Southern Nevada Health District severs ties with Canyon Ridge Christian Church

Short on time, but thought this was important to post. Southern Nevada Health District severed ties with Canyon Ridge Christian Church over their support for Martin Ssempa. Here is the letter:

July 9, 2010

Pastor Kevin Odor

6200 W. Lone Mountain Road

Las Vegas, NV 89130

Dear Pastor Odor:

It has been brought to the attention of the Southern Nevada Health District that Canyon Ridge Christian Church has an ongoing partnership with Pastor Martin Ssempa, the controversial Ugandan pastor. Pastor Ssempa’s support of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, which would criminally penalize homosexuals, is in direct conflict with the overarching public health goals of the health district. It is with regret that I feel compelled to dissolve the health district’s relationship with your church as long as you continue this partnership.

One of the central tenets of public health is to provide services without judgment. We also apply this principle in working with our various partners. However, we are profoundly concerned about your partnership with Pastor Ssempa as it contradicts this central tenet in that it amounts to tacit approval of activities that violate the basic human rights that should be afforded to all Ugandans.

It is my understanding that your church has been a valuable partner and it is unfortunate that we will be unable to continue to work together as community partners. Please be assured our staff will be available to offer testing when requested by one of the independent groups that use your facility for meetings, such as Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous.

In closing, I would urge you and your congregation to revisit your continued support of Pastor Ssempa. I believe both of our mission’s will be better accomplished through the support of programs and activities that promote tolerance and acceptance.

I would be happy to discuss our decision with you further if you have additional questions.

Sincerely,

Lawrence Sands, DO, MPH

Chief Health Officer

Related posts:

February 1 – Canyon Ridge Christian Church issues statement on support for Martin Ssempa

June 10 – Canyon Ridge Christian Church in conversation with Martin Ssempa

June 20 – Canyon Ridge Christian Church hosts National HIV Testing Day

June 23 – Southern Nevada Health District to evaluate relationship with Canyon Ridge Christian Church

July 1 – Las Vegas newspaper covers Canyon Ridge controversy

July 2 – Salon article: Canyon Ridge, Willow Creek Association and Martin Ssempa

Also see this article on Salon.com:

Church loses partnership over “kill the gay” bill

Salon article: Canyon Ridge, Willow Creek Association and Martin Ssempa

This morning Salon published my article reporting on the evolving relationships between Canyon Ridge Christian Church, the Willow Creek Association and Uganda’s Martin Ssempa.

Canyon Ridge is a member of the Willow Creek Association of churches and continues to see Martin Ssempa as being misrepresented by the media. Willow Creek apparently disagrees to the point that they would not have given him a 2007 award had they known his views. The Willow Creek folks apparently understand the nature of Martin Ssempa’s support of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill but are going to continue partnering with Canyon Ridge for next month’s leadership summit. Furthermore, Willow Creek Association declined to directly condemn the AHB, following Rick Warren’s initial path regarding the bill.

For much much more and video of Ssempa marchers calling for the death penalty, go on over to Salon. If you are so inclined, leave them a comment as well.

Las Vegas paper covers Canyon Ridge controversy

In today’s edition, Las Vegas City Life’s Jason Whited covered the controversy surrounding Canyon Ridge Christian Church and their support for Martin Ssempa.

A local megachurch that offers free HIV/AIDS tests also supports Africa’s most notorious anti-gay evangelical pastor, which has gay activists calling out the seeming hypocrisy.

Canyon Ridge Christian Church, one of the largest houses of worship in Southern Nevada, drew the ire of activists here and across the country last week when it hosted free testing — conducted by Southern Nevada Health District staffers — June 27 as part of National HIV Testing Day.

Activists said they’re not against people getting tested for the virus that causes AIDS. They just don’t think the church should be considered a pillar of tolerance when it supports Martin Ssempa, the controversial Ugandan pastor whose anti-gay rants and support of legislation that would imprison homosexuals in his country have made headlines worldwide.

“You don’t want to stop anyone from getting tested, but you also don’t want this guy to benefit from the support this church gives him,” said Derek Washington, chair of the Stonewall Democrats of Southern Nevada, perhaps the most active gay rights group in the valley. “The church is saying, ‘Give us your tithes, and we’ll do good things with it ’cause we’ll send it overseas.’ But I don’t think most people at that church know about this, and that’s the problem. Members of the church should know who they’re supporting.”

As I have noted here, the church leaders are preferring to believe the best about Ssempa.

But Ssempa has widespread support among American evangelicals, including those who run Canyon Ridge. Ssempa is listed as a ministry partner of the church.

Church leaders said they support Ssempa financially, but they refused to say how much they give to his ministry. Mitch Harrison, an executive pastor at Canyon Ridge, said activists have it all wrong. He said Ssempa actually opposes the more disturbing aspects of the Ugandan legislation that demands the death penalty for homosexuals who molest children or rape the handicapped.

“This year, we’ve had discussions with Martin about [the legislation], and I can tell you what’s being reported about him in the American media is wrong,” Harrison said. “He’s repeatedly said he wants the death penalty [provision] removed and that he’s not in favor of death for [homosexuals].”

I wrote Ssempa to ask him when he changed his mind about the death penalty; he has not replied. When the bill was first tabled in October, 2009, Ssempa told me

I am in total support of the bill and would be most grateful if it did pass.

For months, Ssempa claimed that the AHB only sought to criminalize child abuse and rape and that the bill was needed to protect the “boy child.” Anyone reading the bill knew that was not accurate and Ssempa continued to portray the bill in that fashion. He was expressing this same view at the demonstration he organized in Jinja, Uganda on February 15, 2010. On Ssempa’s Facebook page, you see him speak about pedophiles in the context of a demonstration against homosexuality and then listen to one person dismiss concern over the death penalty and another defend it with Leviticus. The video is also embedded below:

Unfortunately, the City Life article confuses matters by referring to official documents as evidence that Ssempa is being misrepresented.

Despite the hysteria among some left-leaning talking heads, official documents back up Harrison’s claim. In letters to his supporters and in official policy statements, Ssempa — who heads up a Ugandan AIDS eradication effort funded by both the U.S. government and popular evangelicals such as Rick Warren — walked back some of his earlier support for the Ugandan bill.

“As ministers, we believe it is our role to preach the message of salvation and grace to all, including homosexuals,” wrote Ssempa in a March letter to fellow evangelicals. “We actually have in our church individuals who have come out of the homosexual lifestyle …”

Ssempa indeed has of late backed away from the death penalty in his published statements but he has not backed away from imprisonment. Watch the February Jinja video and ask yourself what message is being portrayed.

The death penalty is the attention getter in the bill but what about life in prison for homosexual touching or “intent” to commit a homosexual act? Harrison says they don’t believe in that:

Harrison said no one at Canyon Ridge supports either death or imprisonment for homosexuals. He said his church’s multi-year partnership with health district officials to provide free HIV/AIDS testing is indicative of “the heart” his church has for the community.

“We feel a charge from Jesus to love all people and to be active and serve the needs of our community. That’s why we’ve agreed to be a site for this annual HIV/AIDS testing,” Harrison said.

Forget the death penalty for a minute, the Ugandan bill still calls for life in prison for non-HIV positive gays. I cannot find any place where Ssempa or the supporters of the bill have backed away from that.

I suspect the documents that the reporter referred to are a letter from Ssempa to supporting churches and the recommendations from the Uganda Joint Christian Council to the Parliament about the bill. You can read for yourself what you think of those changes and whether those changes make the partnership appropriate. The Joint Christian Council recommends that the death penalty be reduced to 20 years in a rehabilitation facility and that the focus be on victimization of children and the handicapped. However, there is nothing in these recommendations about non-aggravated homosexuality. The reductions for related offences are minor (e.g., 7 years to 5 years) but I see nothing in here which reduces the life sentence for homosexual conduct. Section 2 is skipped over:

2. The offence of homosexuality.

(1) A person commits the offence of homosexuality if-

(a) he penetrates the anus or mouth of another person of the same sex with his penis or any other sexual contraption;

(b) he or she uses any object or sexual contraption to penetrate or

stimulate sexual organ of a person of the same sex;

(c) he or she touches another person with the intention of committing the act of homosexuality;

(2) A person who commits an offence under this section shall be liable on conviction to imprisonment for life.

I take Rev. Harrison at his word that he does not believe in criminalization, however, nothing in these recommendations indicates that Martin Ssempa has changed his belief in it.

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.

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.

Canyon Ridge Christian Church in conversation with Martin Ssempa

In response to the Current TV documentary, Missionaries of Hate, Canyon Ridge Christian Church (Las Vegas, NV) today issued this statement to me regarding their mission partner, Martin Ssempa.

The mission partners of Canyon Ridge Christian Church are more than just names on a bulletin board or a web site, they are our dearly loved friends and family. Because of this, we take seriously our commitment to them.   When accusations or ill reports come to us about one of our partners and their ministry activities, we’re committed to do what the Bible instructs us to do; we go to our partners (when possible, going to see them face to face) and work through the issues with them personally. We don’t make public statements about our partners until we have worked through issues with them personally and brought those issues to resolution. We have been and are currently in conversation with Martin Ssempa and others regarding the controversy in Uganda and his activities in addressing it.

Martin Ssempa was featured prominently in Missionaries of Hate showing deviant porn to a stunned audience. He is shown praying with Islamic clerics for David Bahati, the author of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. This statement seems to move slightly away from their earlier position which was:

Canyon Ridge Christian Church partners with missionaries and ministry leaders around the world, including Martin Ssempa, for the purpose of reaching people with the gospel of Jesus Christ and providing humanitarian aid where possible.

 

With the oversight of our elders and missions team, we constantly evaluate our ministry partners and their activities. We will only support those who engage in and promote activities consistent with the redemptive and grace-filled purposes of Jesus Christ in the world.

 

Canyon Ridge Christian Church does not wish to enter into the debate over the legislation in Uganda. We do encourage those involved to seek God’s leadership in humility and grace and to follow Jesus command to love one another as they wrestle with this difficult issue. Our prayers are for the good of the people Uganda.

It seems to me that Canyon Ridge has entered the debate through their mission partner. He has become one of the public faces of the bill around the world and has recently partnered with Islamic clerics on a renewed effort to promote the bill.

Martin Ssempa defends gay porn presentations

The following news release is Martin Ssempa’s attempt to justify his recent pornography presentations in Uganda (here and here). I received this from Rev. Ssempa’s supporting church, Canyon Ridge Christian Church in Las Vegas. Canyon Ridge supports the Ssempas as missionaries to Uganda.

On Screening Gay Porn1

You can also view this statement here.

Rev. Ssempa is either unaware or unconcerned that heterosexual people also engage in the practices he is displaying to his audiences. By his logic here, one should seek an Anti-Heterosexuality Bill as well.

It is hard to understand why Hon. Bahati and Rev. Ssempa continue to say that the Anti-Homosexuality Bill only relates to “paedophiles and those who raped the handicapped.” A reading of the bill reveals otherwise.

Canyon Ridge Christian Church issues statement on support for Martin Ssempa

Back in November, 2009, I contacted Las Vegas, NV, Canyon Ridge Christian Church as a part of my reporting on Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill 2009. Canyon Ridge lists the Ssempas as missionaries on their website. Specifically, it has been of interest to learn how American ministries who have significant ties to prominent Ugandan supporters of the bill are reacting. Ugandans have reached out for assistance in significant ways to American churches and the relationships are deep and substantial going in both directions. Some of these relationships have been casualties of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill.

One Ugandan pastor who had been well connected in the US is Martin Ssempa. As is common knowledge now, Saddleback pastor, Rick Warren first went public with a split from Ssempa and then sent a letter and video denouncing the bill as “unchristian.” Colorado based abstinence education group, WAIT Training initially issued a statement neither supporting or endorsing Ssempa. More recently, however, WAIT Training severed all ties with him. Another American ministry, Teen Mania was slated to begin a youth leadership training ministry in partnership with Ssempa but recently put the effort on hold. Teen Mania issued a statement indicating disapproval of the bill and pledged to evaluate ministry partners in order “to ensure that we are not partnering with or supporting anyone who has advocated for a blanket death penalty for homosexual offenders.” Oral Roberts University, where Martin Ssempa is on the school’s Board of Reference has declined to comment on the bill at all.

Recently, Canyon Ridge Christian Church ended their silence with the following statement from Executive Pastor Mitch Harrison:

Canyon Ridge Christian Church partners with missionaries and ministry leaders around the world, including Martin Ssempa, for the purpose of reaching people with the gospel of Jesus Christ and providing humanitarian aid where possible.

 

With the oversight of our elders and missions team, we constantly evaluate our ministry partners and their activities. We will only support those who engage in and promote activities consistent with the redemptive and grace-filled purposes of Jesus Christ in the world.

 

Canyon Ridge Christian Church does not wish to enter into the debate over the legislation in Uganda. We do encourage those involved to seek God’s leadership in humility and grace and to follow Jesus command to love one another as they wrestle with this difficult issue. Our prayers are for the good of the people Uganda.

The bill continues to be a difficult issue for American Christians to navigate. Many leaders I have spoken with are torn in their feelings. They really dislike the bill but they have come to trust their Ugandan brothers and sisters who are among the most vocal supporters of the bill. Make no mistake, I oppose the bill but I do understand the difficulty it is to separate with someone you have considered a friend over an issue of conscience.