Las Vegas AIDS support group silent on partnership with Canyon Ridge

In June, Canyon Ridge Christian Church ended the silence regarding their mission partner, Martin Ssempa, saying that the church leaders met with the chief pastoral supporter of Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill in March.  Church leaders said they regarded some of Ssempa’s methods to be “offensive” but continued to support him. Pastor Kevin Odor said the church hoped to maintain a relationship which would allow CRCC to influence their Ugandan mission partner.

However, Pastor Odor misrepresented the Anti-Homosexuality Bill by saying the bill was designed to close gaps in Ugandan law by providing penalties for child molesters and those who intentional spread HIV.  In fact, the bill provides life in prison for those convicted of homosexual intimacy and death for “repeat offenders” or those who engage in consensual relationships while HIV positive. The bill also provides criminal penalties for those who know someone who is gay but do not report this to police.

In the sermon where Pastor Odor described the church’s response to Pastor Ssempa, he reminded the congregation that they walked in the local AIDS Walk as an illustration of the church’s commitment to helping those suffering with AIDS. That local AIDS group is Aid for AIDS Nevada (AFAN).

On April 25, AFAN hosted the AIDS Walk with numerous community groups and individuals participating. Canyon Ridge organized a team which is listed on the AFAN website and is open to public members. According to a walker who declined to be named, a group of church folks wore t-shirts displaying the church name and marched in the April event. The church team raised $1385 for AFAN.

I contacted AFAN before I found this information on their website. When I did, one staffer I spoke with declined to comment but forwarded my request to the director, Jennifer Morss. I then wrote Ms. Morss two additional emails asking for comment on the relationship with Canyon Ridge and the recent action of Southern Nevada Health to sever ties with the church.

To date, I have gotten no answer. Last week, I went on the Facebook group for AFAN and left a comment on their wall asking for a PR person from AFAN to contact me. Initially, that comment was answered with a recommendation that I contact Terri Maruca, Vice President at Kirvin Doak Communications. When I contacted Ms. Maruca, she replied that someone from the staff would contact me next (now this) week. In the mean time, Michael Bussee also left a request for public comment on the AFAN Facebook group wall. Sometime in mid-week last week, both of those comments were removed by the owner of the AFAN group. Currently, Mr. Bussee has another request for public comment on the AFAN wall.

This silence is puzzling. The partnership is minimal but real. All such partnerships provide benefit to both groups. AFAN gets donations and connections to diverse constituents and CRCC gets a reputation for community involvement and concern for those with HIV. Furthermore, I do not mean to diminish this, those who walk and donate are probably motivated by a sincere desire to help.

However, the dissonance is jarring. CRCC seems to be involved in commendable activities but in this case has partnered with Martin Ssempa to mislead many people about the real nature of the Ugandan bill. Just over the weekend, the Ugandan Daily Monitor made it crystal clear what Anti-Homosexuality Bill author, David Bahati, believes about how the state should react to homosexuals:

Bahati accuses the rich for trying to influence the world with their homosexuality agenda, which he calls a great threat to society and the future generation.

“This habit is learned and can be unlearned,” he adds, quoting the Bible: “Homosexuality is an abomination punishable by death.” When I asked him how, as a Christian, he can advocate for a death penalty, he replied, “It is in Leviticus. Go and read – the penalty for homosexuality is death.”

I suspect it would be quite offensive to many walking in the AIDS walk to know that a church that provides cover for the AHB campaign is a recognized partner of the group hosting the event. Such an event could not happen in Uganda if the bill passes.

From the beginning of this story, I have been interested in how Americans respond to the AHB. Thus far, I cannot discern the stance of AFAN since they have been silent. While I don’t believe AFAN supports the AHB or even CRCC in any direct manner, the silence and removal of comments is surprising.

UPDATE: Mr. Bussee’s most recent comment was deleted.