Blog Theme: Civil Rights and Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill – Interview with Jeff Sharlet

Interview with author Jeff Sharlet

In this interview, we discuss our shared recollections of Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill 2009, the Netflix documentary The Family, liberty of conscience, and evangelicals in relationship to Donald Trump.

This is second in a series of interviews marking 15 years of blogging. I started blogging in July 2005. The first interview with Michael Coulter is here.

Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill 2009

On March 2, 2009 I posted a article about an ex-gay conference in Kampala, Uganda. Three Americans, Scott Lively, Don Schmierer, and Caleb Brundidge, had been invited by Stephen Langa of the Family Life Network to speak on the topic of homosexuality. Scott Lively told the crowd that gays were behind the Nazi takeover of Germany and subsequent Holocaust. Don Schmierer told them that homosexuals were disturbed by poor parenting and that they needed therapy, and Caleb Brundidge, a client of reparative therapist Richard Cohen was there to show that the ex-gay therapy worked.

That was the first of hundreds of articles about Uganda and the effort of that nation’s Parliament to make homosexuality a capital offense (The Anti-Homosexuality Bill 2009). I don’t think it is too far fetched to say that Box Turtle Bulletin and this blog became key thorns in the side of Ugandan and American proponents of the bill. Jim Burroway and I (incidentally both originally from Portsmouth, OH) wrote nearly every day about some aspect of the bill and kept the story alive.

Because of my strong opposition to the bill and the kindness of Bob Hunter (as well as other Fellowship members), I attended the National Prayer Breakfast in 2010. There, I interviewed Fellowship Foundation leader Doug Coe. That was one of a handful of interviews he granted over the course of his life. A summary of it was published in Christianity Today later that year. Coe put the Fellowship on record as opposing the bill in Uganda.

When the Ugandan members of the Prayer Breakfast movement learned of American opposition, they felt betrayed by Coe and the Americans. They persisted with their efforts to pass the bill. As Jeff and I discuss in the interview above, the Ugandan members seemed to believe American evangelicals were afraid to really speak their minds. The Ugandan proponents of the bill seemed convinced that American Christians really supported their efforts, and it was their Christian duty to set a tone the world could follow.

Through years of parliamentary maneuvering, the bill moved and then stalled. Sessions ended without action, but finally it passed at the end of 2013 session. The President of Uganda Yoweri Museveni proclaimed that he would not sign the bill if scientists could convince him that being gay was innate. He claimed to want to know if being gay was a choice.

At that point, at the request of others lobbying against the bill, Jack Drescher and I wrote a letter summarizing the research on sexual orientation in layman’s terms. The letter was signed by over 200 scholars and researchers from all over the world. Museveni acknowledge the effort but also convened his own panel of “experts.” They returned a letter which allowed him to sign the bill.

In August 2014, the bill was struck down as unconstitutional by Uganda’s Constitutional court due to the fact that the Parliament did not have a quorum in place when the bill was passed. A five year story of ups and downs came to an end with that decision.

Jeff Sharlet

Jeff and I became friends as we compared notes over what American interests and influences might be at work in this Ugandan mess. As I noted in the interview, he went to Uganda on one occasion (I think he asked me to go along but I can’t be sure of my recollection on that). His report of that trip was a lengthy write up in Harper’s.

In the interview, we discussed the background of the Netflix documentary, The Family. I had the good fortune to be included in three of the five episodes of that series.

Jeff has an inspiring sense of fairness and is a captivating writer. I don’t know of anyone outside of Uganda who worked harder to expose the truth relating to the Anti-Homosexuality Bill than Jeff. I am grateful and humbled by the kind and overly generous remarks from him in this interview. Thanks to Jeff for doing it. I hope you benefit from our discussion as much as I did.

Additional Reading

Scientific Consensus Statement

History of Uganda’s Anti-Gay Bill – NPR

My Salon series about a Nevada church who dropped support of a Uganda missionary over the bill

Straight Man’s Burden – Harpers

The Bill Inspired by American Evangelicals – The Atlantic

All of my posts about Uganda

All of my post about the Fellowship Foundation (aka The Family) and the National Prayer Breakfast

All 15 Years of Blogging Interviews

 

Image: Jeff Sharlet’s Twitter Page

Blog Theme: Getting History Right – Interview with Michael Coulter

Fact checking David Barton was not my first history rodeo. With the help of then Grove City College history professor J.D. Wyneken, I fact checked anti-gay crusader Scott Lively’s book The Pink Swastika in June of 2009. Lively made an outrageous case that Hitler’s Nazi project was animated by homosexuals and that the Holocaust was carried out by gay thugs. His opposition to gay rights, he preached, was to keep gays from doing the same things to other nations.

I learned a lot by deeply researching Lively’s claims. I saw how primary sources could be used selectively to distort a narrative and how speculation could be mixed with fact to create a plausible sounding but false picture. This awareness came in handy when, in 2011, I started to look into Barton’s claims about the American founding.

When David Barton’s book The Jefferson Lies was pulled from publication, he solicited moral support from Scott Lively in a Wallbuilders Live broadcast. Lively’s message essentially was: I know how you feel, he did the same thing to me.

It seems right that I fact checked both Lively and Barton. Lively had gone to Uganda with his historical fiction to agitate the Uganda Parliament into crafting law which made homosexuality a capital offense. An interpretation of the Bible was used as a justification. A religious view was used as a basis for civil law. On that issue, one church teaching was about to become the state policy.

Confronted with the reality that evangelical Christians were behind the bill in Uganda, I searched for the influences on them. There were many and we will hear from Jeff Sharlet next week who will help us remember the influence of the Fellowship Foundation. Extending beyond the Fellowship was the notion that civil policy should reflect Christianity because that is the proper basis for law in a Christian nation. Ugandan legislators saw themselves as lawmakers in a Christian nation.

But who in the U.S. was behind the idea that church and state is not separate? All roads led me back to David Barton.  At that point, I started to check out the fact claims that Barton said led him to question church-state separation. The rest, as they say, is history.

Part of that history involved writing the book Getting Jefferson Right: Fact Check Claim about Our Third President My co-author on that project is Michael Coulter. Michael is a professor of political science and humanities at Grove City College and a good friend. As we discuss in the interview below, I requested a pre-publication copy of The Jefferson Lies in February 2012. Somewhere in our McDonalds discussions, I asked Michael to join me as co-author and we had the ebook ready to go by May 1. A paperback followed in July and by August, The Jefferson Lies had been pulled from publication by Thomas Nelson.

In this interview, we discuss more about Getting Jefferson Right, but also get into why people would rather believe fiction over truth, the requirement of honesty from scholars, and how Christian nationalism influences attitudes towards political matters today. I hope you profit from it.

View all 15 Years of Blogging Interviews

Scott Lively and the American Evangelical Attraction to Russia

On July 18, Ruth Graham wrote in Slate “Mariia Butina’s cozy relationship with the Christian right makes total sense.” Butina is the Russian national who was recently indicted on charges of conspiracy and acting as a agent of the Russian government.

For certain, Butina had an easy time making friends with Christian right leaders such as Eric Metaxas and organizers of the National Prayer Breakfast.  Graham also wrote about why  that”cozy relationship” make sense:

Much of the Christian right views contemporary Russia with a surprising fondness, and it’s a coziness that predates the Trump administration.

Graham then mentions Pat Buchanan, Bryan Fischer, and Franklin Graham as evangelicals who have praised Putin’s hard line on gay and abortion rights. Despite Putin’s authoritarian tactics, some Christian nationalists like the morality he legislates.

Enter Scott Lively

Although there have been many influences on the development of current policies in Russia toward gays over the years, one simply cannot overlook the role of current GOP candidate for governor in MA, Scott Lively. In 2006 and 2007, Lively toured 50 cities in seven former Soviet bloc countries, including Russia spreading his anti-gay message. In a 2013 blog post, Lively celebrated the passage of a Russian law which banned teaching about homosexuality in schools.

On January 25th of this year the Russian State Duma, its highest legislative body, voted to prohibit homosexual advocacy to children, following the enactment of similar legislation in a number of Russian cities including St. Petersburg, and Novosibirsk (the capitol city of Siberia).

http://www.pravoslavie.ru/english/59099.htm .  Go Ruskies!

I am personally very pleased to see this development, having called specifically for legislation of this sort in my speaking tour of the former Soviet Union in 2006 and 2007.  During that tour, which began in the Russian Far East city of Blagoveschensk and ended in St. Petersburg, I lectured in a variety of venues including numerous universities, churches and conference halls, and met with numerous government leaders at various levels of influence.  The entire tour spanned approximately 50 cities in seven countries: Russia, Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Ukraine, and Belarus (we also passed through Kazakhstan but didn‘t speak there).

Toward the end of the tour I published, from St. Petersburg, A Letter to the Russian People (see below) which summarized my central message that I had shared in well over 300 lectures, sermons and media interviews during the prior year.

My pro-family message was warmly welcomed by the people of each of these countries, and to varying degrees the homosexual agenda has been slowed in all of them.  To my knowledge the only two Eastern European countries to pass pro-family legislation designed to curtail the spread of homosexuality are Russia and Lithuania, which are coincidentally, the only two countries to whose people I wrote an open letter.  My Lithuanian letter can be viewed online at www.defendthefamily.com.

Here you can watch Lively in action speaking in a Russian church. Notice how the audience begins to clap when Lively says a gay man dies.

He also appears in this Russian documentary.

Although it might giving Lively too much credit, he certainly deserves some responsibility for giving Russian leaders a wedge issue to use to compete with the West. In an interesting twist, American evangelicals who have excused Donald Trump’s moral failings have had practice by praising ruthless Putin for his support for traditional morality in Russian law.

Those waiting for an uprising of Christian leaders to condemn Donald Trump for softness toward an authoritarian dictator in Putin can keep waiting. Many evangelicals of the Christian nationalist persuasion think  evangelical morality can and should be legislated, even if you have to overlook some things.

 

Like this article and want to see more like it? Support this blog at Patreon.com.

Briefs and Updates: Uganda, Scott Lively, Mars Hill Church, IOTC and Steven Sotloff

I am not surprised that Uganda’s Parliament will again debate an Anti-Homosexuality Bill. The world famous bill passed Parliament late last year and was signed by President Museveni earlier this year only to be thrown out by a Ugandan court due to a procedural problem during passage.
[youtube]http://youtu.be/F5Jll-VG0JA[/youtube]
Scott Lively says he’ll drop out of the MA governor’s race if his tea party opponent wins the GOP nomination. Reaction from the rest of MA? Crickets.
In light of Mark Driscoll’s 6 week break, September’s Mars Hill Church vision breakfast has been cancelled.
Instead of executive elder Dave Bruskas, Josh McPherson of Grace City Church in Wenatchee, WA will preach this Sunday at Mars Hill Church – Bellevue.
I note the following tweet and am working to confirm:


 
MD Del. Herb McMillan wants to make it very clear that he does not endorse Michael Peroutka for Anne Arundel County Council. If only GOP Attorney General candidate Jeffrey Pritzker would be as vocal. In light of Peroutka’s statement impying that Pritzker agreed with his views, I wrote Pritzker a couple of days ago for a clarification. So far no answer.
Join me in prayer for the family of Steven Sotloff.

Who Will Replace Fred Phelps?

Hopefully, he won’t be replaced but there are those who come close.
By now, most people know that the pastor of Westboro Baptist Church, Fred Phelps, died earlier this month (March 19). Phelps was the personification of hatred toward gay people along with the church which was mostly his family members. I am sure others have speculated about who could replace Phelps so this might not break much new ground. However, I thought of this list while reading about Martin Ssempa’s march to celebrate the passing of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill in Uganda.
Most people, me included, do not want to see a replacement for Phelps. It is tragic to be known for one’s hatred and such a stance is surely a misrepresentation of Christianity. But there are those who seem to want the position. I’ll start with the reason this post even came to mind.
Martin Ssempa: Today, Ssempa is leading a march in Uganda to celebrate the passage of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill late last year.  A person who would celebrate a law that makes life in prison a possibility for simple affection between two consenting adults has to be on the short list for a Phelps replacement. Once known primarily for his work in Uganda against HIV/AIDS, now he is known world wide as one of the most vocal and absurd anti-gay crusaders. His pornography shows in Kampala and hateful rhetoric rival Phelps for showmanship and degradation. Ssempa seems to revel in his status as an anti-gay icon in Uganda and in the United States. In fact, he is on the list while bill sponsor David Bahati is not, because Ssempa has cultivated his image in the U.S.
Paul Cameron: Paul Cameron has been discredited widely but still finds his way to the media, recently telling a talk show host that he would be open to the death penalty for sexually active gays. In the past, he has suggested that the Nazis methods of handling gays might also have merit. Cameron has for years called for criminalization of homosexuality and has produced mountains of junk studies to attempt to vindicate his views.
Scott Lively: Many might place Lively at the top of the list because he is widely believed to be the force behind the Uganda bill and the tightening of laws in the Soviet bloc nations. He favors laws which limit free speech on homosexuality but doesn’t favor the death penalty as did Ssempa before the law was amended. He says he favors rehabilitation and has often cited NARTH as a favored organization. Where he rivals Phelps is with his historical fiction book, The Pink Swastika, which essentially lays blame for the Holocaust on homosexuality.
James David Manning: Like many people who yell fire in a crowded room, this New York City preacher posted provocative rhetoric and then said he didn’t mean anything hateful. Manning posted “Jesus would stone homos” on his church sign and then said later he is not a hater. We’ll have to see if he escalates his rhetoric once the attention dies down.
Christian Reconstructionists: Many adherents of Christian reconstructionism (like this supporter of Ron Paul)  think gays along with disobedient children and adulterers should be stoned.  I am not sure any one of these fellows is going to rise up to the status of Phelps but their belief in their view of Mosaic law could be a foundation for such a move.
Some might object to my omission of Bryan Fischer. Fischer gets a dishonorable mention because he parrots some of Lively’s and Cameron’s views but doesn’t seem to want to kill gays. Criminalize same-sex relationships yes, but not kill them.
I hope it is clear that the focus here is not disagreement over biblical interpretation or moral objection to same-sex behavior, but rather the obsessive effort to demonize an entire group of people. Certainly, Ssempa, Cameron, Lively and Manning have demonstrated the latter. We don’t yet know the full consequences of their work.
Update on Ssempa’s march: At least three dudes showed up.

Weekend Roundup – Tanks, Government Lies, Anti-Gay Pride, Christian Persecution, Government Shut Down

These are some items of interest that I either didn’t get to or need no additional noise from me.
David Barton: Tanks A Lot – David Barton told his Wallbuilders audience that private citizens should be allowed to have whatever weapons the government has – tanks, fighter jets, whatever. Just like the founders had.
How Do You Know When The Government Is Lying? – That’s the burning question Michael Peroutka asks on his IOTC website. He claims that the government and the media conspire together ” to endanger you, impoverish you or otherwise to harm you.” I also learned that the media hyped up the dangers of Swine Flu in 2009 to “provide cover” for the government to meddle in health care.
Scott Lively and Bryan Fischer Celebrate Anti-Gay Pride –  At 10:25, Lively calls his indirect influence on Russia’s anti-gay law “one of the proudest achievements of my career.” Guess it is all downhill from there.
Christians are under attack all over the world and the Church seems silent – Kirsten Powers’ thought provoking editorial provoked me. I will return to this issue next week. My initial view is that most Christians in the pew are praying but don’t know what else to do. Our evangelical leaders are consumed with Values Voting and Culture Warring and Taking The Country Back.
Oh, and the government might shut down…

Scott Lively: The Apocalypse Is Coming

Yesterday, Right Wing Watch featured Scott Lively and Rick Wiles waxing apocalyptically on Wiles radio show.  The essence is that September 23, 2015 is a pivotal date. On that day, the Antichrist (said personification of evil is said to be the leader of the “largest superpower in the world”) will pardon all the world’s debts and be hailed as the “hero of the world.” From there, the Antichrist will bring in the Apocalypse.
Lively then praises Vladimir Putin for his efforts to stifle free speech and association in Russia. Lively believes homosexuality is a tool of the Antichrist and a part of the great demonic plot to launch the reign of the Antichrist.
Here is what I don’t get. If these guys believe the evidence points to a September 23, 2015 beginning of the end, then why do they think their efforts matter? If September 15, 2015 is an appointment on God’s calendar, then who or what could change that? As this website reminds, the New Testament makes it clear that only God knows when the The End Time cometh. If these guys think the fireworks begin on 9.15.15, then shouldn’t they just get out of the way?
There are other problems with their scenario. The description of the Antichrist sounds like either Obama or Xi Jinping. Although I lean toward Obama as Lively’s mystery AC, I wonder if Lively means Xi because China could forgive a lot of debt. I don’t know how Obama forgives debt since we owe so much.
In any case, with Lively all roads lead to Gay. Gays are the ruination of the world and for reasons not totally clear to me, nations of the world need to deprive certain citizens of their rights. As noted above, I am not sure how that is going to help since these guys have the times and the seasons all figured out. Maybe Lively thinks he can prevent the Apocalypse or push it back a little.
It is distressing to think that Lively’s single-minded efforts are driven by  eschatology gone awry.

David Barton to Appear at Scott Lively’s Ministry in Springfield MA

On November 9, David Barton is slated to appear at Scott Lively’s Redemption Gate Ministry.

Perhaps this boost to Lively’s credibility comes as a pay back for Lively’s conspiracy theory about why The Jefferson Lies was attacked by so many Christian historians prior to being pulled off the shelves by publisher Thomas Nelson. In August, Lively linked my blog posts debunking The Pink Swastika in 2009 to my recent book with Michael Coulter (Getting Jefferson Right) debunking Barton’s book The Jefferson Lies. Since everything has to do with homosexuality for Lively, he opined that our book fact-checking Barton’s book was written because David Barton is anti-gay. Barton ran with that idea by tweeting the article to his followers, and having Lively on his Wallbuilders show.

The whole conspiracy idea (and it is a false one – we wrote the book about The Jefferson Lies because it had just come out and because Barton made/makes many false claims) was used by Barton to deflect the substantial criticisms we made in Getting Jefferson Right. Neither Lively nor Barton have responded directly to the evidence we presented about their various claims.* Instead, their tactic has been to launch ad hominem attacks against me and others. The primary strategy of both Lively and Barton has been to invent a narrative where I am a liberal who has somehow persuaded scores of conservative people to write critically about these two men. Barton’s right hand man, Rick Green, compared me and others conservative Christian scholars to Adolf Hitler and Saul Alinsky because we pointed out blatant errors of fact in David Barton’s work.

Perhaps I should not be surprised but I am disappointed that very few people called Barton and Lively out on this obvious effort to change the subject. Many other conservatives came out with critiques of The Jefferson Lies (e.g., Breakpoint, American Vision) The main organizer of the effort to bring Barton to accountability was Jay Richards, a conservative Catholic and Fellow at the Discovery Institute who has co-authored a book with James Robison, another conservative author and minister. Richards asked 10 conservative Christian scholars to read our book and Barton’s book and issue a report. They did and in every case, the scholars found that Barton was incorrect on many of his key claims. About Barton’s books and videos, Richards said they contain”embarrassing factual errors, suspiciously selective quotes, and highly misleading claims.” Michael Coulter and I still don’t know who all of those scholars are.

Appearing at Lively’s ministry is not likely to hurt Barton’s reputation but it is stunning that a Christian leader of Barton’s stature would do so. Lively’s work has been rejected and removed from websites of the National Association for the Research and Therapy of Homosexuality, Exodus International and Campus Crusade for Christ, among others. None of those groups are liberal.

In 2009, Lively told a Ugandan audience that homosexuals were likely involved in carrying out the Rwandan holocaust and that homosexuals prey on children. Although he told Current TV’s Marianna Van Zeller that he did not favor the death penalty for homosexuality in Uganda, he said favored a state run ex-gay therapy program as an option to punishment. However, if the death penalty would be removed he would favor the Ugandans maintaining criminal sanctions against homosexual behavior. His interview with Current TV makes this clear:

Lively’s thrust and work are at odds with Barton’s benefactor Glenn Beck. Beck told Bill O’Reilly that he didn’t think the gay issues should be high up on the list of conservative worries.

This is about the same position I have. Beck quotes Thomas Jefferson saying, if it doesn’t pick my pocket or break my leg, why should I be concerned. I am a theological conservative who believes discrimination against individuals is wrong, even if they are gay or their moral views are different from mine. I think evangelicals are have spent too much time and money fighting the culture war when they should be worried more about reaching people with the essential message of the church.

However, when I articulate such views, I am a leftist, Alinskyite, Hitlerian elitist. When Beck does; well, he is Glenn Beck.

 

*Barton has responded to some of our criticisms but he has framed the arguments in friendly venues (e.g., Glenn Beck Show). For instance, he acknowledged on the Beck show that he left out part of the 1782 Virginia law allowing for manumission of slaves but he never said why he did it and has not provided any evidence that other laws in Virginia prevented manumission. He said he would but he has not. His responses to critics has been to dismiss them as liberals or limit his responses to parts of the criticism he wants to address. For the most part, Christian leaders are letting him get away with that.

Scott Lively on Wallbuilders Live

You read that right. Scott Lively, author of The Pink Swastika, was on David Barton’s radio show today complaining about me. If you want to listen, go to the August 21 show and click on the link.

Barton, Green and Lively would love to make the controversy over The Jefferson Lies about me. Lively’s presence on the show can only serve as an attempt to change the subject from Barton’s work to something, anything else. Green and Lively doubled down on the accusation that Christian scholars are using tactics of Alinsky to attack Barton. The Chuck Colson Center is using Alinsky tactics? Jay Richards of the Discovery Center is channeling Alinsky?

For those who want to examine the historical issues relating to The Pink Swastika, see this link.

In any case, the issues being raised now by numerous Christian scholars and observers are not about me or my views on unrelated matters. I call on Mr. Barton and Green to stick to the historical issues and cease the ad hominem attacks.