and help me. Through Him and the people He has brought to Project SOS, I have been able to daily live the destiny God has planned for your life, and so you can.”
Mullarkey goes on to describe taking a Catholic teenage repeat offender under her wing – “Tim” gives a talk for Mullarkey’s SOS program which concludes with his exhortation to students, “Pray to God and he’ll get you through anything.” By the end of the year Tim, as Mullarkey recounts, he had talked to over 2,000 school students–but something was still amiss. Around his old friends Tim would “revert from being a leader for good, to being his old self, the neighborhood mafia leader. There was truly a battle raging inside of him, a battle of good versus evil.”
As Mullarkey describes, Tim’s rectification begins when she takes him into her family, where he can learn to model the behavior, especially that of Mullarkey’s husband, of Christians in a healthy family structure. Apparently, according to Mullarkey’s book, the parents of healthy Christian families employ corporeal punishment to discipline their children. In her book Mullarkey cites a Biblical verse from Proverbs 29:15, “The rod and rebuke give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother.”
Child beating is not the only notable feature of Mullarkey’s program for successful parenting. As she goes on to describe, the watershd moment in Tim’s spiritual renovation comes only after a visit to the Protestant charismatic church Mullarkey attends. After a single visit to Beaches Chapel Church, Tim is redeemed. Writes Mullarkey,
“I believe that morning was the beginning of an awakening in Tim’s spirit that would draw him into a very personal, close relationship with his Creator, the very same Creator of the Universe. Tim had been to church for many years with his mom, brothers and sisters, but that day his mom was giving him a knock on the door of his heart that every “born again” Christian can never forget.”
The suggestion seems to be that, though “Tim” had been baptized and raised Catholic, it wasn’t enough, or he wasn’t fully Christian. Only with the born-again experience was he truly spiritually complete.
Do Mullarkey’s endorsement of the “rod” or her sectarian and apparent anti-Catholic bias seep into the teachings of her SOS program? And, how many “Tims” cycle through Mullarkey’s ministry?
I use the word “ministry” because on Mularkey’s church website, Project SOS is defined as a “ministry” supported by the church, with Mullarkey described as a “missionary” running the SOS program. This suggests that Project SOS is in reality a federally-funded conservative evangelical ministry designed to evangelize, in stealth mode, within Florida’s public schools.
Now, Protestant Christianity is notoriously fractious, with many thousands of sects, branches, and denominations. What sort can be found at the parent church of Pam Mullarkey’s federally-funded public school missionary program?
One indication lies in what The Beaches Chapel Church teaches in its K-12 school – which describes its upper and lower-grade curriculum as “one that stresses Godly, moral values and is written from a Christian perspective. Both the A Beka and Bob Jones curriculum are used at every grade level.”
A Beka Books, oh my
What does the A Beka curriculum teach? In her second article in a series on “Biblical Capitalism”, The War on Unions, Regulatory System, and Social Safety Net – Examples from Fundamentalist Textbooks, Tabachnick sums up the genre of fundamentalist textbooks, of which A Beka is a leading series,
” Thousands of pages of fundamentalist textbooks trumpet claims related to the belief that federal regulation of the free market is not only unconstitutional but against God’s will. This worldview often comes as a package of interrelated narratives: 1) Biblical Capitalism; 2) a Christian nationalist version of American history and exceptionalism; and 3) Creationism. Many Tea Partiers and their candidates of choice are voicing an ideology that have been widely taught to both students and adults for more than two decades – a worldview that is more closely related to the Constitution Party’s mission “to restore our government to its Constitutional limits and our law to its Biblical foundations,” than libertarianism. “
As Tabachnick quotes a 1999 A Beka textbook on economics,
“many of the ‘crises’ on the environmentalists’ agenda are simply not supported by scientific evidence. One of the environmental issues of recent years is `global warming,’ the idea that the earth’s temperature is rising.
…Yet many scientists believe that global warming is a myth, and that nay temperature increase seen lately is merely caused by normal cyclical fluctuations of the earth’s temperature.”
“The depletion of natural resources, the growth of populations, and other similar concerns are not the primary problems of today’s economy. Instead the biggest threats to our financial welfare are encroaching governments and lack of morality. If nations can be persuaded to allow their markets more freedom and to adopt virtuous habits and convictions, the 21st century may experience unprecedented prosperity.”
Accompanying these resource-extraction friendly tropes are screeds attacking government programs, and unions:
“This blindness to the problems caused by socialism are not just limited to the Canadians or the Swedes. National health care, mandatory job benefits, public education, and a wide host of welfare projects have been tried in countries around the globe with similarly dismal results.”
“Unions have always been plagued by socialists and anarchists who use laborers to destroy the free enterprise system that hardworking Americans have created.”
Other A Beka economics textbook quotes showcased in Tabachnick’s article featured claims that the Great Depression was in part a manufactured crisis designed to move the US Towards socialism and that opposition to the Vietnam War was “due to the coverage of the television networks. Many reporters capitalized on the bloodshed in Vietnam and gave the public a false impression of the conflict.”
The A Beka books also feature heavy sectarian religious bias. As Francis Paterson of Rethinking Schools, a nonprofit that seeks to improve the quality of public education, states, in an analysis of fundamentalist curriculum including A Beka and Bob Jones,
To say that Christian fundamentalist textbooks portray Roman Catholicism and non-Western religions in a negative way is to understate the case by several orders of magnitude. All the texts are imbued with an arrogance and hostility toward non-Western religions that is truly breathtaking.
Anti-Catholic bias is most prevalent in books published by A Beka. One particularly striking aspect of the texts is the sense that theological battles of the Protestant Reformation continue unabated to the present day….
Descriptions of contemporary life in European countries that are primarily Roman Catholic frequently include derogatory statements about the Church: “Almost all the children of [the Republic of] Ireland grow up believing in the traditions of the Roman Catholic church without knowing of God’s free salvation.”
A Beka’s seventh grade world history book, for example, describes the early Roman church (before 500 A.D.) as “a monstrous distortion of Biblical Christianity.” 29 Speaking of the Crusades, the text speculates that “if Christendom had succeeded with its crusades, distorted Christianity might have been imposed on all mankind.”…
Tenth graders using A Beka books are taught that “the doctrines and practices of the Roman church had digressed so far from Scripture that the church was compelled to keep its members from reading the Bible and discovering the truth.”
As Paterson details, the A Beka books are also virulently bigoted towards Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, and African religions. Pam Mullarkey’s account of Tim’s redemption shows the full range of what federal funding of programs such as her SOS program enables – the patient, long-range character reconstruction of teens, their indoctrination into conservative evangelical Protestant precepts based in a particularly intolerant form of Christian supremacy.
Jesus gets the gay out, prison-style
Meanwhile, longtime head pastor of Beaches Chapel Church Steven McCoy is playing a leading role in spreading antigay ideology within Florida’s prison system. As an article which appears sympathetic to McCoy’s efforts describes,
In Lawtey, the first U.S. faith-and character-based institution (FCBI), the Reverend Stephen J. McCoy teaches a class in anger management. Inmates learn about their “hidden child” and “scriptural responses to different situations.”
The church provides up to 40 out of Lawtey’s estimated 400 volunteers a month. McCoy matches his parishioners’ skills with the inmates’ needs. Businessmen lead classes in financial management, while teachers teach the ministry’s literacy program.
Although some of their classes have secular subject matter, all have a spiritual basis, McCoy says. One example is the class “Laughter from Purity,” which teaches inmates to resist homosexuality through Jesus Christ. A man and a woman who have “broken free from the bondage of homosexuality” head the Beaches Chapel Church ministry. According to the ministry’s Web site, God loves homosexuals, but the homosexual must be set free from a “bondage of lies and deception that come from being wounded and sexually broken.”
McCoy’s prison work was the subject of a recent CNN segment on the ongoing controversy over faith-based work in correctional facilities. Pastor McCoy was one of the signatories to a list of pastors who in 2008 supported Florida’s Amendment 2, to ban same gender civil marriages in the state.
An abstinence-only feeding trough
As Talk To Action contributor Rachel Tabachnick describes (see comment below) Project SOS is not the only heavily sectarian Florida faith-based nonprofit feeding from the federal abstinence education trough:
This is one of numerous of examples of federally funded programs for spreading a right wing evangelical worldview in the U.S. Jacqueline del Rosario testified for renewal of Title V abstinence-based funding in Congressional hearings in 2002 as an “expert” on abstinence only training. Since 2001, her Miami organizations have been the recipient of $3,147,589 of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services grant money, and significant sums from other public sources, despite the fact that her organization was one of four in a long-term federally funded study which showed no measurable results.
Like many faith-based missionary programs I’ve tracked, Del Rosario’s programs were incorporated in the mid-1990s as the flood of federal faith-based funding was starting to roll. Del Rosario incorporated with leading apostles, the late Diane Buker, who also headed the viciously anti-Catholic and anti-Mormon BattleAxe Ministries and Cindy Trimm, described as a “General in the art of Strategic Prayer and Spiritual Warfare.”
The jolly ‘family value’ of genocide
Pam Mullarkey’s Beaches Chapel Church is well-disposed towards the American Family Association, as evidenced by a November 2009 church newsletter broadcasting the AFA’s claim that there is a secularist and anti-Christian “war on Christmas. As I’ve chronicled, the original “war on Christmas” was started by Christians themselves, Protestants who attacked Christmas as an immoral, “popish” holiday which inspired drunkenness, gluttony, and sexual immorality.
The coziness is reciprocal. In the May 2003 American Family Association Journal ran a story on Pam Mullarkey’s Project SOS, describing her organization as a “secular” effort that was beating back teen sexual activity:
“[Project SOS is] a secular non-profit organization in Florida. The largest provider of abstinence teaching in that state, Mullarkey and her staff go into schools to present an intriguing, entertaining and informative message about abstinence to teens.
Mullarkey said the Project S.O.S. curriculum has been approved by the Florida Department of Health…
This school year, Mullarkey said, the Project S.O.S. program will reach 30,000 kids with the message of abstinence. Next year that number will jump to 50,000. The organization’s follow-up support groups, called APE Clubs (Abstinence Protects Everyone), have been established in 40 middle and high schools in Florida.
Three years ago Mullarkey went to Moscow and taught 1,200 American, Russian and Chinese delegates about abstinence. She said Project S.O.S. has been busily trying to get all its materials translated into Russian for future visits.”
As chronicled by Rightwing Watch, current spokesperson for the American Family Association Bryan Fischer has recently taken up attacking Native Americans and even written what seems to be an apologetic for Christian acts of genocide.
According to Fischer, it was through idolatry and immorality that Native Americans ceded their right to the lands of North America. As Fischer wrote in a post that has since vanished from the American Family Association blog,
“God warned the ancient nation of Israel not to lapse into the abominable practices of the native peoples “lest the land vomit you out…as it vomited out the nation that was before you” (Lev. 18:28).
Time eventually ran out for the Canaanites, because they filled up the full measure of their iniquity. Time ran out for the native American tribes for the same reason.
The only question that matters today is this one: how much time does America have left to repent of its superstition, its savagery and its sexual immorality before it is too late, before we will have filled up our own slop bucket and will have morally disqualified ourselves from sovereign control of our own land?”
In an AFA blog post that’s still up, Fischer celebrates the conversion to Christianity and assimilation of Pocohantas, whom Fischer likens to Rahab, who housed spies sent by the Israelites to spy out the land of Canaan prior to a military assault which, as narrated in Biblical scripture, had a divine mandate from Jehovah [God] to kill every man, woman, and child.
“she both converted and assimilated. She became both a Christian and an American (technically, of course, an Englishman). She melded into European and Christian civilization and made her identity as a Christian and an Englishman her primary identity. She was the first manifestation of what became our national slogan, “E Pluribus Unum,” “Out of many, one.”
Had the other indigenous people followed her example, their assimilation into what became America could have been seamless and bloodless. Sadly, it was not to be.
Pocahontas was the Rahab of the American continent. Rahab, you will remember, was a Canaanite woman who lived in Jericho at the time of the Israelite conquest. She placed her faith in the God of Moses, rather than the gods of Canaan, provided material assistance to the coming settlers, and assimilated into the nation of Israel. She played a highly honored role in Israel’s history as a result, occupying a place in the bloodline that led both to King David and to Christ. “
As written in Deuteronomy 20:16-18,
“However, in the cities of the nations the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance, do not leave alive anything that breathes. Completely destroy them — the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites — as the LORD your God has commanded you. Otherwise, they will teach you to follow all the detestable things they do in worshiping their gods, and you will sin against the LORD your God”