The Fellowship (aka The Family) Opposes Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill: Guest post by Jeff Sharlet

[Author Jeff Sharlet’s appearance on National Public Radio elevated the story of the Ugandan Anti-Homosexuality Bill to an important level of public awareness. One controversial element of Jeff’s reporting was his connection of the Ugandan legislators who introduced the bill to the Fellowship Foundation (aka The Family). I followed up that broadcast corresponding with Fellowship Foundation grantee, Cornerstone Development in Kampala and learned that Cornerstone had no input into the bill. In this guest post, Jeff Sharlet updates the NPR reporting, completes the picture and reveals for the first time that the Fellowship opposes the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. Thanks to Jeff for posting this news here and thanks to Bob Hunter for his candor.]  

The Fellowship Opposes Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill

by Jeff Sharlet

Add one more very important name to the growing international list of those opposed to Uganda’s proposed Anti-Homosexuality Bill: Bob Hunter, the man who helped build Uganda’s relationship with the Family, aka the Fellowship, the international movement of “followers of Christ” – some reject the term “Christian” that also includes several U.S. politicians with ties to Uganda: among them, Senator James Inhofe, Senator Sam Brownback, and Representative Joe Pitts.

Bob has been active with the Fellowship, as he prefers to call the network of organizations he says can be fairly described as a movement,* since coming to Christ in the late 1970s. But Bob’s faith wasn’t simply a salve; it led him into a relationship with a missionary hospital in Uganda and then with Ugandan political leaders. Bob worked as a private citizen, but he brought to his pursuits the experience and insights of a distinguished career, as a federal insurance administrator for Ford and Carter and a longtime consumer advocate. In Uganda, he established relationships with members of all factions, and, eventually, a friendship with President Yoweri Museveni. Later, he would go on to help Museveni establish the Ugandan National Prayer Breakfast.

Today, his work in Uganda focuses less on high-level politicians and more on those whom he calls “the nail” – that is, not the people in the official portraits, but the people who do the real day to day work of keeping a country running. It’s not glamorous work, but it’s important – maybe never more so than now. Because it’s those relationships that matter most when legislation such as the Anti-Homosexuality Bill is at stake. And Bob has been quietly working through those relationships to stop the bill. His influence may matter more than all the petitions signed by gay rights activists around the globe. And Bob has been brave about using that influence, speaking to his friends in Uganda, and gently pressuring the Fellowship’s associates on Capitol Hill to take a stand against the bill. Bob even agreed to sit down with me.

That took some courage, since I’m the author of a book about the Fellowship called The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power, a critical analysis of the Fellowship in which I described Bob’s initial outreach to Uganda as linked to U.S. government interests in the region. Several weeks ago, I was a guest on NPR’s “Fresh Air” in which I made the same point. I based my characterization on a widely circulated account from Fellowship leader Doug Coe of Bob’s work, two documents in the Fellowship’s archive, “A Trip to East Africa—Fall 1986,” and “Re: Organizing the Invisible,” and a review of tens of thousands of documents in the Fellowship archives that present a portrait of the organization up to that point. I attempted to contact Bob, but failed. I wish I had contacted him: Bob was very forthcoming with details that present a more complicated, and, frankly, hopeful picture. Bob wrote a response to the broadcast that he shared with “Fresh Air” and with some associates in Uganda. He raised a number of important concerns and offered more detail on his involvement. But rather than duke it out, Bob invited me to his Arlington, Virginia home and spent the better part of an afternoon discussing my interpretation of events and his experience of them. We agreed that the first step was a statement making clear Bob’s opposition to the bill. Moreover, Bob adds “I know of no one involved in Uganda with the Fellowship here in America, including the most conservative among them, that supports such things as killing homosexuals or draconian reporting requirements, much less has gone over to Uganda to push such positions.”

That’s very, very good news. The Fellowship prefers to avoid the limelight; Bob has forsaken that to make clear his position and that of his American associates: The Fellowship, AKA the Family, opposes the Ugandan Anti-Homosexuality Bill.

Bob also asked me to clarify – and correct – some misperceptions. I’m glad to do so. First, Bob was troubled by my identification of him on “Fresh Air” as a former Ford official, which he felt implied right-wing affiliations. I didn’t think so – Ford hasn’t exactly gone down in history as a right-winger, and I mentioned it only to establish that Bob was not just some ordinary businessmen, as Fellowship leader Doug Coe’s account of his work** suggests (inaccurately, as Bob gladly concedes). It would have been better to say a former government official, or a former Ford and Carter official. Even that might have been selling Bob short – his career as a consumer advocate is long and impressive. While the Fellowship has historically been majority conservative, it has – as I note in my book – always included liberals. Bob is in that tradition. Over the course of the afternoon he shared with me his experience working with the Fellowship in Burundi, Rwanda, and South Africa. While I may take issue with the Fellowship’s behind-the-scenes approach, there’s no denying that in each of these cases Bob and his associates were working toward extremely admirable ends, and that in the case of Burundi Bob’s efforts helped make the difference that brought a truce to that country’s warring factions. Bob did what he did with the best of intentions, and, in several instances, achieved the best of outcomes. Continue reading “The Fellowship (aka The Family) Opposes Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill: Guest post by Jeff Sharlet”

More detail on the Fellowship Foundation relationship to the Anti-Homosexuality Bill

Jeff Sharlet on Rachel Maddow: The Family and the Ugandan Anti-Homosexuality Bill.

On December 1, I addressed the issue of the Family’s influence on the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. At that time, I reported the following information:

To explore these issues, I spoke via email with the Director of Cornerstone Development, Tim Kreutter.  Mr. Kreutter has lived in Africa most of his life and oversees a staff of about 150 people.

When asked about the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, 2009, he told me that Cornerstone “had zero input on that bill.” Furthermore, Mr. Kreutter pointed out that Cornerstone has intervened in death penalty situations, saying: 

“In particular, we are opposed to the death penalty under all circumstances and have played a part in working to stay all executions here for the last 10 years or so.”

Kreutter also explained that the sponsor of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, David Bahati and the outspoken government minister who supports it, Nsaba Buturo, currently have no involvement in Cornerstone programs. As noted, a review of their website confirms this statement.

Regarding Bahati’s involvement in the Africa Youth Leadership Forum, Mr. Kreutter pointed out that the forum that day included three Ugandan politicians: Cecilia Ogwal, Mugisha Muntu and David Bahati. Ogwal is involved in the Uganda People’s Congress Party of former Pres. Milton Obote, Muntu is a major opposition leader of the Forum for Democratic Change Party and a likely Presidential candidate in the next elections and then Bahati is a loyal ruling party member. I should also point out that the Deputy Secretary for International and Regional Affairs of the Forum for Democratic Change, Anne Mugisha (no relation to Muntu), opposes the bill.

As noted, I was correct that at least some of the Family opposes the bill. More specifically, Jeff Sharlet reports below that there is potential for the Ugandan lawmakers to be disinvited to the American prayer breakfast in February if they do not take positive steps regarding the bill. As best as I can tell, David Bahati, Nsaba Buturo and Julius Oyet are slated to in the US during the week of Feb, 2-6. I suspect their visit will be an eventful one in any case, but especially if the “Kill the gays bill” is not itself dead.

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Is The Family behind the Anti-Homosexuality Bill?

Last week on NPR’s Fresh Air, Jeff Sharlet reported that The Fellowship Foundation (aka The Family) supports an organization in Uganda called Cornerstone Development which, according to Sharlet, is linked with the main government officials behind the Anti-Homosexuality Bill 2009. Is this accurate?

According to their IRS 990 tax forms, the Fellowship Foundation indeed does support Cornerstone Foundation in Uganda. Less clear is what, if any, relationship exists between Cornerstone and the authors and supporters of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. On the recent NPR program, author Sharlet linked Cornerstone with the prime sponsor of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, David Bahati and Minister of Ethics and Integrity Nsaba Buturo. However, a review of the Cornerstone website finds no references to either David Bahati or Nsaba Buturo. There is one 2007 news report which links Bahati to the Ugandan prayer breakfast (held in October of each year) and is ambiguous about a relationship to the African Youth Leadership Forum. The AYLF is a program conducted by Cornerstone.

Even though Mr. Sharlet did not say the Family was behind the bill, some blame the Fellowship Foundation and Cornerstone for the bill. In contrast, as the result of my investigation thus far, I do not believe that Cornerstone Development is behind the bill or supports it.  And I am aware of one prominent associate of the Fellowship Foundation who opposes the bill. More on that in a later post.

To explore these issues, I spoke via email with the Director of Cornerstone Development, Tim Kreutter.  Mr. Kreutter has lived in Africa most of his life and oversees a staff of about 150 people.

When asked about the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, 2009, he told me that Cornerstone “had zero input on that bill.” Furthermore, Mr. Kreutter pointed out that Cornerstone has intervened in death penalty situations, saying: 

In particular, we are opposed to the death penalty under all circumstances and have played a part in working to stay all executions here for the last 10 years or so.

Kreutter also explained that the sponsor of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, David Bahati and the outspoken government minister who supports it, Nsaba Buturo, currently have no involvement in Cornerstone programs. As noted, a review of their website confirms this statement.

Regarding Bahati’s involvement in the Africa Youth Leadership Forum, Mr. Kreutter pointed out that the forum that day included three Ugandan politicians: Cecilia Ogwal, Mugisha Muntu and David Bahati. Ogwal is involved in the Uganda People’s Congress Party of former Pres. Milton Obote, Muntu is a major opposition leader of the Forum for Democratic Change Party and a likely Presidential candidate in the next elections and then Bahati is a loyal ruling party member. I should also point out that the Deputy Secretary for International and Regional Affairs of the Forum for Democratic Change, Anne Mugisha (no relation to Muntu), opposes the bill.

As Mr. Sharlet noted, it seems clear that the Fellowship Foundation is quite active in Uganda (as are many other Western interests) in several ways.  However, it seems to me that the Cornerstone Development organization is doing some good things with youth and does not appear to be behind the recent Anti-Homosexuality Bill. Rather, Kreutter advocates a different policy, saying:

I believe that means loving them [gays] just as we are called to do for all ‘our neighbors’ and for me personally that means seeing them as my brother…or my sister – created in the image of God our father – despite their sexual orientation.

There are US influences to be found, however, and I will report more on those in future posts. I have already reported on one American influence  which I will discuss more in an upcoming post. Also, there are internal factors at work independent of Western influence. See Anne Mugisha’s post today for one such possibility. 

Stay tuned…

Author links sponsors of Anti-Homosexuality Bill to The Family

Jeff Sharlet, author of The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power was on NPR’s Fresh Air program yesterday. The main theme of the interview was to discuss The Family, a secretive Christian group who moves in political circles worldwide. For more on this group, see Sharlet’s book, and this investigative report by World magazine.

For our purpose, his investigation into the influences on the sponsors of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill are interesting and provocative. You can listen below or read the transcript here.

GROSS: This legislation has just been proposed. It hasn’t been signed into law. So it’s not in effect and it might never be in effect. But it’s on the table. It’s before parliament. So is there a direct connection between The Family and this proposed Anti-Homosexual Legislation in Uganda?

Mr. SHARLET: Well, the legislator that introduces the bill, a guy named David Bahati, is a member of The Family. He appears to be a core member of The Family. He works, he organizes their Uganda National Prayer Breakfast and oversees a African sort of student leadership program designed to create future leaders for Africa, into which The Family has poured millions of dollars working through a very convoluted chain of linkages passing the money over to Uganda.

GROSS: So you’re reporting the story for the first time today, and you found this story – this direct connection between The Family and the proposed legislation by following the money?

Mr. SHARLET: Yes, it’s – I always say that the family is secretive, but not secret. You can go and look at 990s, tax forms and follow the money through these organizations that The Family describe as invisible. But you go and you look. You follow that money. You look at their archives. You do interviews where you can. It’s not so invisible anymore. So that’s how working with some research colleagues we discovered that David Bahati, the man behind this legislation, is really deeply, deeply involved in The Family’s work in Uganda, that the ethics minister of Uganda, Museveni’s kind of right hand man, a guy named Nsaba Buturo, is also helping to organize The Family’s National Prayer Breakfast. And here’s a guy who has been the main force for this Anti-Homosexuality Act in Uganda’s executive office and has been very vocal about what he’s doing, and in a rather extreme and hateful way. But these guys are not so much under the influence of The Family. They are, in Uganda, The Family.

GROSS: So how did you find out that Bahati is directly connected to The Family? You’ve described him as a core member of The Family. And this is the person who introduced the anti-gay legislation in Uganda that calls for the death penalty for some gay people.

Mr. SHARLET: Looking at the, The Family’s 990s, where they’re moving their money to – into this African leadership academy called Cornerstone, which runs two programs: Youth Corps, which has described its in the past as an international quote, invisible family binding together world leaders, and also, an alumni organization designed to place Cornerstone grads – graduates of this sort of very elite educational program and politics and NGO’s through something called the African Youth Leadership Forum, which is run by -according to Ugandan media – which is run by David Bahati, this same legislator who introduced the Anti-Homosexuality Act.

The player sometimes doesn’t load so if it doesn’t, you can listen here:

Monday, I noted American influence via the College of Prayer and their three year partnership with the Ugandan parliament. There seem to be multiple lines of influence tied to those who have introduced the bill. What is not clear is how much, if any, the Americans directly suggested the bill.

More to come on that point…