Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill: Prologue

I started a new page where I am going to list articles regarding Uganda and the precursors to the introduction of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. It will not be exhaustive or complete but something I add to as I find relevant articles. The articles there now are from 2007. You will recognize some of the current promoters of the AHB in those articles.

Feel free to suggest other links.

Has the Anti-Homosexuality Bill been amended?

Vanity Fair is reporting that Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill has been amended:

Yet as the Ugandan government prepares to launch its latest anti-gay offensive, the local gay-rights movement is needed more than ever. Though widespread international criticism, especially from the United States, derailed the bill in its original form and forced Uganda to drop its death-penalty provision, parliament is set to discreetly pass amendments that would prevent all residents and local and international non-profit organizations from “promoting,” advocating, or associating any of their activities with homosexuality.
On the removal of the death penalty, I checked with Frank Mugisha, who was quoted in the article. Frank did not know anything about any such amendments or real changes to the bill. Based on what Frank said and what other sources there have not said, I believe it is premature to say the death penalty has been removed or what strategy may be pursued.
The only evidence of a change of direction I have seen and which Frank also mentioned derives from the Cabinet report authored by Minister of Local Government Adolf Mwesigye. The recommendations in that report seem to be what the Vanity Fair article refers to as a settled strategy. The Cabinet committee seemed to favor Article 13 which referred to promotion of homosexuality:
The Mwesigye report then made several recommendations to the Cabinet:
Vanity Fair seems to be assuming that the Cabinet report has been adopted although no source is given for that assumption. As of now, I know of no official amendments or revised bills. As noted by the VF article, Parliament is back in session. It is interesting to note that the Anti-Homosexuality Bill is not one of the bills slated to be considered in this session.

Southern Nevada Health District to evaluate partnership with Canyon Ridge Christian Church

Michael Bussee wrote to the Southern Nevada Health District to ask about planned to partnership with Canyon Ridge Christian Church to conduct HIV testing on the National HIV Testing Day. He received this reply from Stephanie Bethel of the SNHD.

“Dear Mr. Bussee:

Thank you for bringing this matter to the attention of the Southern Nevada Health District. We were completely unaware of Canyon Ridge Christian Church’s partnership with Pastor Martin Ssempa or his stance on criminalizing homosexuality. The health district is absolutely opposed to the stated efforts of Pastor Ssempa and plans to evaluate and strongly consider any future partnership with Canyon Ridge based on this new information.

However, due to the timing of the testing event, and the outreach efforts that have already occurred related to this testing site, we do not feel we can cancel this venue for next week’s event. We do not condone the church’s continued partnership with Pastor Ssempa; however, we feel the immediate risk of canceling this venue just days before the scheduled event takes precedent at this time. If just one person shows up at a canceled event and decides to delay getting tested, that will be one person too many.

We share your concerns regarding this issue and remain committed to promoting testing in an environment that is comfortable for our clients. Thank you again for your input and for bringing this important issue to our attention.

Stephanie Bethel

Southern Nevada Health District

Yesterday, I spoke with Rick Reich, Director of the AIDS program at SNHD and he said the agency leans toward providing prevention, testing and counseling services in as many locations as possible. However, their message of reducing stigma and prevention is constant across locations.

Lou Engle’s sermon in Uganda

Current TV’s Mariana van Zeller just posted footage of Lou Engle’s sermon delivered during TheCall Uganda. Roll the tape…

At about 1:28 in, Engle establishes his view that government should reflect his understanding of Biblical teaching. He prays for the government to have wisdom because the homosexual agenda is at work. Uganda has become “ground zero” in the fight against the agenda, according to Engle. This clip makes his news release after TheCall even more puzzling. He says he debated coming to Uganda and we all know from his first statement that the reason he debated not going was because of the controversy over the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. Then he says he decided to come to stand with the Ugandans in their stand for righteousness. He prays for the government to stand against the agenda. It is no wonder that David Bahati and Julius Oyet believed that Engle was supporting their bill.

As we now know from Engle’s interview with Sarah Posner, Engle does support the criminalization of homosexuality, but he does not want to see gay people receive the death sentence. He proclaims Jesus as the architect and governor of society but does not know what Jesus wants to do with the gays.

Mariana van Zeller provides some helpful context for the clip she posted over at Huffington Post.

Lou Engle supports criminalization of homosexuality

Not a big surprise given his recent statements, but Lou Engle made it (more or less) explicit in an interview with Sarah Posner at Religion Dispatches. Here is some of the money:

I [Posner] pressed him [Engle] about which penalties in the bill he didn’t support — and he did say that although he could see someone supporting the death penalty, he did not, and he did not support “hard labor” as punishment or the requirement that churches report LGBT people to the authorities. But when I asked him if he would support a bill with less harsh penalties, he added: 

My main thing is to keep — is to not allow it to be legalized, so to speak, so then it just spreads through the legal system of the nation. So I’m not — I’m not making a statement as to what I think the penalties should be. It’s not my job to do that. I do think, I do think that these leaders are trying to make at least some kind of statement that you’re not just going to spread the agenda without some kind of restraint, a legal restraint and punishment. And I don’t know what the line is on those, but I can’t go that far as I understand that bill already said. [emphasis mine]

Engle also discusses his time with David Bahati and Julius Oyet and says he did not know the men well.

Engle claimed to not specifically remember meeting with Bahati and Oyet while in Kampala, telling me:

I don’t even remember their names, I guess who they were. I met with the leader of the — with the bishop of the Assemblies of God of the nation. I understood as one of his key guys, one of his key leaders. I did not support the bill. I talked to them, whoever these two guys were about the lessening of the penalties, we even challenged them to make provisions so that the church would not have to report anything of homosexuality being exposed. But we appreciated the two guys whose hearts were to bring forth a principled bill. [emphasis mine]

Engle told me he didn’t know who Bahati was, but when I told him he was the author of the bill, Engle added:

David Bahati may have been in a meeting that I had with the minister of ethics [Buturo]. But in that, I did not come out and support that bill. It was a meeting of about 25 people, and really was a prayer meeting and I was there to mobilize The Call and to pray with them.

No wonder Bahati and Oyet were happy.

I don’t understand why it is Lou Engle’s job to say that a “legal restraint” is needed for homosexuality but then it is not his job to say what the penalties should be. For those who favor recriminalization, the Ugandan supporters of the AHB have called you out. If it is not to be what they propose then what should it be? Scott Lively wants the state to require gays to go through state paid reorientation. Forget government health care but Uganda should pay for what would be, in essence, forced re-education programs. While Mr. Engle doesn’t offer that solution, he doesn’t offer anything else of substance. Among other places, the devil truly is in the details.

Summer blogkeeping

This summer I will not be posting as frequently because I am working on some academic writing that must get finished within the next few months. I will post some this week but they will taper off as the summer goes on.

I also am going to halt comments for most posts from now on. Moderating snarky gotcha comments takes too much time and I hope a break will provide those who like to read and comment here with some time to reflect on what they would like to contribute to common ground discussions.

Canyon Ridge Christian Church hosts National HIV Testing Day

Canyon Ridge Christian Church (Las Vegas) is one of the host locations for the National HIV Testing Day on June 27, 2010.

Because of Canyon Ridge Christian Church’s commitment to “be a show of compassion” to our community and an instrumental force in preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS, we will be offering FREE HIV testing from 10 AM – 4 PM provided by the Southern Nevada Health District (fingerprick test with results in 15 minutes).

Canyon Ridge Christian Church also supports Martin Ssempa as a mission partner to Uganda where Ssempa is a leading promoter of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. You can see him promoting the bill in this Current TV documentary, Missionaries of Hate. The AHB would authorize the death penalty for a person who engages in homosexual touching and is discovered to have HIV. Here is the relevant section:

Aggravated homosexuality.

(1) A person commits the offence of aggravated homosexuality where the…

(b) offender is a person living with HIV

Nothing in the bill requires intent to spread HIV. The bill requires HIV testing, I suppose to determine the sentence: death or life in prison.

(2) A person who commits the offence of aggravated homosexuality shall be liable on conviction to suffer death.

(3) Where a person is charged with the offence under this section, that person shall undergo a medical examination to ascertain his or her HIV status.

Martin Ssempa once was known for his work in AIDS prevention. He was invited to speak at the 2005 AIDS summit at Saddleback Church and was affiliated with the abstinence organization Wait Training. Both groups have cuts ties with Ssempa, Warren saying it happened in 2007 and Wait Training doing so as the result of Ssempa’s advocacy of the AHB. Another one of Ssempa former AIDS colleagues, Edward Greene, criticized the AHB as damaging to AIDS prevention.

About it’s strategic partners, Canyon Ridge says:

Strategic partners are existing teams and ministries around the world we have met and partnered with who closely match our areas of strategic focus (unreached people, global issues of injustice and HIV/AIDS).

However, in 2007, Martin Ssempa said he would not include gay men and women in treatment programs for HIV.

“Homosexuals should absolutely not be included in Uganda’s HIV/AIDS framework. It is a crime, and when you are trying to stamp out a crime you don’t include it in your programmes,” Ssempa said.

Somehow I doubt that Canyon Ridge would really promote Ssempa’s position here (I will report any response I get). And yet, this was Ssempa’s position in 2007 when he was even then calling for stricter enforcement of existing laws criminalizing homosexuality. Without getting into all of the ironies raised by the National HIV Testing Day at CRCC, I have to believe that what CRCC is doing here would be pretty ominous for GLB people in Uganda and what Martin Ssempa is doing there in word and deed, CRCC would not do here.  I am unable to see the strategy in the match of the “strategic partners” when it seems they are moving in opposite directions.

Mount Si High assault and Christian bystanders

Peggy Johnson’s son knows what it is like to be a friend. He also knows being a friend can hurt. Literally. According to a report in the Seattle Times, a fellow freshman friend of Johnson’s son was being harassed at Mount Si High School in Snoqualmie Valley, near Seattle. One night Johnson found her son texting his friend, “Just stay by me.”

On November 6, during the school day, the two freshmen entered the boy’s locker room to change after P.E. Then taunting began, including anti-gay slurs and Johnson defied the bully. At that point, an older student assaulted Johnson’s son, leading to two broken teeth, a broken eye socket and a concussion.

The theme of the bullying reported in this incident is all too familiar: A student is bullied because he is perceived to be gay. Mount Si High is no stranger to the controversies surrounding anti-gay bullying. Two years ago, local pastor Ken Hutcherson led a protest of Mount Si on the Day of Silence, a day supported by gay advocates as a way to raise awareness about such bullying. Last year, there were no protests but nearly a third of student’s stayed home on that day.

Sadly, the Seattle Times article juxtaposed the protest from Christians against the very real consequences of antipathy towards gays at Mount Si. I do not blame the reporter for doing so. I believe the mistake was with the protestors. In their zeal to stand up for their religious beliefs about sexuality, they left themselves open to the charge that they do not respect gays as image bearers of God.

In 2008 and again last year, I looked for families in the Mount Si district to become involved in the Golden Rule Pledge. I found several who lived close to the district but no one stepped up to make that pledge. I will always wonder if the GRP could have made even a small difference there.

I am not suggesting that the attacker was a Christian who protested the Day of Silence. I don’t know anything about that. However, I do know that in bullying situations there are victims, perpetrators, bystanders and heroes. I believe there are too many Christian bystanders and too few heroes. Many students know there is a problem but do nothing.  

Some Christians have become fearful of anti-bullying programs because social conservative groups have warned parents that “bullying prevention” is code for pro-gay propaganda. Groups like Mission America have scared parents that anti-bullying means pro-gay. On Mission America “risk audit,” school’s score lower for having an anti-bullying program. Various groups have promoted this “audit” to their constituencies as a way to combat what they view as pro-gay instruction. I have talked to some of these parents who trust these groups. Some protest without knowing much about the programs they oppose. Other parents, out of fear of looking liberal, shrink away and become bystanders, allowing the problem to persist.

Peggy Johnson’s son was not a bystander and it cost him. In relation to the bullying problem at your local school, which role are you playing?

David Bahati: Lou Engle expressed support for Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill – Guest Post by Jeff Sharlet

[Author Jeff Sharlet (The Family) recently returned from Uganda where he conducted research for an upcoming book. While there, he  interviewed most of the key promoters of Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill, including David Bahati and Julius Oyet. He also attended The Call Uganda and heard Lou Engle speak. After reading Lou Engle’s recent statement about The Call Uganda, Jeff sent along the following observations which he offers in this guest post. Jeff has some important information and perspective to report here.]

David Bahati: Lou Engle expressed support for the Anti-Homosexuality Bill

Jeff Sharlet

Either Lou Engle isn’t telling the whole truth, or some of his key allies in Uganda aren’t. I attended his rally in Kampala in the company of Member of Parliament David Bahati, the author of the bill. After the rally, I rode with Bishop Oyet and Bahati in Bahati’s car to the Sheraton hotel, where I interviewed Oyet for about 45 minutes, recorded. I’ll be writing about what I learned in Kampala in my forthcoming book, but Engle’s latest statement prompts some points worth making in the meantime:

1. Both Oyet and Bahati were ecstatic at what they perceived as Engle’s strong support of the bill. They felt his rally and his statements would be a turning point for the bill, reassuring their Ugandan allies that they had support abroad.

2. Both Oyet and Bahati told me that Engle had explicitly expressed his support for the bill, telling them that he had to lie to the Western media because gays control it. They said he said one thing to the BBC and then walked over to Bahati and said that he really supported the bill. Either Engle isn’t telling the whole truth, or Oyet and Bahati aren’t. I tend to believe Bahati here, since Engle didn’t mean anything to him until he met him that day. He hadn’t heard of him and decided to attend the rally only after I’d told him a few things about Engle. In other words, he left the rally thrilled with Engle based on that encounter with Engle alone. Clearly, Engle did something to please him.

3. I spoke with Engle briefly–also recorded–and he said the following: “To this nation the pastors, the leaders, they’ve said they don’t want that agenda but it’s coming in, getting pushed by NGOs, UN, Unicef and other organizations so we’re just trying to take a stand to encourage them in their stand.” That certainly sounds like he’s supporting the bill, which is the only Ugandan stand to which he could be referring.

4. Engle says in his statement last week that Christian leaders in Uganda are working to soften the punishments. But both Oyet and Bahati, at least, strongly support the death penalty. For Bahati, author of the bill, that goes without saying. It’s worth noting that Oyet is now formally working for Bahati – according to Oyet and Bahati, Bahati used his [Parliament] office to empower Oyet to gather signatures in support of the bill AS a government official.

5. Here’s Oyet on the death penalty: “There is not the death penalty at the end for everybody. There is the death penalty at the end for aggravated homosexuality.” He explained that the death penalty already applies for four crimes in Uganda (child rape, treason, murder, and causing death by female genital mutilation) “So I want the world to understand,” Oyet continued “that homosexuality is not the first death penalty in Uganda. I think that U.S. journalists should make that known. It is not the first one, it is going to be the fifth one.”

His rationale for the death penalty? “If the Bible supports the death penalty which is true and then you call yourself a Christian nation, listen. If I would be killed because I am dying scripturally I can repent to God before I am killed but [if] I am [eliminated] from the Earth that’s ok… if the victim confesses or repents, we can waive it off. Something like that…. In my view, homosexuals should be grateful. But instead they are not. Why I’m saying they should be grateful is because in Ugandan culture if you go and rob someone, if you go and rape a child and people find you, they will kill you.” [Here he is echoing a point made to me by many leaders of the anti-gay movement — that the bill is for the benefit of the gays in that it protects them from mob justice, replacing it with the rule of law and a death penalty they can appeal.]

6. Oyet seems to be quite confused about what homosexuality actually is. After he explained that he was engaged in spiritual warfare with homosexuality, I asked whether he believed homosexuals are demonically possessed.

Oyet: “Um, because it is abnormal. It is abnormal sex, you would say yes. You would say yes. Because one drives you to that. Because homosexuals, they would now eat their own feces. They would eat their own waste. That is what they call golden shower where you lick the anus of someone. Isn’t that demonic?”  [For Warren’s more conservative readers: Yes, there are a few people, heterosexual and homosexual, who do such things, but they are A) not linked to sexual orientation; B) not harmful to anyone who minds their own business. Also, as one might guess, “golden shower” means something else.]

7. Last but not least: Oyet insisted that there are American church leaders who are supporting the bill privately but lying to the American media about it. When I asked why it was ok for them to lie, he said “I do not judge these kind of people.” True enough; he reserves his judgment for other people’s sex lives.

[End of guest post]

Although I [Throckmorton]have reasons for doubting David Bahati’s word on some matters (e.g., what the bill actually says), I can understand why Jeff thinks he is speaking accurately here. If not a deliberate effort to mislead and instead a misunderstanding based on terminology, it is an understandable one. Lou Engle says he supports “the stand” taken by the Ugandan leaders. “The stand” in Uganda means the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. However, Jeff is reporting something more than a misunderstanding. He is saying that the Bahati and Oyet – the men praised by Lou Engle – accused Engle of misleading the press. 

I cannot know what the truth is but I would like Mr. Engle to speak clearly on this topic. Are Bahati and Oyet mistaken? Did they mislead Sharlet? Does Engle support the AHB? Does he support it with lesser penalties? Does he support the criminalization of homosexuality in Uganda? In the USA? Given Engle’s recent rise to prominence among religiously conservative political figures, these questions have important implications for American politics and policy.