Since October, 2009, there have been a number of flawed articles about Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill, but none more flawed than the one currently up on the website of Christianity Today, by Timothy Shah. I have written here and here to demonstrate just a few of the problems, but I want to address some of them again with more information.
First, in reference again to this Shah authored statement:
But the legislation has received widespread attention not primarily because of its draconian provisions, whose very harshness has repelled virtually all of Uganda’s major political and religious leaders—including the President, the Catholic Bishops Conference, and a parliamentary committee that recommended the bill be thrown out as unconstitutional, effectively stopping it in its tracks. Instead, a major reason for the attention focused on the bill is that many believe it is the fruit of American evangelical homophobia.
I asked to write a rebuttal but CT declined. About an hour ago, I posted this comment:
I encourage readers of Timothy Shah’s article to read the articles provided by Christianity Today on page three. Although incomplete, these articles accurately contradict several of the claims made by Shah. For instance, Shah says that the Anti-Homosexuality Bill repelled “virtually all of Uganda’s major political and religious leaders…” However, on CT’s website, Ugandan Bishop David Zac Niringiye told Sarah Pulliam Bailey:
How are Ugandan Christians generally responding to this legislation?
This is not just a Christian response. I can certainly say the objectives of the bill have the total support of most of Uganda, not just Christians, but also Muslims and Roman Catholics. It would not be right to talk about how Christians feel. They’re all agreed on the objectives. There will be a difference of opinion on the details of the bill. Space does not permit a detailed fact-based rebuttal which is why CT should allow one.
Bishop Niringiye’s response is linked after the Shah article and can be read here. He adds as if to make the point clear (but not clear enough for Timothy Shah):
Bailey: Do you know how Christians are responding to the penalties in this bill?
Niringiye: The point I’m making is that Christians in the country, including other people in the culture, really support the objectives of the bill. When it comes to the issue of the death penalty, there is as much debate over the death penalty as there are different Christian persuasions. The discussion on the death penalty [in this bill] needs to be separated from, Is the death penalty [ever] an acceptable sentence? I am sure there are American Christians or others in the world who will say the death penalty is an acceptable sentence. There will be Christians in Uganda who will say the death penalty is an acceptable sentence. There will be Christians in Uganda who will say no, the death penalty is not an acceptable sentence for any offense.
The CT website also has articles which demonstrate the division among American Christians over the issues raised by the AHB. For instance, this one by Sarah Pulliam Bailey notes that American Christians were troubled by the bill and took various positions on criminalization. Shah reduces the narrative to a left versus Christian conflict, ignoring the opposition among Christians around the world to what most Ugandan leaders were supporting in the name of Jesus.
Shah completely ignores that David Bahati told the media that he did indeed have evangelical supporters in the US. He declined to name them but I named a few here. Moreover, Lou Engle went to Uganda in May, 2010 and told the Ugandans alongside religious and political leaders that Uganda was “ground zero” in the culture war. He later acknowledged favoring the criminalization of homosexuality. Bahati, Nsaba Buturo and Julius Oyet all felt supported by Engle’s visit. The left did not make that up.
Shah’s vision is woefully inadequate to suggest that American opposition was triggered solely by perceptions of “American homophobia.” What completes the picture is to understand that the American opposition was not exclusively from the New York Times (which actually came late to the issue) and the left, but also with vigor from American evangelicals contending with Ugandan and other American evangelicals that the AHB was wrong.
Shah mentions the Fellowship, the evangelical group which David Bahati aligns with in Uganda, but fails to examine the significance of the fact that the Fellowship’s American leadership condemned the AHB. The platform used by both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton to condemn the AHB was the National Prayer Breakfast in February, 2010. The National Prayer Breakfast is organized by the Fellowship.
I was in the African Suite at the Washington Hilton watching the speeches by Obama and Clinton. After the NPB ceremonies were done, a spirited discussion broke out in the room involving myself and the Ugandan delegation. Only one Ugandan spoke against the bill, while three were vigorous in their support for it.
In his attempt to make a case for a conspiracy, Shah comes too close to engaging in one. He clearly wants to beat up on Jeff Sharlet, who incidentally helped get the Fellowship’s Bob Hunter on the Rachel Maddow Show to condemn the AHB, but makes an irresponsible claim to do so. Shah writes:
He [Sharlet] further suggests that American “fundamentalists” such as Rick Warren harbor a genocidal “motive” because they aim at the “eradication of homosexuality” and so countenance the murder of open homosexuals such as David Kato.
I have the book C-Street and also asked Sharlet if he has ever suggested that “fundamentalists such as Rick Warren…countenance the murder of open homosexuals.” It is not in the book and Sharlet tells me that he has never linked fundamentalists with the murder of David Kato. In his book, Sharlet says Bahati and Warren both believe homosexuality is wrong, and in that sense favor the eradication of homosexuality, but he notes that Warren’s approach is religious and curative while Bahati’s bill proposes darker ends. Sharlet does not say Warren wants gays killed and it is irresponsible to suggest it.
There is much more to say, but a read of the CT website on Uganda will quickly reveal how problematic it is. I will pick this up in another post soon…