Uganda Observer reports on Rolling Stone, Martin Ssempa; confirms attack

The Uganda Observer has an article this morning reporting on the ongoing controversy over the Uganda Rolling Stone tabloid. Also, for the first time, a Uganda paper reports on the Canyon Ridge Christian Church story:

Ssempa loses funding

Meanwhile, the Canyon Ridge Christian Church (CRCC), which has been supporting Pastor Martin Ssempa’s work on HIV/AIDS in Uganda, has announced it is “looking to re-direct” its resources to other people. They cite Sempa’s support of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill.

When contacted, Ssempa declined to confirm whether he had been notified of the decision. The statement, however, can be found on the CRCC’s website.

Indeed, the statement is on their website, with a link on the frontpage. How odd…Rev. Ssempa is not shy to talk to the Rolling Stone but he declined to comment to The Observer.

As noted here, Oral Roberts University continues to list Ssempa on their Board of Reference.

The Observer leads with the Rolling Stone story:

A Ugandan story about homosexuality that went largely unnoticed at home is hitting headlines in the foreign media, with CNN and BBC among those raising its profile.

Julian Pepe Onziema, the Programmes Coordinator of Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), an NGO that lobbies for the rights of lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transsexuals (LGBTS), has had interviews with these media houses, and others like the SABC of South Africa and Aljazeera, over persecution of this group in Uganda.

She is currently in Gambia to discuss the rights of homosexuals before the African Commission and her days continue to be filled with a lot of advocacy work following the reports.

On October 2, a newspaper, Rolling Stone, which entered the Ugandan market only in August this year, carried pictures of people it claimed were homosexuals under the headline, ‘Kampala’s top homosexuals’.

The newspaper was quick to realize that the story was good for publicity abroad, so there was a follow-up in its latest November edition.

It ran graphic photos of people said to be gay, their names and addresses. In one of the photos, a woman said to be a lesbian is lying seductively on a bed wearing a figure-hugging dress with a caption saying, “She claims to be hot but is only interested in relationships with women. She seduces women.”

Next to hers are other pictures of male genitalia inflicted with lymphogranulama, a disease the newspaper alleged is eating up the homosexual community. Strewn around are pictures of other individuals said to be homosexuals, as well as activists and sympathizers.

The Observer has established that one of the people listed as a lesbian was attacked by her neighbours with stones and had to be rescued by friends who sneaked her out of the house. Other attacks have been reported but couldn’t be confirmed.

Statement: Canyon Ridge Christian Church does not support efforts to pass Anti-Homosexuality Bill

This afternoon, Mitch Harrison at Canyon Ridge Christian Church sent me a statement about church support for Martin Ssempa. The statement, in full, reads:

Canyon Ridge Christian Church began work in Uganda with the intent of helping address the HIV/AIDS pandemic that was wiping out generations of people in that country and other parts of Africa. Our partnership with Pastor Martin Ssempa began in response to this intent.

 

Because of the current controversy in Uganda over the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, and because of Pastor Ssempa’s involvement in the support of the bill, we have been in regular communication with him to clarify his positions and opinions. While we have come to understand that Pastor Ssempa advocates for an amended version of the Anti-Homosexuality bill that removes the death penalty and reduces other severe penalties, he is still supports passage of this bill.

 

We, however, do not support him in this effort.

 

We are in the process of determining how we can redirect our support in Uganda to activities specifically related to addressing HIV/AIDS issues.

 

Further, we condemn acts of violence against any person regardless of sexual orientation.

 

Our desire is to see God’s purposes lived out in Uganda, and for the redemption and abundant life he gives to be experienced by everyone.

While CRCC is not directly acknowledging the errors in their earlier statement (still up but probably not for long), they do so implicitly by condemning acts of violence which the AHB would lead to and which has been recently incited by Uganda’s Rolling Stone.

Background for this story is here, here, here, here, and here (all of my articles at Salon.com)

UPDATE: CRCC has replaced their former statement with the one above on their website. The Ssempas are no longer referenced as mission partners but rather a link to this statement has replaced their page. The former page is archived here (page 1, page 2, page 3).

Jeff Sharlet talks about Uganda on Democracy Now

Not usually my source for news, but this clip of Jeff Sharlet on Democracy Now is interesting in that he says David Bahati is ready to move the Anti-Homosexuality Bill along. Specifically at 32:43, Sharlet says:

What I’m hearing from David Bahati, the author of the bill, with whom I am still in touch, is that he’s now being promised a second reading, and this new step in the press is a very alarming one because it shows that its moving back to the forefront of Ugandan society.

 

The at 33:00, after the statement about the current status of the bill, Sharlet mentions the connection between Martin Ssempa and Canyon Ridge Christian Church, which, as Sharlet points out, I have documented repeatedly.

There is much more in the interview, some of it pretty controversial stuff, but I want to make two quick points. One is that the outing campaign could be a means to reignite the bill, as Sharlet suggests. The bill has not been withdrawn, and if Bahati is correct, he may get his second reading.

The second point is that I think Jeff is generally correct about the membership of Canyon Ridge. I think if church members had a true picture of what the Anti-Homosexuality Bill really contained, they would be horrified. However, the leadership of the church has not posted the bill in favor of edited documents which obscure it’s plain language.

And I continue to wonder why the Human Rights Campaign of Las Vegas, who met with Canyon Ridge leaders over a month ago, have said nothing about a church in their community which indirectly supports a bill which is terrorizing GLBT people in Uganda.

UPDATE: Jim Burroway reported this last week but I neglected to add this piece of information to any of my posts: The Uganda tabloid Rolling Stone has been halted by the government, at least temporarily. Apparently the paper did not meet all regulations necessary.  Click the image to read it…

Martin Ssempa reacts to Ugandan tabloid’s “Hang Them” campaign

On Monday and Tuesday, I posted screen captures of a new Ugandan tabloid called the Rolling Stone (no relation to the rock and roll magazine) which claimed to out gays and called for their death. Martin Ssempa gave an interview to the magazine and was touted for his anti-gay activism.

 The tabloid claims to have another four parts to the outing campaign, with more pictures, names and addresses to come. Some of the Ugandan contacts I have corresponded with over the last 20 months have not been answering emails. This is concerning.

Since Canyon Ridge Christian Church has taken on an intermediary role with Rev. Ssempa, I asked Mitch Harrison at CRCC if he would determine whether or not Ssempa gave an interview to this magazine and whether he stood for the approach. This evening, Rev. Harrison provided a statement from Martin Ssempa about the tabloid and more. Here it is in full:

STATEMENT ON THE ROLLING STONE ARTICLE.

Dr. Martin Ssempa would like to disassociate himself from the “Hang Them” article which appeared in the ‘Rolling Stone’ Newspaper October 02-092010 issue. While he has been opposed to homosexuality as a sin, a cultural taboo, and an act that breaks the laws of Uganda, he does not support violent efforts of “hang them” as indicated in the Rolling Stone-a new sensational tabloid. Being an outspoken preacher on the subject, he was interviewed by a writer from the paper but his language and tone of message was unfortunately not portrayed.

Pastor Ssempa does not believe that outings in Newspapers is an appropriate method. Pastor Ssempa is counselling homosexuals and victims of homosexuality whose confidence he has kept until they have been willing to go public.

At a meeting last week, Dr. Ssempa spent three hours with leaders of homosexuals along with Bishop Ssenyonjo-explaining to them his position as a father. Homosexuality is a sin and God’s grace is there for all who need redemption. He shared how he counsels university boys and girls who are suicidal because they were raped in single sex boarding schools and no one was there to defend them. It is this that drives his passion for educational and legislative reforms to protect Africa’s Youths. The meeting ended on a pleasant note with Pastor Ssempa taking a group photo with the team.

In that interview, Ssempa is quoted as saying that “the war has just started.” If this is what he said, the tone and language are quite clear. I believe he should ask for a retraction and space in that paper to make his position clear. Telling an American audience is one thing; relating it back home is another.

The disclosure of a meeting with Bishop Ssenyonjo is interesting. I hope to hear from the Bishop about his reactions to it. Martin Ssempa should have found a receptive audience for his concerns about childhood molestation since all the gay advocacy groups issued a statement opposing recruitment and child molestation back in January of this year.

I hope this statement does not mean that Canyon Ridge is going to stick to the story that the Anti-Homosexuality Bill is about the molestation of the boy child. The laws in Uganda already allow for prosecution of those who molest children so if that is what drives him, then he can rest in his campaign since these laws are on the books.

Did Martin Ssempa give an interview to Uganda’s Rolling Stone?

Here are more pictures from the recent outing campaign in Uganda conducted by the tabloid, Rolling Stone, edited by Giles Muhame and Joseph Bahingwire.

Note the headline:

Hang them: They are after our children!!

Also note that according to the article, Pastor Martin Ssempa gave this crew an interview, saying:

We shall fight on until we rescue our country from the hands of evil. A lot of money from gay organizations is filtering in to destroy the morals of our kids. The war has just started.

There is also an allegation that Ssempa helped get a lesbian deported. Since Canyon Ridge Christian Church is helping Rev. Ssempa with his media statements, I have asked them if these are accurate quotes and will report their reply.

This continues the story from above.

The headline asks a question because there may be much in this tabloid that is not true. If Ssempa did not give this interview, then he should immediately offer a public statement that he no longer believes in these tactics and fulfill his word to his supporting church, Canyon Ridge Christian Church in Las Vegas.

The silence from Las Vegas continues…

No huge news here, just been thinking about why the Las Vegas press has not written one word about the connection of Canyon Ridge Christian Church to the international story of Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill. Today, I was contacted by a Finnish writer and yesterday alerted that the BBC is investigating the matter yet again and may be in touch. Most American and many European news organizations have covered the story extensively. NPR and Salon have addressed the Canyon Ridge connection but only one story has emerged in Vegas from an alternative paper, and that one messed up the facts of the bill.

I am aware from those close to the situation that reporters from all the papers and the networks have been made aware of the situation. NPR-Nevada devoted a segment to the matter but I am pretty sure that is all. The church was dropped by the largest health and AIDS groups in town, the church supports a bill mentioned by the President and Secretary of State during the National Prayer Breakfast and the local press overlooks it.

And so the misrepresentation continues. CRCC leaders told their congregants that the bill has been misrepresented in the press and the Las Vegas press has not done anything to investigate that charge. Even one local GLB group has been silent. Yesterday, Michael Bussee asked the Human Rights Campaign – Las Vegas on their Facebook page why they have not spoken out. Good question. As yet, no reply has been offered.

In any event, the foreign press continue to be intrigued by the varying responses of Las Vegas evangelicals to the Ugandan bill, even if Las Vegas news organizations are not.

Pressure mounts on Aid for AIDS Nevada

Late yesterday, Change.org posted an article in response to my post about Aid for AIDS Nevada (AFAN). The AIDS services organization is now the target of a petitionfrom Change.org asking AFAN to denounce Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill. Change.org’s Michael Jones makes the case for action from AFAN:

It’s quite the sticky situation. AFAN hosts an AIDS Walk. It allows Canyon Ridge Christian Church to march in it as a legitimate participant. Yet at the same time, Canyon Ridge Christian Church is financially supporting a man who would sooner see gay HIV-positive people murdered than taken care of or treated.

As the largest AIDS service organization in Nevada, AFAN no doubt does some critical work. But they’re failing their constituents, clients, and the Nevada community at large by not addressing Canyon Ridge Christian Church’s partnership with Ugandan ministers who want to write into law one of the most criminalizing laws toward HIV-positive people in the world.

However, AFAN’s Executive Director doesn’t see the problem. In an email, late last evening, AFAN’s leader, Jennifer Morss, said AFAN has no partnership with Canyon Ridge:

We do not partner with Canyon Ridge.  In fact, we are simply a recipient of their donations in support of our lifesaving, essential programming for individuals surviving HIV/AIDS…we are not able to cease a partnership that does not exist.

Ms. Morss also said she could not say what AFAN would do next year since they had not starting planning for the 2011 AIDS Walk.

In contrast to Ms. Morss reaction, the AFAN Facebook page has been buzzing with requests for them to sever ties with Canyon Ridge. The Red Ribbon Army, a Facebook group of over 500,000 members twice posted requests for AFAN to clarify their position on Canyon Ridge. The first comment was removed from the page by AFAN. The last two comments read:

The Red Ribbon Army  We deserve an answer. Aid for AIDS of Nevada owes us the courtesy of replying and letting us know exactly why it is that they are partnering with a church that is sponsoring murder.

and…

The Red Ribbon Army The organization targeted by this petition has removed our post from their fb page (as described in this article). We ask again Aid for AIDS of Nevada! Do you support the Uganda death penalty bill for gays living with HIV/AIDS?

Truth Wins Out, Mike Tidmus and Michael Bussee and others (some deleted)have also posted comments asking for a clear statement from AFAN.

In June, Canyon Ridge Christian Church pastor, Kevin Odor, used the church relationship with AFAN (CRCC’s team page here) as a point of defense against charges of inconsistency due to support for Martin Ssempa. Describing a conversation with NPR’s Barbara Bradley Hagerty, Rev. Odor said at about 11:25 into the video:

Well, we care about AIDS in Africa, you know what, we care about AIDS in Clark County. For the last five years, members of our church have organized themselves and marched in the AFAN parade – Aid for AIDS of Southern Nevada. And we show up and we raise money and we help support the that organization that helps take care of people in Southern Nevada with AIDS and their families that are dealing with it.

Timothy Kincaid at Box Turtle Bulletin posted an unanswered letterto AFAN and raised concerns about CRCC’s use of their participation in the AIDS Walk as a means of image management.

Anyone who reads the the Anti-Homosexuality Bill can see how tragic CRCC’s position is. I believe many of their members do care about Uganda; they raised $30,000 one Christmas to buy farm animals for Ugandan families and they support the staff of Makerere Community Church. However, the stance of their Ugandan partner has been a hindrance to AIDS work there, especially among gays and bisexuals.

Elsewhere I have discussed how the AHB could also undo AIDS progress among straights. One of my sources of information on AIDS in Uganda is Dr. Ed Green at Harvard, and a former colleague of Martin Ssempa. In the past, Dr. Green recommended Ssempa’s work. Ssempa still has this recommendation posted on his website. However, Dr. Green would like it removed, telling me in a July email:

I asked Martin Ssempa in a very clear and direct manner to remove my name from his site. I checked and you are right: he has not done so.

Will AFAN lead on the question of what is good in the AIDS arena? So far, they are MIA and allowing an opportunity for dialogue about what caring for AIDS here and in Africa means to slip away.

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.

Kuchus in the news

Not sure if I have used that term before to refer to homosexuals in Uganda but it appears in Huffington Post via an article by Mark Canavera.

The kuchu movement is abuzz in Uganda. Kuchu is a (plural: kuchus) word, apparently of Swahili origin, that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) Ugandans have minted to describe their identities. “We do not use the word ‘queer,'” explains Frank Mugisha, chairman of Sexual Minorities Uganda, an umbrella entity that brings together LGBTI organizations for advocacy purposes. “We’ve got our own word that encompasses the whole idea: kuchu.”

I appreciate that Canavera says that “Most American evangelical churches have distanced themselves” from the bill. He also notes that Canyon Ridge Christian Church has not done so. Indeed, Canyon Ridge has added insult to injury by misrepresenting the bill in such a way that their congregants are publicly defending a false picture (see Change.org “be informed” commenter).

Anyway for a brief summary of what is going on in Uganda among opponents of the bill, see Canavera’s article.

Have gays been arrested in Uganda? Ssempa says no, Mbale says yes

In his appearance on Michael Brown’s Line of Fire show, Martin Ssempa said that homosexuals have not been arrested or killed under current law. Canyon Ridge Christian Church provided a transcript of a short portion of the show (oddly calling it an “unedited interview”) where Ssempa responds to charges from Jim Burroway at Box Turtle Bulletin:

Brown reads a written challenge from Jim Burroway posted on Box Turtle Bulletin, and Martin responds regarding death penalty provision and allegations of gays being killed or imprisoned.

One aspect of Burroway’s challenge was for Martin Ssempa to post the bill. Ssempa told Brown he would do it but did not. Ssempa goes on to discuss his view of government and says that his pastor’s group does not favor the death penalty. He calls the bill “a draft” which is not true unless you think of all bills as drafts. The bill published in the Uganda Gazette is a bill, which can be amended but it is clearly more than a draft. Drafts cannot be read in Parliament, drafts are not sent to committee where they await committee report. Bills can be amended, but they can also be voted on. But I digress.

Ssempa ends his placation of critics by saying this:

I just want to let you know in the history of Uganda for the last 50 years we’ve had this law, since we’ve had a law against homosexuality, no homosexual has been arrested or killed for homosexuality.

Ugandan activists have contested this claim and said that often they are brought in on trumped up charges as a pretense to harass them for their sexual orientation. I have been tracking a story from Gulu of a woman who was burned to death because she made a pass at another woman but cannot as yet offer conclusive evidence. However, this clip from a recent British documentary, Africa’s Last Taboo, documents in detail the arrest and detention of two gay men in Mbale under the existing sodomy law.

Please note that this situation is ongoing and was initiated prior to Martin Ssempa’s statement that such things do not happen in Uganda. I have another clip where Julius Oyet tells a homosexual that he will be arrested when the law takes effect. Martin Ssempa told Line of Fire there would not be a witch hunt. When it becomes a criminal offense to remain silent if you know homosexuals, what do you think the effect of that will be? If this can take place under current law, what could happen under this new law?

Additional footage showing the attitudes of the crowd toward the Mbale gays.

The last half of this clip features the appearance by Lou Engle. I will have a brief post about that soon…