Sunday, September 1, 2013

Kiva, Strathmore University, and Opus Dei: The Rest of the Story (Up to the Present)

So here's an update about what has been happening in the discussion of the choice of Kiva, a charitable non-profit that claims to support gay rights, to partner with an Opus Dei university in Kenya, about which I've blogged recently (and here): as the first link states, Tony Adams and Beverly Woods have told this story to wide audiences beyond the discussion boards of several lending groups at Kiva itself, where it had already begun receiving much attention.*

As Tony and Beverly note, Kiva invites contributors to lend to folks in need around the world. Kiva contributors who share common interests have formed many lending groups. Tony, Beverly, and I all belong to the GLBT group, which has been extremely active making loans to people in need, cohesive, full of energy, and proud of the way in which we gay folks and our supporters share strong concern for people needing help. And then this happened, and all of that energy quickly began to dissipate:

GLBT Kivans' Connection to Kiva Begins to Fray over Strathmore-Opus Dei Decision

Kiva decided to post loans to assist students at a Kenyan university, Strathmore. At first blush, these  looked like something that anyone associated with Kiva's mission would naturally go for. Who wouldn't want to help fund the tuition of university students in Africa?

But as various lending groups began to take a closer look at the Strathmore loans, something seemed off about them. They were for amounts that very much exceed the usual loans for which Kivans have been providing money, and this meant that they'd tie up the resources loaned to a student for quite some time, so that those lending money could not be repaid for a long time, and could not easily turn around and donate their repaid funds to other people in need elsewhere.

As Beverly also notes, the loans were post-disbursed, so that students needing them for tuition would not receive them unless Kiva lenders met a deadline for disbursing tuition funds, and that deadline had a very short turnaround time--much shorter than most deadlines those of us lending money via Kiva over the past few years have been used to seeing. And as Kiva pushed these loans with their short deadline, many other good loans expired. Many other worthwhile projects of people in need around the world were not supported while Kiva encouraged us to put our funds into the Strathmore project.

The strange urgency of the Strathmore loans was what first caught the attention of several lending groups, including the GLBT team and the A+ team ("Atheists, Agnostics, Skeptics, Freethinkers, Secular Humanists and the Non-Religious"), who started doing homework regarding Strathmore. That homework immediately turned up the significant fact that Strathmore was, as its website's "about" pages state, founded as a "corporate undertaking" of the right-wing (and exceedingly anti-gay rights and anti-women's rights) Catholic organization Opus Dei.

Strathmore University's Connection to Opus Dei

As the website states, "Opus Dei provides spiritual and doctrinal orientation for the University." As Wikipedia's page for Strathmore also notes, citing Strathmore's self-description at its website's history page, the founder of Opus Dei itself, Josemaría Escrivá, was instrumental in the founding of Strathmore as an Opus Dei enterprise.

Strathmore's website indicates as well, in a news release entitled "Celebrating 50 Years of Opus Dei in Africa," that Strathmore held a celebration of its founding as an Opus Dei enterprise in 2008. The news release states, "The first members of Opus Dei came to Kenya and in Africa on 25th August 1958. These are the people who started Strathmore." Another news release from the Strathmore website reports that in June 2008 the Opus Dei vicar in Kenya, Monsignor Albert Pampillon, celebrated a Mass of St. Josemaría at Strathmore to mark its founding as an Opus Dei enterprise.

Kiva's own page for Strathmore echoes Strathmore's self-description, too, noting that Strathmore was founded "with inspiration and encouragement from Saint Josemaría Escriva, founder of Opus Dei." Or, as the Help Support Opus Dei website puts the point,

Strathmore University is the fruit of the apostolate of Opus Dei. The project was very dear to the heart of St. Josemaria. Its story has been very well documented in the book “To Africa With a Dream,” by Olga Marlin. This book was characterized by one Opus Dei priest as one of the best insights into Opus Dei he had ever read. 

This website encourages readers to contact the Strathmore Foundation for information about how to assist Strathmore. Despite all these overt, clearly stated indicators that Strathmore was founded by and remains closely connected to Opus Dei as a "corporate undertaking" of the right-wing anti-gay, anti-women's rights Catholic group, Kiva has, however, continued to respond to critical questions about its choice to support Strathmore with claims that one can support Strathmore and not support Opus Dei and its agenda--a point to which I'll return in a moment.

News of Kiva Strathmore-Connection Elicits Strong Reaction Among Kiva Supporters

Returning to the story of the reaction that began to take place on various Kiva lending group boards when the Strathmore-Opus Dei connection became public knowledge: just as members of several Kivan lending groups began to dig into the question of these strange loans Kiva wanted us to fund with such alacrity, it came out--curioser and curioser--that Kiva had launched an office at Strathmore in the spring of 2013, with a visit of Kiva co-founder Matt Flannery to the campus, a visit documented in this video available at YouTube.

As Tony and Beverly also note, once members of several Kiva lending groups became aware of the preceding ramifications of Kiva's decision to partner with Opus Dei through Strathmore, individual lenders who had previously strongly supported Kiva began to pull back. A number of us announced we wouldn't fund any more loans until Kiva had explained why it had chosen to form this partnership. Several of us stated that we wouldn't under any circumstance support any enterprise founded and sustained by Opus Dei, because of its well-documented attacks on the rights of LGBTI people and women in many places around the world--information we were astonished to find that Kiva had not known (or had chosen to overlook) when it entered into partnership with Strathmore.

Legendary Kiva Lender, Laurent Drion, Steps in to Put Strathmore Loan Over Finish Line

The pull-back of support in various groups threatened the Strathmore loans, and at this point, a Kiva lender, Laurent in Belgium, stepped in and made a loan of $45,000 to put the Strathmore project over the finish line. The Strathmore website subsequently announced Laurent's loan in a news release that states, "A lender called Laurent contributed and lent USD 45,000 to loans that took long to fundraise on the KIVA site."

And here's the rest of the story, as it has emerged in the last several days as various members of Kiva lending groups determined to hold Kiva responsible for its decision to partner with an Opus Dei university and to receive a credible explanation from Kiva for this mind-boggling decision keep digging for information:

The Kiva lender, Laurent in Belgium, is Laurent Drion. In a November 2007 posting to Skoll World forum, Kiva co-founder Matt Flannery describes Drion as follows:

We have a donor [i.e., for Kiva projects underway in Kenya and Uganda]— Laurent Drion of Brussels — who makes sure that lack of cameras are no excuse. Laurent, a venture capitalist, started one of the biggest Macintosh distribution businesses in Belgium. The man moves consumer electronics  — now to Africa. Thank you Laurent.

Several months later in February 2008, Flannery would write at the same website that he was off to the National Prayer Breakfast** in D.C., and then:

After that, I’m off to visit Laurent in Brussels, who single handedly has put computers and cameras in the hands of our partners in Africa. Equipment like this has been a big barrier standing between our lenders and borrowers. I’m excited to put a face behind that legend that has become Laurent. 

At a Kiva Friends page discussion thread in December 2007, Kiva friend Kay cites Flannery's description of Drion as a venture capitalist who moves consumer electronics--now to Africa--and adds, "And then, of course, he is a 'financial supporter' [i.e., of Kiva]," as she points readers to a Kiva "about" financial page that now leads to a 404 page.

So who is this legendary Kiva lender who is a Kiva "financial supporter"-cum-"venture capitalist" who "moves consumer electronics" in Africa? At his Linked In profile page, Drion describes himself as involved in "venture capital and private equity." The page documents his extensive history with producing and selling hard- and software in the areas of computer and communications technology. The section of the page noting that he founded the business E-Merge with Grégory Hédo states, "We are looking for businesses mainly in Telecom, e-Commerce Tools, Payments, & Mobile Commerce."

At one website after another, Drion is celebrated as an exemplary Kiva loan-maker, who is near the top of Kiva's list in making loans to people in need--see, for example, this page from (and also here). Note that both of these pages praising Laurent's Kivan altruism point to a Kiva profile page for him that no longer exists. The Kiva Friends page citing Kay above provides the same link for Laurent Drion's Kiva profile page, which is no longer functioning.

Thick Ties of Laurent Drion and His Business Partners to Kiva's Founders 

Drion's profile page at AngelList notes that he is founder and partner at E-Merge, a Brussels-based investment company, where he's lead investor. It also shows that his followers include one Skylar Woodward, who is described on his AngelList profile page as the CEO of Puddle, a founding member of Kiva & Y! Brickhouse, and the founder of the Mac Messenger and BrowserPlus projects at Yahoo! Drion follows Skylar Woodward at AngelList, as well.

Toggle over to AngelList's profile page for Woodward's Puddle company, and one finds that Laurent Drion and his business partner Patrice Decafmeyer are both investors in Puddle. Move to Matt Flannery's AngelList profile page and you'll learn that Flannery is both co-founder of Kiva and of Puddle and a member of Puddle's board.

There are, in other words, exceptionally thick--exceedingly cozy--ties between Kiva's founders Matt Flannery and Skylar Woodard and the magnanimous Kiva lender-cum-venture capitalist who moves consumer electronics to Africa, and who put the Strathmore loan over the finish line with a $45,000 donation after serious critical questions began to be raised by various Kiva supporters about the Strathmore project. Woodward also connects to another of Drion's business partners at AngelList, Grégory Hédo, whom he began following about four months ago, that is to say, right around the same time that Drion gave his $45,000 donation to clench the Kiva loan to Strathmore, and right after Flannery made his trip to Strathmore as Kiva set up an office there.

So we have the following curious sequence of events:

1. People who have been strong supporters of Kiva begin raising significant critical questions about Kiva's intention to partner with the Opus Dei enterprise Strathmore University. 
2. Those raising critical questions include many members of the GLBT lending team, which has strongly supported Kiva and its mission, and who want to know how Kiva can possibly support an enterprise connected to one of the most actively and toxically homophobic religious groups on the planet. 
3. And suddenly, as those critical questions are raised, a noted Kiva lender, Laurent Drion, who is a "venture capitalist" and who has clearly ascertainable business ties to Kiva co-founders Matt Flannery and Skylar Woodward, steps into the picture and consolidates the Strathmore deal with a $45,000 donation.

And, lest we forget: "The man moves consumer electronics  -- now to Africa." Drion is both a Kiva supporter and lender, and someone who, as a venture capitalist and purveyor of electronics, benefits from African markets, the same markets for which he's lending money that is presented, via Kiva and others, as an exceptionally altruistic loan to support students in need of tuition support. Drion started one of the biggest Macintosh businesses in Belgium, and he links to Woodward and Flannery via Puddle, which Woodward (who's interested in Macintosh technology) founded with Flannery as supporter, and on whose board Flannery serves.

Conflict-of-Interest Questions Raised by Drion's Double Role as Lender-Entrepreneur, and Kiva Leaders' Connection to Drion

Wouldn't you think that these cozy business arrangements, which dangerously blur the line between altruism and economic self-interest in the case of Kiva's (and Drion's) support of the Opus Dei university, ought to have been disclosed right off the bat when people began to ask why Kiva was throwing its support toward an organization with a demonstrably horrific track record when it comes to the human rights of LGBTI people and women? At the very least, there seem to be some exceptionally serious conflict-of-interest issues in this story, and they cast the decision of Kiva's leaders Flannery and Woodward and of Drion to support the Opus Dei university in Kenya in an exceedingly questionable light.

At one level, one can hardly fault a venture capitalist-entrepreneur for forming business ties to other leaders in the field of computer and communications technology, and one can hardly fault Kiva's co-founders, who are themselves in that very same field, for forming ties to a leading European venture capitalist with a strong background in the field of computer and communications technology. And one can't fault a venture capitalist for deciding to give out of his or her largesse to people in need in the developing sectors of the world, and for using a leading non-profit to assist her or him as she or he funnels her/his funds to those in need.

But the connection of Drion and his business partners to Flannery and Woodward in the Strathmore venture raises exceptionally troubling conflict-of-interest questions (and questions about basic honesty and transparency on the part of Kiva's leaders, when they've been asked to account for their Strathmore decision) when one considers that Drion's $45,000 donation, which has been presented to the public as a magnanimous gift, also provides seed money for probable returns for Drion and his business partners, as the students supported by Kiva tuition loans graduate and then become business and political leaders in Africa, with its burgeoning markets needing computer and communications technology.

What has been presented to the public and to Kiva lenders as an altruistic enterprise that is all about helping poor students in Kenya appears to have another complexion altogether, when one delves even a little way into the business connections--and the kind of businesses, with their rapidly expanding market in the continent of Africa--that lie underneath Kiva's inexplicable decision to partner with an Opus Dei organization. It begins to appear at least worth asking if the primary reason Kiva officials have been less than forthcoming in response to the important questions raised about the Strathmore arrangement by members of the GLBT lending group, the A+ lending group, and various other members of the Kiva constituency, is that there's a hidden nexus of business interests at the heart of this story, and those interests absolutely trump Kiva's avowed commitment to gay rights and women's rights.

So that Kiva officials have been, it appears, blithely willing to slap members of the GLBT lending group, which had been a vibrant, active presence in Kiva's mission, in the face when members of that group have asked why on earth Kiva has chosen to support an organization with a proven anti-gay track record. Opus Dei is, after all, tied right into the abominably anti-gay National Organization for Marriage (and here), for God's sake!

Kiva Leaders' Abysmal and Non-Transparent Response to Critical Questions about Strathmore Project

Up to now, Kiva officials have brushed off the questions that various members of the GLBT lending group have persistently put to them about the Strathmore decision with inane assurances (and these are lifted right out of the promotional material for Strathmore on its website, which in turn echo Opus Dei's playbook) that, though Strathmore was founded by Opus Dei and is a "corporate undertaking," Opus Dei really has little to do with Strathmore. In an open letter he posted several days ago in response to questions about the Strathmore situation, Matt Flannery states that Opus Dei is "distinct from Strathmore's daily operations" and has no influence on Strathmore's curriculum or core values--this despite the clear statements at the Strathmore website itself I've linked above.

Strathmore's just a garden-variety business school, Kiva officials want to maintain, one producing a whole new generation of entrepreneurs and capitalists in Africa. Kiva officials have seen no evidence whatsoever of anti-gay discrimination or intense religiosity of any kind on the Strathmore campus, they tell us, and the business of Strathmore is business. But these claims are quite directly belied by those embarrassing 2008 celebrations involving the Opus Dei vicar for Kenya which celebrated Strathmore's direct founding by Opus Dei, and, in fact, by the founder of Opus Dei himself, Josemaría Escrivá.

As Tony Adams points out in his article linked at the top of this posting, "Opus Dei priests, including those at Strathmore, can be heard/read in articles and videos condemning condoms, homosexuality, women’s rights, abortion and a host of equal rights." As he also writes,

A quick scan of Strathmore’s website, its chaplain’s Facebook page, Youtube videos of Opus Dei priests speaking at Strathmore and railing against condoms, and letters from Opus Dei priests active at Strathmore to newspapers in Kenya saying that “sodomy is a sin” prove otherwise. The only chaplains allowed at Strathmore are Opus Dei priests. There is no gay or gay-straight student organization. Strathmore’s equal rights protections statement contains no mention of sexual orientation. Students are encouraged to do volunteer work and internships, but volunteering or becoming an intern at GALCK, Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya ( is not acceptable at Strathmore.

Nonetheless, to support Strathmore is not to support Opus Dei, Kiva keeps assuring its GLBT lending group, the A+ lending group, and others asking Kiva officials why Kiva imagines it can maintain its claim that it supports gay rights and women's rights when it partners with an Opus Dei enterprise.

But one Christian Descoups begs to differ.

Enter Opus Dei Member and Former Secretary of Luxembourg Stock Exchange Christian Descoups

Two days ago, after Tony Adams had published his report on the controversy about Kiva's decision to partner with Strathmore, Descoups left the following comment in response to Tony's report:

Thank you for letting us know that Strathmore and Kiva have initiated a partnership. I think I will start supporting Strathmore students using this channel.

So who's Christian Descoups? According to his Linked In profile page, he's none other than the general secretary of the Catholic archdiocese of Luxembourg, who was previously general secretary of the Luxembourg Stock Exchange. He's also--and isn't this interesting?--a member of Opus Dei, as he states in a reply to this L'Expression article by Chems-Eddine Chitour pleading for French youth to be raised with views tolerant of non-Catholic religious groups including Muslims.

Links all over the Internet show that Descoups was not only involved in, but was an active organizer of, the demonstrations against marriage equality earlier this year in France, the so-called Manif pour tous, which elicited ugly acts of outright violence against more than one gay person in France. Descoups states here that he himself took part in the demonstrations against gay marriage in Paris. And he states here that, despite the implementation of marriage equality by the French government earlier this year, he intends to keep the fight going against homosexual "marriage" (his quotation marks around "marriage," not mine), euthanasia, and free contraception for women under the age of 25.

So here's Kiva to its GLBT group, which has so strongly supported its mission: 

Strathmore and Opus Dei aren't identical, and we can support Strathmore without supporting Opus Dei and its goals
We support gay rights and women's rights.

But here's Christian Descoups responding to an article by a member of Kiva's GLBT group raising critical questions about the Kiva-Strathmore alliance:

I'm an Opus Dei member. 
And I'll be channeling my money to Strathmore students now through Kiva. 
And, by the way, I helped organize the anti-gay marriage marches in France that stirred violent attacks on gay folks. And I marched in them. 
I oppose gay "marriage" and free contraception for women under 25, and I intend to keep opposing them.

Opus Dei's Well-Documented Track Record of Deception about Its Influence at Schools

Descoups puts the lie to the insincere claims of Kiva's top officials that Kiva can support an Opus Dei enterprise while in no way supporting Opus Dei itself, doesn't he? Unfortunately, for many of us who have been following Opus Dei's trail for some years now, none of this is new in the least. As Dianne DiNicola reports at the website of the Opus Dei Awareness Network in December 2011, when Catherine Tissier filed suit against the University and Technical Culture Association (ACUT) for years of unpaid labor she performed on ACUT's behalf as an Opus Dei "numerary," Opus Dei's lawyers claimed that Opus Dei has no real influence over or connection to educational enterprises it founds, but only offers them "partnership for spiritual activities."

Tissier lost her lawsuit. DiNicola, whose daughter was an Opus Dei member and found the experience brutalizing, works with others who have been associated with Opus Dei and have now left the group to blow the whistle on the organization. She writes,

These statements by Opus Dei follow a pattern they have used when faced with criticism – downplaying the role Opus Dei plays with their schools, centers and other institutions when in fact the organization is the lifeblood and driving force behind all of them.  Opus Dei members make statements that make it seem like these institutions “just happen” to entrust their spiritual activities to Opus Dei – nothing could be farther from the truth.

Strathmore "just happens" to be connected to Opus Dei. Opus Dei doesn't influence the operation of Strathmore or its curriculum in any way at all: the diversionary argument Matt Flannery and Kiva want to feed as pap to members of its GLBT and A+ group asking for transparency about its alliance with Strathmore (and therefore Opus Dei) is right out of the playbook of Opus Dei itself, according to people who used to be members of the secretive group or are closely connected to former members, and who now blow the whistle on Opus Dei.

As Mark Oppenheimer notes in January 2012 in this New York Times article about the Opus Dei school The Heights in suburban D.C., with which Rick Santorum, Maggie Gallagher, and other right-wing Catholic movers and shakers have been associated, Opus Dei claims not to run the school, though its headmaster, assistant headmaster, CFO, communications director, and many faculty members are Opus Dei members. And though its curriculum is imbued with right-wing Catholic values and ideas . . . .

Opus Dei's Well-Documented Strategy of Recruiting Elites--Business and Political Leaders

And as Vernon Silver and Michael Smith note for Bloomberg, Opus Dei quite deliberately focuses its attention on business schools--like Strathmore--since it's those schools that form the corporate and political elites on which Opus Dei has historically relied to exert influence within the governments of various parts of the world. See also Betty Clermont's outstanding documentation of this point in this Open Tabernacle blog posting and in her exhaustively researched book The Neo-Catholics: Implementing Christian Nationalism in America.

Here's former Catholic priest Matthew Fox, who was silenced by the Vatican due to his "creation-centered theology," in part because this theology argues that the Catholic church should welcome and include the contributions of women and open, self-affirming LGBTI people, in a February 2013 National Catholic Reporter interview with Rob Kall: after noting that "Opus Dei is a Radical, Fascist, Right-wing Catholic movement begun by a Fascist Priest, Escriva, who actually praised Hitler," Fox tells Kall,

I'll tell you a story. I was in Frankfurt a few years ago and a journalist took me to lunch in downtown Frankfurt, and he said "Look out there.  How many buildings do you see being built?"  I said, "It looks like seven skyscrapers."  He said, "Yes.  Every one is about finance, because the head of finance is moving from Switzerland to Frankfurt because of the Euro," and he said that "At the top of each of those skyscrapers will be Opus Dei."  So, Opus Dei goes where the power is. 

Fox goes on to talk about the rather certain direct influence of Opus Dei on several right-wing U.S. Supreme Court members, as well as on the rabidly anti-gay political leaders Rick Santorum and Sam Brownback. That is, he talks about the influence of Opus Dei on the kind of people who form the backbone of the annual National Prayer Breakfast event, which was started by the secretive group The Family, about which Jeff Sharlet has written incisively in his book The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power. As Sharlet and others (see Colleen Kochivar-Baker at Enlightented Catholicism) have noted, though some members of The Family have eventually spoken  out faintly about the draconian kill-the-gay legislation in Uganda, there are also troubling indicators of direct ties between other members of The Family and the promoters of that very same anti-gay legislation (and see Rachel Maddow's interview with Sharlet about this).

In Summary: Kiva and Gay Rights Post-Strathmore

In conclusion, here's what I'm saying: I'm not saying that I have any knowledge at all about the business connections (if they exist) between the co-founders of Kiva and Laurent Drion and his business partners, other than what anyone can see on the AngelList pages and read in Matt Flannery's blog statements about Kiva and Drion. I'm not saying that it's inappropriate for a venture capitalist to disburse charity via a charitable organization seeking to ameliorate human need. I'm not saying that it's even inappropriate for a venture capitalist providing such charitable donations to reap benefits from such donations. Nor am I saying that a charitable organization ought not to avail itself of such contributions.

I'm not impugning the motives of Laurent Drion in giving his $45,000 loan, or making a judgment about that decision that goes beyond my criticism of its timing as an apparent response to critics of Kiva's Strathmore partnership. I do not know the gentleman and am not entitled to pass such judgment. For all I know, he may be an outstanding philanthropist with exemplary motives, as he makes donations to Kiva. (I'm also not saying, by the way, that Matt Flannery is connected with The Family.)

What I am saying is that the lack of transparency and honesty among Kiva's top leaders about their thick connections to Laurent Drion, who has been presented to us Kiva supporters as merely an exemplary altruist and certainly not as a venture capitalist moving electronic goods in Africa, has caused the Kiva-Strathmore deal to appear in a less than savory light--at least in the eyes of many of us. This is true a fortiori because Opus Dei has a well-documented history of seeking to recruit corporate and business elites through ties to business schools--schools exactly like Strathmore.

Opus Dei is all about massaging capitalist elites to do the work of Christ, and doing that work without accountability and transparency--with the implication that Opus Dei's work is self-evidently and automatically good. Because it's for Christ, of course. And for capitalism . . . .

And the well-documented history of who Opus Dei is and how it functions (not the least, its deplorable history vis-a-vis women and LGBTI people) has direct bearing on a deal that has the clear potential to provide lucrative rewards in Africa for some of the big players in this deal--in Africa, where the market has exploded and will continue to explode for precisely the kind of electronic goods and computer and communications technology that the person clenching the loan to Strathmore provides.

When one takes into account that Drion provided his $45,000 gift precisely as members of the GLBT and A+ lending groups began to raise important questions about the choice to support an Opus Dei enterprise, the moral questions about Kiva's arrangement become all the more troubling, both because there are hidden conflict-of-interest factors in this story that demanded public disclosure from the outset, and because what has been communicated by Drion's contribution and by Kiva's response to the questions raised by some of its lending groups is that, if a capitalist entrepreneurial model of altruism clashes with human rights, human rights necessarily take second place to the capitalist entrepreneurial model.

Because we all know that entrepreneurial capitalism is good. It does good things in the world. It lifts the boat of everyone in societies in which many people are in need, even as it puts money into the pocket of capitalists. Doesn't it?

Kiva's lamentably weak, not to mention seemingly mendacious, response to the questions that GLBT and A+ group members have put to it about its reasons for partnering with Strathmore and Opus Dei have helped me to see, in a crystal-clear way, that there are some serious flaws in the fundamental philosophy of Kiva itself as an organization seeking to ameliorate misery in the world. What has happened on the GLBT group's discussion board as Kiva has dodged questions from many group members about its Strathmore-Opus Dei deal has underscored the problem for me.

Demise of Kiva's GLBT Group, as Its Discussion Board Mirrors Dynamics of Kiva's Choice to Throw LGBTI Constituents Under Bus

On that board, a number of group members have been permitted with impunity to send signals to other group members that they are not wanted, needed, or respected: they are dispensable. Ironically, those sending this message to some members of the GLBT group claim that the critical discussion of Kiva's linkage to Strathmore has sent them the message that they're unwanted, unneeded, not respected, and dispensable.

These group members support Kiva's decision to ally itself to Strathmore-Opus Dei, and they are perfectly satisfied with Kiva's explanation of why and how it made this decision. As one of the group members has told me in a private communication, it's all about the value of entrepreneurship--and those of us questioning what Kiva has decided to do simply don't understand the value of entrepreneurship. For us, it appears, the words "capitalist" and "entrepreneur" don't appear with the same bright lights shining around them as they do when these other members of the GLBT group look at those words. "We" just don't agree with you, this GLBT team member has told me, as if she speaks on behalf of the real GLBT lending group (though she herself is heterosexual and married, with all the power and privilege of a married heterosexual person).

Perhaps not accidentally, the members of the GLBT group sending these messages to others in the group are younger folks working in the very same field from which Matt Flannery and Skylar Woodward emerged to begin their philanthropic work--computer technology. The group member who sent me several personal messages is, as I've just noted, a young married woman. She works in computer technology at a university in Mississippi at which her husband teaches computer science. She is collaborating with another young woman in the contiguous state of Alabama who is also in the field of tech support to shut down critical conversation about Kiva and Strathmore on the GLBT board.

That young woman in Alabama is a lesbian who has mounted vicious attacks on the GLBT board against those of us raising critical questions about Kiva's Strathmore project, by informing us that we don't understand and include the voice of gay women--because we're gay men. She has also used homophobic slur terms to further the marginalization of several critics of Kiva's Strathmore deal on the board, terms suggesting that gay men are drama queens.

The clear, unambiguous message that these and several other GLBT group members have been permitted to send members who persist in challenging Kiva to provide full disclosure about its reasons for partnering with Strathmore-Opus Dei is that we are not wanted or needed by the GLBT group. We should make ourselves scarce. And this is precisely the action I myself chose to take when the ugly, mean-spirited, and outrageously unfair (and outrageously homophobic) rhetoric about dramatic gay men who don't understand gay women started.

I've seen games like this play out in social groups often enough in my fairly long life (there's an ageist implication to the attacks on some GLBT group members, too) to know precisely where they head. It's no place good--not when people are allowed to use underhanded, disrespectful tactics to marginalize other members (people they don't even know personally) of a group claiming a common mission, while they arrogate to themselves the role of moral exemplars and moral arbiters of the group, and claim to be acting out of the highest of moral motives as they do their sorting of sheep from goats.

In short, what some GLBT group members have been permitted to do on the Kiva board is a parable of sorts about the shortcomings of the very model we're being asked by Kiva now to accept uncritically, as if the terms "capitalist" and "entrepreneur" are surrounded by bright lights in this model--and as if all moral questions cease once those words have been spoken and the bright lights around them have started flashing.

While entrepreneurial capitalism may well ameliorate the social conditions of many people in many places, capitalism also exacts a price, and always has exacted a price, for its operations. That price is the price of making some people dispensable in order that others may be maintained in style. Capitalism depends for its operations on tacit decisions about who counts (the capitalist) and who is there to be exploited, used, or even discarded (everyone else).

Neither "capitalist" nor "entrepreneur" is, in short, a self-evidently moral word that demands no moral analysis or explication at all in order to be regarded as a morally reputable label. To put this point in a way that connects to Kiva and its mission: if Kiva's mission is to use the tools of capitalism to ameliorate the misery produced by capitalism (to use the master's tools to dismantle the master's house, in other words), then the very way in which capitalism functions to make some people in the world dispensable non-persons has constantly to be recognized and worked against, and within Kiva itself--if, that is, Kiva's work of healing the world is to have a credible moral basis.

Instead, what has immediately begun to happen after Kiva has partnered with Strathmore and Opus Dei and has refused to be forthcoming when its own constituents raise important critical questions about that decision is that the very same dynamics Kiva claims it exists to address and overcome in society as a whole have begun inside Kiva's GLBT group: members of that group supporting Kiva's decision, who believe that entrepreneurial capitalism is an automatically moral and self-evidently good remedy for the ills of the world, have been permitted with impunity to inform other members of the group that they are not wanted, needed, or respected insofar as they raise critical questions about what Kiva has chosen to do.

This is not morality. It's the antithesis of morality. And it's built right into the foundations of Kiva's deal with the Opus Dei institution Strathmore, with the loud and clear message that this deal has given to Kiva's critics that the human rights of GLBT persons and women must take second place when capitalism is at work. Because capitalism is good.

As Opus Dei itself insists . . . . . And that is hardly beside the point in this story, is it?

* Note that my recent Bilgrimage posting entitled "A Footnote to Previous Discussion of Kiva and Opus Dei University in Kenya" mentions Tony's article and not Beverly's, since that posting was discussing the controversy that had arisen on the GLBT discussion board in which some group members were attacking others--to be specific, Tony and me--with allegations that, as gay men, we did not understand or include the voices of gay women. My posting states that I'm in solidarity with Tony as a response to that specific discussion on the Kiva GLBT board, and not in any way to overlook Beverly's very important contribution to the discussion of Kiva's relationship with Strathmore.

** Flannery met his wife Jess Jackley in 2000 at the National Prayer Breakfast. Ken Walker notes in Christianity Today that Flannery and his wife Jess "coordinated their first loans through a pastor in Uganda." The pastor in question is apparently Moses Onyango, who has supported the rights of GLBTI people as basic human rights.

For further outstanding analysis of Opus Dei and commentary on how it operates, see Frank Cocozzelli's series on the Catholic right at Talk to Action--here, herehere, and here. Also, please click the label "Opus Dei" following this posting for commentary on Opus Dei at Bilgrimage linking to many other sources, though some links may no longer work, since some of this commentary goes back a number of years.

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