Based on Mark Driscoll's Missing Video, Christianity Today Asks Theologians "Did Jesus Make Mistakes?"

Beyond the implausible explanation from Mars Hill Church leaders about why the Mark Driscoll’s sermon was edited, Christianity Today wanted to know what some theologians thought about the accuracy of the missing material.  So CT’s Kevin Emmert asked for opinions and reported six. Emmert started with a theologian who largely agreed with Driscoll’s missing six minutes and ended with someone who did not. Since he started at one end, I’ll get you started at the other:

“We can distinguish between mistakes and sins. Suppose I write about Jane Austin on social media. My friend corrects me: ‘It’s Austen, not Austin.’ I made a mistake, yet no sin was committed, surely. However, sin involves a mistake of some sort—failing to meet the mark. Jesus could not sin, because God cannot sin, and he is God incarnate (Hab. 1:13; Heb. 4:15). His divine nature is perfect, and a perfect being cannot make mistakes. So Christ the God-man could not make mistakes.”
~ Oliver Crisp, professor of systematic theology, Fuller Theological Seminary

Go read the whole thing at CT.

Things I Learned Reading the Christianity Today Article on the Acts 29 (We're Not Mark Driscoll Anymore) Network

Christianity Today’s Joe Maxwell posted an extended interview today with Matt Chandler, leader of Acts 29 Network.  I learned a few things while reading it, and recommend you read it too.
1. Acts 29 apparently does not want to be viewed as an extension of Mars Hill and Mark Driscoll – Former Mars Hill elder Tyler Powell told CT:

“Here, we’re our own entity,” says Powell, North American assessment director. “We’re not planting mini–Mars Hills or mini–Mark Driscolls. We’re centrally located but decentralized.”

I guess the Acts 29 folks felt that was important to get across.
2. Mark Driscoll is an introvert.
3. Acts 29 isn’t a denomination. – Perhaps implying that Mars Hill’s franchise approach comes across as a denomination, the operations guys at Acts 29 addressed the perception that Acts 29 is in pre-denomination mode.

Some of Adair’s PCA peers call Acts 29 “a quasi-denomination or something like that,” he says.
“I understand the perception. I just disagree with it.”

4. It is apparently fine to be a charismatic and an actively involved Southern Baptist. Chandler said he is involved in the Southern Baptist Convention (his church is the 9th largest in the SBC), and he believes the “sign gifts” (e.g., healing, tongues) continue today. Perhaps that is common now, but it surprises me.
5. The network that doesn’t want to be a denomination seeks uniformity in pastoral leadership assessed via personality testing. In particular, the DiSC has been borrowed from industrial psychology to help categorize people, much in the way some organizations use the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator.
6. The network that doesn’t want to be a denomination asks for 1% of a member churches’ budgets. This is what my denomination does, even though they don’t enforce it.
Just prior to the announcement that Mark Driscoll would leave the Acts 29 board, Mars Hill launched a plan to expand their church planting brand: Mars Hill Global. The church continued (and may still) to support Acts 29 but Mars Hill Global has become a big part of the MH brand. Stay tuned for more to come on that topic…

John Piper Calls Out Famous Guys (Like Mark Driscoll) On Ghostwriting

It is getting serious up in here.
Last night on Twitter, John Piper posted a series of tweets apparently in response to an op-ed by Andy Crouch at Christianity Today on the Mark Driscoll plagiarism (now ghostwriting) controversy.  Crouch’s op-ed builds to this crescendo:

The real danger here is not plagiarism—it is idolatry.

I think both are a problem and as it turns out another related problem appears to be ghostwriting.
Piper doesn’t think highly of taking credit for the work of others. To wit:

As Crouch and Piper suggest, this controversy is turning toward ghostwriting and less than honest assignment of credit for scholarly work. In the last tweet posted above, Piper links to an audio where he addresses ghostwriting. In it he says, “I think to put your name on a book you didn’t write is a lie.” Piper leaves no doubt as to his dim view of misrepresenting one’s work to the public.

IVP Says Bible Commentary Improperly Appeared In Book by Mark Driscoll; Mars Hill Church Responds, Blames Researcher Mistakes for Errors

On the church website (click Downloads), Mars Hill Church has responded to the controversy over plagiarism. In a statement about the book Trial: 8 Witnesses From 1 & 2 Peter, Mars Hill blames researcher mistakes:

In 2009, Pastor Mark preached through 1 & 2 Peter in a sermon series called Trial. To help our small groups, a team of people including a research assistant, put together a free study guide that was produced in-house and was never sold. About 5 years later it was brought to our attention that it contained some citation errors. We have discovered that during the editing process, content from other published sources were mistaken for research notes. These sentences were adapted instead of quoted directly. We are grateful this was brought to our attention, and we have removed that document from our website to correct the mistake. Additionally, we are examining all of our similar content as a precautionary measure.

I examine this statement below, but one claim in it appears not to be accurate. The statement says the study guide was never sold. It is being sold presently by Logos Research Systems as a download. Product details are listed as:

  • Title: Trial: 8 Witnesses from 1 & 2 Peter
  • Authors: Mark Driscoll and Brad House
  • Publisher: Mars Hill Church
  • Publication Date: 2009
  • Pages: 198

Furthermore, at one point Driscoll’s The Resurgence website advertised printed copies in bulk.

(I noticed later this evening that Mars Hill removed the page advertising the bulk sales. It is on Google cache now and in addition to the image above, I have screen caps here and here.)
Mars Hill’s statement comes as publisher Intervarsity Press weighs in on the sections of their New Bible Commentary which appeared in the Mars Hill study guide without citation. According to IVP, material from the New Bible Commentary “improperly appeared without quotation or attribution” in Mark Driscoll’s book Trial: 8 Witnesses From 1 & 2 Peter.  In a statement released to Christianity Today this morning, IVP said:

Several paragraphs from the New Bible Commentary edited by G. J. Wenham, J. A. Motyer, D. A. Carson and R. T. France published by InterVarsity Press appear in Mark Driscoll’s now out of print book Trial: 8 Witnesses From 1 & 2 Peter. These improperly appeared without quotation or attribution. With proper citation the material would have been a case of fair use.
InterVarsity Press believes all writers should use great care as they do research and prepare texts for any use to make sure that proper acknowledgement is given to source material.

One can see the side-by-comparisons of Driscoll’s book with the New Bible Commentary below:


In this second image, one can see that notes 10 and 11 are drawn from the New Bible Commentary text and presented as if Driscoll researched his information from Against Heresies and Ecclesiastical History.
The Mars Hill statement references “a team of people” who put together the study guide (which isn’t available on the church website now). However, Driscoll is clearly listed as the author. Brad House is listed as an author of the section on “community group resources” but Driscoll is the only other author listed. See below:

Thus, a reader would certainly assume Driscoll authored the section in question. If the statement can be taken at face value then it appears that Driscoll took credit for authorship of a book authored by a team of people and a research assistant.
See also:
On The Allegations Of Plagiarism Against Mark Driscoll (12/2/13)
Zombies, Plagiarism And Mark Driscoll Helped Me Write This Blog Post (12/3/13)
Mark Driscoll And His Church On Plagiarism (12/4/13)
Janet Mefferd Removes Evidence Relating To Charges Of Plagiarism Against Mark Driscoll; Apologizes To Audience (12/4/13)
Ingrid Schlueter Resigns From Janet Mefferd Show Over Mark Driscoll Plagiarism Controversy (12/5/13)
Who’s Talking About The Mark Driscoll Plagiarism Controversy? (12/7/13)

Kirk Cameron’s Monumental Revision of Thomas Jefferson

Kirk Cameron is giving some in the media advanced looks at Monumental (which premieres tonight), including Christianity Today. In a follow up interview, Cameron extends his revision of Thomas Jefferson to a discussion of Jefferson’s faith and the Jefferson Bible.

Interviewer Andrew Thompson gets credit for asking a couple of hard questions about Jefferson’s faith. Cameron dodges them with historical fiction. Thompson asked:

The documentary mentions that the founding fathers were Christians, even implying that Jefferson was a Christian. But most scholarship would say he was a deist who hardly held evangelical views.

Cameron directs Thompson to someone who Cameron says has studied Jefferson’s life and faith, Stephen McDowell, who is involved i the Providence Foundation, another revisionist history organization. It is no wonder that he then spins a yarn about Jefferson’s extraction of miracles and the deity of Christ twice, first in his 1804 Philosophy of Jesus and then again sometime between 1820 and 1824, in order to form what Jefferson considered to be Jesus’ real moral teachings. Cameron answered:

For that, I would direct you to other people who have studied his life and his faith for thirty years—like Stephen McDowell [author of America’s Providential History], who’s at the end of the film. We’ve all heard about The Jefferson Bible that Jefferson edited by taking scissors and cutting out the parts didn’t like—removing the miracles, and only keeping the moral teachings of Jesus. Well, that actually is not true. The story is that Jefferson was so enamored with the teachings of Jesus that he wanted to have a personal devotional book. And he cut those sections out of several of his Bibles and glued them into a personal handbook that he could keep in his back pocket for his own devotional reading. He was opposed to the idea of calling it a Jefferson Bible.

Thompson is ready with a pretty good reply (although with an incorrect quote) to that story:

In a 1787 letter to Peter Carr, Jefferson wrote that “trying to find the truth in the Bible is like picking diamonds out of dunghills.” Sounds like a pretty low view of Scripture, doesn’t it?

In fact, the phrase — diamonds from a dunghill — although quoted incorrectly here by Thompson, is very relevant to what Jefferson said he did with the Gospels. In 1813, Jefferson told Adams that he had edited the Gospels with this description:

I have performed this operation for my own use, by cutting verse by verse out of the printed book, and arranging the matter which is evidently his, and which is as easily distinguishable as diamonds in a dunghill.

Jefferson extracted the diamonds from the Gospels and left in the dunghill. For Jefferson, diamonds included the Golden Rule, and the Sermon on the Mount, and dunghill included the virgin birth, John 3:16 and the resurrection. Viewers of Monumental might find that surprising. Sounds like Cameron might find that surprising. Cameron’s answer to Thompson dodges the central problem with what I have seen of Monumental:

Yeah, it sure does. I’m not running around waving the Thomas Jefferson flag. Even if Jefferson is a complete infidel—and I’m not saying that he is—he certainly promoted the basic principles of Christianity and funded major Christian efforts to get the principles of Christianity deep into the hearts and minds of people. He understood that it was only those principles that could provide the basis and foundation for a free and just society.

What are the basic principles of Christianity? This is a pretty important question since he said Jefferson promoted these principles. Jefferson believes you get to heaven by doing good works, and sure did many of them. He believed in treating others the way you want to be treated. He also believed that one’s life of virtue is proof enough that one’s religion is personally valuable, no matter what that religion was. Are those the basic principles of Christianity?

Jefferson is a fascinating figure who remains at the center of conversation after all these years. Pity for viewers that Monumental does not appear to get Jefferson right.

**Regarding the quote attributed to Peter Carr, I cannot find that exact quote. Jefferson did tell young Carr to “Read the Bible, then, as you would read Livy, or Tacitus. The facts which are within ordinary course of nature you will believe on the authority of the writer, as you do those of the same kind in Livy and Tacitus. But those facts in the bible which contradict the laws of nature, must be examined with more care, and under a variety of faces.” He added that Carr should question Joshua’s story of the sun standing still because it violates the laws of nature. Regarding the New Testament, Jefferson advised reading extra-biblical literature to contrast with the canon of Scripture. However, I think CT’s Thompson has blended a couple of quotes together incorrectly.

Timothy Shah’s Ugandan conspiracy

I am posting on Timothy Shah’s Christianity Today article about Uganda as I have time. Rather than posting one long response, my schedule has been friendly to shorter efforts.

In this one, I want to point out that Mr. Shah makes some assessments of David Bahati that are not based on contact or interview with Mr. Bahati. Shah writes:

Some American groups have thus made a crusade of opposing the anti-gay bill in Uganda largely because of the mistaken belief that American evangelical groups have made a crusade of advancing it. In fact, its origins have far more to do with the idiosyncratic insecurities of David Bahati. Mr. Bahati and some of his fellow Anglicans feel themselves under enormous pressure to demonstrate their moral and spiritual traditionalism. Increasing competition from Islam and conservative Pentecostals throughout sub-Saharan Africa makes Anglicans’ associations with liberals in the West suspect. Still, the theory of the bill’s American inspiration is a useful device that enables advocates of gay rights to attack homophobia in Uganda without appearing insensitive to Ugandans or Africans.

Mr. Shah seems intent on dismissing any American evangelical influence on the Anti-Homosexuality Bill and David Bahati. Instead, Shah has his own theory – “idiosyncratic insecurities of David Bahati.” Such an assessment would normally require reporting, interviewing and evidence. Not so, here. For instance, David Bahati told me late yesterday that he has not spoken to Shah. Without interviewing Bahati or citing evidence for his claims of “idiosyncratic insecurities,” we are left with Mr. Shah’s theory about religious competition among Anglicans, Pentecostals and Islam.

In fact, Bahati denies direct American influece while at the same time, disclosing secret American support for his effort. I don’t believe Americans wrote the bill, but it is surely true that there are prominent American evagelicals (e.g., Lou Engle, Molotov Mitchell, Cliff Kincaid) who have supported the effort.

Shah’s unfamiliarity with Bahati and the facts surrounding the bill lead him to a faulty narrative – one which has opposition coming only from the left and gay activists because of the black eye it gives to evangelicals. However, in fact, the real story here is the civil war among evangelicals over the bill’s intent and provisions. American Christians and gay rights advocates have found common ground in support for personal freedom of conscience, and opposition to state sanctioned imposition of religious dogma on citizens. One does not need to religiously affirm homosexual behavior to vigorously oppose this bill.

Shah’s lack of knowledge of the situation in Uganda is also revealed in the events of this week. Shah said that Ugandan religious and political leaders were repelled by the bill and that the bill had been stopped in its tracks. However, just in the past couple of days, we now hear from Parliament leaders that the AHB could be debated as early as next week. While op-eds are not hard news, they should be based in fact. Shah’s op-ed fails both as a faithful witness and informed opinion. CT should pull it yesterday.

UPDATE: Here is another Ugandan article reporting that the AHB will be debated during the short session beginning Tuesday.

Other posts on this topic:

Christianity Today author misleads on Uganda – March 15, 2011

Has Uganda’s antigay bill been stopped by Ugandan opposition? – March 16, 2011

Christianity Today’s website contradicts Timothy Shah’s CT conspiracy article – March 17, 2011

Christianity Today’s website contradicts Timothy Shah’s CT conspiracy article

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…

Has Uganda’s antigay bill been stopped by Ugandan opposition?

In this post, I want to unpack a bit more the claims of Timothy Shah made in a Christianity Today op-ed posted yesterday (Go to the first reaction here). Overall, I think it was a mistake for Christianity Today to publish an article making so many factual claims without sourcing or evidence. I have been following this story since March, 2009 and do not recognize the narrative advanced by Shah.

In this post, I want to address this paragraph:

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.

Shah claims the bill was “stopped in its tracks” due to opposition from “virtually all of Uganda’s major political and religious leaders.” There are two fact problems here. One, the bill was not stopped and two, bill was not opposed by all of Uganda’s political and religious leaders.

As I have documented, the bill is still alive and may be considered before the end of this Parliamentary session in May. While the committee chair, Stephen Tashobya has expressed some uncertainty about the fate of the bill, he has refused to say that the bill is dead.

Shah says “virtually all” religious and political leaders were repelled by the bill. This is about as uninformed as statement as an observer could make. Going back to April 29, 2009, David Bahati asked the Ugandan Parliament for permission to introduce his private member’s bill. According to the minutes of Parliament, his request was approved without substantial concerns.

At the time, in the gallery were several religious and political leaders:

THE DEPUTY SPEAKER: I am aware of the matter and it is very important. I am going to give you time. There is a matter he wants to raise concerning the community and I am going to give him time. Let us have that motion quickly, get rid of it and get back to the statement. Afterwards we can stay here till midnight and talk about East Africa and all the other things. I am appealing to you.

Let us hear from hon. Bahati. In connection with the motion he is moving, we have in the gallery Apostle Julius Peter Oyet, Vice-President of the Born Again Federation; Pastor Dr Martin Sempa of the Family Policy Centre; Stephen Langa, Family Life Network; hon. Godfrey Nyakaana; the Mayor of Kampala City Council; Julius, a young boy who was sodomised, and his mother. His story has been in the press. They are all here in the gallery. Please, let us deal with them so that they can leave. There is also George Oundo who came out to speak against homosexuality. Please, let us balance the public good and our good since all of them are important. We shall do them all very quickly. Hon. Bahati.


MR DAVID BAHATI (NRM, Ndorwa County West, Kabale): Thank you, Madam Speaker, for the opportunity to move a motion seeking leave of Parliament to introduce a Private Members Bill moved under Rule 47, 105 and 106. Some of the few copies available are going to be circulated in a minute. I beg the indulgence of Members that I move on.

The only way Mr. Shah can be correct is to dismiss Martin Ssempa, Julius Oyet, and Stephen Langa as religious leaders. How about the mayor of Kampala’s city council? Reading the minutes, it is abundantly clear that no MP offers more than procedural concerns. The Parliament had copies of the bill and gave Bahati permission to introduce it.

When Bahati did finally table his bill on October, religious leaders came out in support. For instance, Martin Ssempa told me that the bill had his “total support” and that he hoped it would pass. The day after I posted Ssempa’s views, Minister of Ethics and Integrity, Nsaba Buturo publicly expressed support for the bill in an article on the official government media website with the headline, “Government Vows to Fight Homosexuality.”

In late October, 2009, Parliament’s Presidential Affiars committee held hearings on the bill and included religious leaders. Those leaders objected to the death penalty but did not call for the removal of the bill or a reduction in the sentence of life in prison:

Homosexuals should not be killed but instead imprisoned for life, religious leaders have suggested.

Making their input in the Anti-homosexuality Bill 2009 yesterday, the clergy said the clause on death as a penalty for homosexuality be scrapped.

“If you kill the people, to whom will the message go? We need to have imprisonment for life if the person is still alive,” said Rev. Canon Aaron Mwesigye, the provincial secretary of the Church of Uganda.

These religious leaders did not like the death penalty but were not repelled by the rest of the bill. Then in December, a coalition of religious leaders (including the Roman Catholic church) led by Martin Ssempa expressed strong support for the bill.

The first recorded opposition to the bill by President Museveni was on December 18, 2009 in a AFP report. According to that article, Museveni assured the US of his opposition.

The top US diplomat for African affairs said the bill, if passed, would not only violate human rights, it would also “undermine the fight” against HIV and AIDS by stigmatizing homosexual acts.

He added that it is premature for US government to consider withdrawing aid from Uganda because Museveni himself said he does not support the legislation and the battle is not yet lost.

However, Museveni did not address the bill directly until January, 2010 when he spoke to his party conference about the bill. Museveni did not express direct opposition but advise a dialogue, saying

So therefore, I strongly advise you that you agree to the idea that the cabinet sit down with Bahati, a subcommittee, and see how best to handle this issue because…because… it is a foreign policy issue. It’s not just our internal politics. It is a foreign policy issue, and we must handle it in a way which does not compromise our principles, but also takes into account our foreign policy interests.

This statement is not opposition but rather direction to his party about how he wanted to handle deliberation on the bill.

Then, on March 15, 2010, a small cabinet committee headed by Minister of Local Government, Adolf Mwesige issued a report critical of the AHB, saying it was redundant and that it might have been introduced illegally. However, the committee recommended keeping some of the good portions of the bill, namely the provisions on penalizing promotion of homosexuality.

I have just scratched the surface of this topic. There is so much evidence of the support for the bill from many religious and political leaders over the life of this bill that it is stunning that anyone could seriously claim otherwise. Shah paints a picture that is just untrue. Reading this article, one would come to the conclusion that the AHB was stopped by Ugandan opposition. One might think that Bahati’s bill was widely criticized by religious and political leaders.  Although some concerns have been raised, opposition to the death penalty is not the same as being repelled by the bill. The burden is on Mr. Shah to provide evidence for this narrative. I do not believe he can.

As far as I can tell, Shah’s conspiracy theory relies on demonstrating that Ugandans killed the bill. He needs to show this so that he can blame the uproar on something other than the real need to oppose an unjust proposal. Instead of finding some evangelicals involved in supporting what turned out to be a draconian bill, the whole reason Uganda is in focus is because the left loves to bash evangelicals. If only.

Another fact Shah has to ignore to make his case is the existence of a strong reaction from evangelicals around the world to the Ugandan proposal. Opposition to the AHB has not come solely from the left. Readers of this blog will surely attest to that. Shah’s article is not simply misleading, it ostracizes and marginalizes the persistent and growing evangelical opposition to the AHB and criminalization of homosexuality which has grown over the last 2 years. I will return to this point in my next post.

UPDATE: Watch this video for the opposition from Cyprius Lwanga, Archbishop of Kampala. This took place in December, 2009. Note at 1:44, the narrator says that “many conservative religious leaders” support the bill. Lwanga was virtually on his own. And then not long afterwards, Martin Ssempa represented a coalition of religious leaders which called for the removal of the death penalty but still encouraged the passage of the bill. The Roman Catholic church in Uganda was listed as a signer of that statement.

Christianity Today author misleads on Uganda

In a web only piece on Christianity Today, Timothy Shah wants readers to believe that the Anti-Homosexuality Bill is “a legislative stunt” which has generated conspiracy theories about maltreatment of gays in Uganda. He writes:

Uganda has attracted human rights activism because of a single legislative stunt by a single low-level politician named David Bahati, a member of the country’s authoritarian ruling party and an Anglican. In 2009, Bahati proposed an anti-homosexuality bill so draconian that it would make “serial” homosexual practice a capital crime and punish pro-gay advocacy with a seven-year jail sentence.

At least Shah recognizes the actual intent of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. However, I take issue with his assumption that human rights activists have been interested in Uganda solely because of the AHB. In 2008, then-darling of American evangelicals, Martin Ssempa, led a rally where he proclaimed that gays have no place in Uganda’s HIV/AIDS programs because homosexuality is a crime in Uganda. Due to such incidents, activists were monitoring human rights concerns. Then when the three Americans, led by Scott Lively, went into Kampala to lead a workshop and meet with Parliamentary leaders, the situation attracted the attention of many in the US, even before Bahati got permission from Parliament to offer his private member’s bill in April.

Shah, without source or evidence, dismisses Bahati and his bill as “a single legislative stunt by a single low-level politician.” On the contrary, David Bahati is the Caucus treasurer for the ruling party, ran unopposed in the recent election (his opponent dropped out citing fears for his safety) and used his clout to support other ruling party candidates.

The AHB is not a legislative stunt. Bahati and the millions of Ugandan supporters that signed petitions asking Parliament to pass it are quite serious in their desire to craft strong laws restricting freedom of speech and association with the aim of eliminating homosexuality.

Shah then develops a fact-challenged narrative that has the bill “stopped in its tracks” not because of international outcry but because everybody else in Uganda was repelled by it. He writes:

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.

In fact, the major reason the bill attracted so much attention is clearly due to the harsh provisions offered in the name of Jesus. Christian opposition in the US and around the world was prompted by the fact that Ugandan supporters of the bill used Christian tenets as a basis for their support. Ugandan pastor Martin Ssempa told Christianity Today that Rick Warren was wrong to oppose the AHB. David Bahati told numerous media that he had many American supporters. Religious right darling Lou Engle went to Uganda and failed to condemn the bill while Ugandan supporters, including the Minister of Ethics Nsaba Buturo and prominent religious leader Julius Oyet used Engle’s event as a platform to support the bill.

Shah reasons from hindsight. He says there is a Uganda conspiracy but has to ignore many facts and events to do it. In effect, he says the bill hasn’t passed and so the uproar about it must have been a conspiracy of the left. He says that everybody in Uganda opposed the bill. Not so at all. However, even those in Uganda who expressed some level of opposition did not do so until after the international outcry, including that coming from Rick Warren, had slowed the bill down.

The following statement is just wrong and should have disqualified the article from being published:

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.

The bill’s harshness led to some calls for the removal of the death penalty and there was a government cabinet committee (not a Parliamentary committee) which said the bill was unconstitutional, but none of this stopped the bill in its tracks. The President was not “repelled” by the bill. He urged caution after the international outcry in January of 2010 (the bill was introduced in October, 2009). The bill is still in committee. The chair of that committee told me recently that if there is time in this session, he will bring it up. Mr. Shah should try talking to the people in Uganda who have something to do with the situation.

When all is said and done, I can’t really understand what Shah wants American evangelicals to do. He correctly called the AHB “draconian” but he doesn’t seem to think there was ever anything to it. Should evangelicals just dismiss those who think the bill is a threat because some left-leaning commentators find evangelical dirt in their reporting? What if evangelicals had not spoken out? What if Rick Warren had not produced his video and written his epistle? Having done the research on the precursors to the bill and interviewed the principle figures, I firmly believe the AHB would be law now save all that effort.

A commenter on the article at the CT website demonstrates one consequence of this article. A Patrix Devit replied to David Fountain, who referenced the actual themes of the March conference involving Scott Lively, Caleb Brundidge and Don Schmierer. Fountain noted the demonization of gays which occured at that conference which was reported by the New York Times. Devit responded:

Interesting, well-written article. @Mr. Fountain: It’s been shown on multiple occasions that the NY Times will alter facts or even completely fabricate stories when an opportunity to strike at Republicans, Christians (etc) presents itself. Nothing that the NY Times puts forth can be taken at face value.

Except that in this case, the NYT was mostly correct. However, reading Mr. Shah, one would not know much at all about what has really transpired.

Christianity Today stands somewhere on Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill

In a “Where We Stand” editorial, Christianity Today urged readers to “Listen, then Speak.” 

Overall, I am disappointed and puzzled by the editorial. The closest the writer gets to telling us where CT stands is near the end of the article:

We join many other American voices in our concern over the way the proposed legislation can hamper ministry and harm children of God. But we are also grateful for the African voices who are calling us to pay attention to how Western society may be undermining our own zeal for preserving God’s gift of sexuality.

I am unclear how the Ugandans are calling us to see sexuality God’s way when they swallow the camel of polygamy and strain at the gnat of homosexuality. Perhaps this way of ending the article seemed balanced to the writer; give a little here, take a little there, but I am unclear what the writer thinks we can learn from the Anti-Homosexuality Bill.  

To get to the conclusion, the article meanders through some thoughts on cultural relativism, pointing out some conflicting possible reactions from Western Christians.

Now Uganda’s proposed Anti-Homosexuality Bill has put Western Christian leaders in a bind:

(1) The leaders’ commitment to human rights (based on the Golden Rule and the image of God) leads them to oppose harsh penalties for consensual adult homosexual activity; (2) their belief in the traditional family leads them to support Ugandan Christian resistance to sexual liberation movements imported from the United States and Europe; (3) their belief that churches need to minister to homosexuals leads them to oppose legal penalties for those who don’t report homosexual activity; (4) their belief that the fight against HIV/AIDS requires confidential testing leads them to oppose laws that could expose HIV-positive people to harsh penalties; (5) their belief in the ability of African churches to make mature decisions prompts them to remain silent on legislation that African churches are still pondering; (6) their commitment to ongoing engagement in missions and social service with African churches makes them extremely cautious to interfere in general.

I suspect these possible reactions do seem confusing for many evangelicals. However, it is clearly possible to respect the Ugandan’s right of self-determination while at the same time, disagreeing with the proposal before their Parliament. I also take issue with what is listed as the first possible response and would say it this way:

The leaders’ commitment to human rights (based on the Golden Rule and the image of God) leads them to oppose harsh any penalties for consensual adult homosexual activity.

Responding to the Ugandan bill, I believe Rick Warren had it absolutely correct when he wrote about criminalization of homosexuality:

I oppose the criminalization of homosexuality. The freedom to make moral choices is endowed by God.  Since God gives us that freedom, we must protect it for all, even when we disagree with their choices.

We know where Rick Warren stands. Where does CT stand on criminalization? To me, it is not clear.

The editorial continues:

For American Christian leaders, both silence and open condemnation end up violating important missional and human-rights principles. There is no escaping this dilemma, but several points are worth reflection.

What missional and human rights principles? I don’t think it is difficult to say that the sentence of a life time in jail for touching “another person with the intention of committing the act of homosexuality” is wrong. What missional or human rights’s principles are violated by saying what Rick Warren said to his Ugandan brothers and sisters?

Then adding insult to injury, the CT writer uncritically invokes Scott Lively’s reckless charge of racism toward those who found fault with the Americans who spoke at the March anti-gay conference in Kampala. 

First, when American media reported on the proposed legislation, they assumed an inordinate amount of American influence. Media outlets tried to “expose” the power of American evangelicals who had spoken about gay issues in Uganda. Such assumptions were racist, said Scott Lively, one of the speakers. If anything, Ugandan legislators did not follow his advice: He had urged them to favor rehabilitation rather than imprisonment in crafting a new law on homosexuality.

If I understand CT here, I think this is more a criticism of the reporting by American media than a vindication of the March, 2009 ex-gay conference in Uganda. However, as presented, that distinction is vague. One could interpret this paragraph as agreement with Scott Lively’s charge of racism, obfuscating the Americans’ responsibility for what was presented at the conference. This, of course, is offensive and fails to confront the substance of Scott Lively’s remarks to the 10,000 or so people he claims to have addressed. Yes, Lively advised rehabilitation (as if that is an enlightened option) in the context of continued criminalization, but in no particular order, he also said that

  • Nazi atrocities were animated by homosexuality,
  • amoral homosexuals were probably responsible for the Rwandan holocaust, and
  • homosexuals prey on vulnerable children.

Hearing this, it is not a surprise that the Ugandans did not heed his call for rehabilitation. Nor is it a surprise that Christians are horrified that such slander was presented in the name of Christ.

CT’s advice is much less specific:

We counsel patience as Ugandan leaders sort out among themselves the best way to preserve their culture’s sexual mores. We also caution them against punitive strategies, as we believe that capital punishment for homosexual behavior goes well beyond the limit.

The reference to capital punishment is pretty safe since even proponents of the bill suggested the removal of the death penalty in December, 2009. However, is life in prison a “punitive strategy?” What is the limit? I think it is, but from this article, I cannot tell where CT stands.

I know where I stand.