Are American evangelicals complicit in the Uganda anti-gay movement?
Much attention has been focused on the Ugandan parliamentary bill mandating Draconian treatment of gays, up to execution, that has been shelved for the moment. Undoubtedly, the international outcry has been effective. The relationship between several American evangelical groups and the Ugandan anti-gay movement has also come to light, raising serious questions about the influence and extremism of these American gay bashers in the name of their evangelical Christianity.
Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback mega-church in the US and the author of the popular The Purpose Driven Life, is perhaps the most visible of the evangelicals who had cavorted with the Ugandan leadership prior to the drafting of the hate-filled legislation. Religion Dispatches blog has reported extensively on Warren and Uganda:
Yet last year, according to a press release from Warren’s public relations firm, he launched a “purpose-driven living” campaign in Uganda, organized by a former member of Parliament. While there — his fourth trip to the country — he met with the First Lady of Uganda, Janet Museveni. Warren’s statement today that he’s never met the president of Uganda or any members of parliament, then, seems hair-splitting. The press release, after all, did say, “This is the second East African country to invite Dr. Warren to bring the well- known Purpose Driven Life and Church leadership training to churches, businesses and government on a national scale.” At the time, Warren said, “my challenge to business and government leaders is to use their influence for the glory of God and partner with local churches in solving community problems.”
There is no evidence that Warren directly promoted the idea of the anti-gay legislation; yet, it is clear that his original foray into Uganda to instill his “Purpose Driven” plan was at the request of homophobe Anglican Archbishop, the Most Rev. Henry Luke Orombi. According to a news release at the time appearing on Christian Post, it was Orombi who
recalled initially wanting to invite Warren to Uganda after seeing the Purpose Driven Living program implemented in Rwanda.
Uganda is the second east African country to invite Warren to bring the Purpose Driven Life and Church leadership training program to the country on a national scale. The first east African country to adopt the program nationwide was Rwanda in 2005.
It turns out that Orombi and first lady Janet Museveni, two of Warren’s principal contacts, have been among the most influential gay bashers in Uganda.
After a month of waffling and suggesting it wasn’t his business to influence foreign nations internal policies, Warren finally bowed to pressure and issued a statement condemning the legislation, but his statement was also laden with self-serving denials:
There’s no doubt he has a strong relationship with government, business, and religious leaders in Uganda, according to his own statements. So it would seem logical for people at least to think he would have some sway to denounce the proposed law as a brutal violation of human rights and of Christian values. Instead of addressing the reasons why he waited to speak, though, Warren instead seeks to dispel “untruths” about his relationships with leaders there, and alleged misinterpretations of some of his statements. But that doesn’t tell us much about his relationships there, just which leaders and statements from which he’s now trying to distance himself. It would be more revealing to understand just what “purpose-driven living” is, how he has imparted that teaching to Ugandan leaders, and how they make use of it.
Exodus International is a well-known organization that promotes reparative therapy. Reparative therapy is a discredited theory and practice of transforming gays to straight. In August, 2009, the American Psychological Association issued a hard hitting condemnation of reparative therapy and its adherents.
The American Psychological Association concluded Wednesday that there is little evidence that efforts to change a person’s sexual orientation from gay or lesbian to heterosexual are effective. The report looks at 87 studies conducted between 1960 and 2007. In addition, the 138-page report — covering 87 peer-reviewed studies — said that such efforts may cause harm.
Of course, Exodus won’t allow the facts to inform their opinions, and they continue to inflict their “cure” on troubled gays who already doubt their human worth.
As an organization, Exodus was not directly involved in the rise of official Ugandan homophobia, but one of their board members was an early anti-gay spokesman in that country. At a March, 2009 anti-gay conference in Kampala, Exodus Board member Don Schmierer was one of three presenters (Nazi revisionist Scott Lively was another).
Family Life Network has organized a training seminar to equip Ugandans with information and skills to fight what it calls spiraling promotion of homosexuality in the country.
[T]he seminar from March 5th to 7th will provide insight on the causes and treatment of homosexuality; provide practical tips on how to prevent homosexuality behavior in youth; expose the homosexual agenda … is intended for parents, guardians, teachers, government officials, policy makers, members of parliament, religious leaders, counselors and activists who need in-depth knowledge on the subject of homosexuality.
A blog called Box Turtle Bulletin has been on top of the Exodus-Uganda connection, with dozens of blog posts listed chronologically here. A few pertinent items include the announcement of the anti-gay seminar on the floor of the Ugandan legislature, Exodus’ initial “applauding” of Schmierer’s participation, the Ugandan parliamentary foray into the anti-gay movement six weeks after the seminar, and finally the Nov 16th Exodus lukewarm rejection of the legislation only after the international outcry.
Written as it is by an organization which does not affirm the dignity and worth of LGBT people to live their lives responsibly in freedom and self-determination, there is certainly much in this letter that merits criticism. Furthermore, the letter makes no recommendations except to “consider the influence this law will have” on the work of those who believe that the only valid option for LGBT people is to self-deny their own existence. The “influence” this law will have on LGBT people themselves, well that’s apparently inconsequential and not worthy of discussion.
One final note regarding Exodus that will be of interest to regular followers of this blog. Exodus International has a mutually supportive relationship with Lutheran CORE, the dissident ELCA group that resisted the pro-LGBT actions of the 2009 ELCA churchwide assembly and which continues as an ELCA irritant and schismatic movement. At the ELCA church wide assembly, Lutheran CORE maintained a visible presence and a headquarters / hospitality room. On Thursday evening of the assembly, they promoted a presentation by a representative of Outpost, an affiliate of Exodus International. From the CORE newsletter of August 17th:
Thursday night will feature a presentation by Nate Oyloe, Youth and College Age Director for Outpost Ministries. “Outpost was formed to meet the needs of men and women who have made a decision to break away from the gay life,” its website
explains. Outpost is an affiliate ministry of Exodus International.
Oyloe, in turn, subsequently reported on his presentation in a post on the Exodus website:
Within the denomination is a group called The CORE – Coalition for Reform – that is committed to the upholding of God’s Word and the biblical understanding that homosexual behavior is sinful all the time, every time. The week before the convention Outpost was asked by The CORE to have a presence there. Outpost staff talked with delegates and shared their stories of transformation with individuals throughout the week. I was asked to speak to their group and share my personal testimony the night before the second vote passed.
I also have private correspondence from an ELCA member in Florida whose pastor seeks to lead the congregation into CORE. The pastor invited a CORE spokesperson, a Rebecca Heber, whose presentation to the congregation boasted of the CORE relationship with Exodus.
If we are known by the company we keep, then Lutheran CORE has some “splanin” to do about its affiliation with Exodus, its debunked reparative therapy theories, and its connection to the horrific anti-gay movement in Uganda.
The International Transformation Network is the third evangelical organization that merits scrutiny for its Ugandan influence. From their website:
The International Transformation Network (ITN) is a strategic alliance of Christians from the marketplace and the pulpit who are building prototypes for city and nation transformation that bring the presence and the power of God to meet the felt needs and the systemic challenges of our communities and countries.
As a result of a clear focus on five pivotal paradigms for transformation and the principles of prayer evangelism, real transformation is taking place in cities and nations around the world – in businesses, on campuses, in the halls of government, and within congregations.
Another web page lauds the program’s “prayer evangelism and marketplace redemption strategies to reach cities and transform nations for Christ.” ITN promotes a full-blown and unapologetic prosperity theology, but with a governmental, theocratic twist–a three way partnership between government, business, and Christianity.
According to the Uganda State House website, in March, 2007 the Ugandan President and First Lady, Janet Museveni, (the same mentioned above as contact for Rick Warren) hosted a state dinner for the representatives of ITN. A year later , in March 2008, the website reports the Museveni’s hosted ITN CEO Ed Silvoso, and Silvoso’s own website trumpets ITN’s relationship with “Mama Janet” and her role as a friendly First Lady in Uganda, “a nation completely ripe for transformation”.
These theocratic ideals, tinged with a prosperity gospel, are scary enough, but what about the the relationship of ITN and the anti-gay movement of Uganda? The 18th ITN international conference of October, 2008 held in Argentina is revealing. The speakers included exorcist Cindy Jacobs who offered a chilling, rabble-rousing, rant about “pornography’”, “homosexuals”, “bisexuals”, and “perversion” to a spell-bound, swaying audience. Another speaker, a representative of ITN/Uganda praised “Mama Janet” for being “God’s key” to open not just Uganda but the whole African continent. It also turns out that the daughter of “Mama Janet” is a pastor of a Ugandan church affiliated with the ITN, and it was one of her parishioners, a member of Parliament, who drafted the infamous anti-gay legislation.
And then we come full circle back to the ELCA, back to Minnesota, back to Northfield, for it seems there are two Minnesota Lutheran congregations that have bought into the ITN prosperity gospel with its homophobic overtones.
The first of these is Christ Lutheran Church of Otsego in the Elk River, Minnesota vicinity. According to their website, they have a special congregational meeting called for January 31 to consider a resolution to secede from the ELCA. The same web page has several links to anti-gay sermons of Pastor David Glesne of Redeemer Lutheran in Fridley, a Lutheran CORE and WordAlone Network congregation that has withdrawn from the ELCA.
The second ITN Lutheran congregation is right here in Northfield; it is Rejoice Lutheran, and they claim inspiration from the Elk River example.
Rejoice! sees itself as a city leader in this prayer evangelism movement. We believe, through the power of community prayer, God is raising-up Christians in the city to bring others to the faith! Pastor Dan Clites says he is a pulpit minister, but our congregation is the marketplace ministers! Together, we are blurring the lines between the sacred and the secular!
Local speculation is that Rejoice will depart the ELCA, but a question remains about the significant mission financial support they previously received from the ELCA. Will they keep it or give it back? One wonders if Rejoice members know about the connection between ITN, their prosperity gospel mentor, and the anti-gay movement of Uganda; if so, are they ok with it?
Episcopal pastor, Elizabeth Keaton, has a lengthy post about ITN and their theocratic movement in her home city of Newark, and her post contains a video expose of ITN and their connections to the Uganda anti-gay movement. Watch it!