Southern Nevada Health District severs ties with Canyon Ridge Christian Church

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

July 9, 2010

Pastor Kevin Odor

6200 W. Lone Mountain Road

Las Vegas, NV 89130

Dear Pastor Odor:

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

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

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

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

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


Lawrence Sands, DO, MPH

Chief Health Officer

Related posts:

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

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

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

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

July 1 – Las Vegas newspaper covers Canyon Ridge controversy

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

Also see this article on

Church loses partnership over “kill the gay” bill

Ugandan gay advocacy group: Dead man not one of us

The report of a gay man beheaded and mutilated in Uganda quickly made the rounds among bloggers over the last couple of days. My initial reaction to the story found on Changing Attitudes was to link it to a disturbing NTV report about a man’s head found in a latrine in Uganda. However, I was unclear about the details and about who had identified him as a gay man. Read here for the details and the updates which established that the story was some kind of hoax.

Late today, Sexual Minorities Uganda released a statement indicating that they knew nothing of the man and are unaware of any gay man who has met such a tragic end. The man may have been gay but he was not an activist or known to their coalition. Apparently, someone made up the gay angle, perhaps assuming bloggers would report it falsely, thus causing their credibility to be questioned.

Here is SMUG’s statement:

July 7, 2010


Beheaded Ugandan NOT an LGBT Activist

This statement is in reference to the disturbing news reports that the Ugandan man who was found beheaded identified as Pasikali Kashusbe was a gay-rights activist working as a volunteer with Integrity Uganda.

SMUG nullifies these reports and we are not aware of any LGBTI activist who has been beheaded. However, details of the mutilated body are yet to be revealed by the Ugandan Police.

Speaking to the Chair of Integrity Uganda, Bishop Christopher Ssenyonjo, “I have never worked with anyone who goes by the name Pasikali in my organization. I also did not make any comments as quoted in earlier statements made by Rev. Erich Kasirye, Rev. Erich Kasirye no longer has any legitimate connection to Integrity Uganda and the e-mail address is no longer available as a link to the leadership of Integrity Uganda”.   

SMUG stands in solidarity with Bishop Ssenyonjo, who has worked and supported SMUG and the entire Ugandan LGBTI community for a long period of time.

Integrity Uganda which is a member organization of Sexual Minorities Uganda is a faith-based LGBT organization which gives counseling and guidance to LGBT people.

SMUG disassociates the Ugandan LGBT community from these reports, until we have substantial information.

Shocking News: Uganda Gay Activist Pasikali Kashusbe Beheaded

Press contacts:

  1. Frank Mugisha, Executive Director – SMUG Tel: +256 772 616 062
  2. Bishop Ssenyoonjo – Chairperson – Integrity Uganda Tel: +256 772 448 958

I am very sad for the man’s family and angry that his life has been hijacked for this hoax. I am also sorry for fueling the fire with my initial report. Even though I qualified my report, I thought it was credible and wrote it that way. I think the likelihood of anti-gay violence is pretty great in Uganda and I fear that we might be reporting a real situation sooner than later. However, nothing is particularly clear about this one, except that a man has been killed and someone made a false report about the circumstances.

Blog report: Missing Ugandan gay man found dead (Updated – Likely hoax)

UPDATE: 7/7/10 – Gay groups in Uganda have issued a statement on this situation. Go to this new post on this topic. All future updates will be reported there.

UPDATE: 7/7/10 – Box Turtle Bulletin and Changing Attitudes are now reporting that this story is most likely a hoax. Read these blogs for the details.

UPDATE – 6:40pm – Here is an update on the missing priest.

UPDATE: 6:25pm est – This report may not be accurate. There is now some doubt that the dead man was affiliated with Integrity Uganda. He may not have been gay, according to Box Turtle Bulletin. Apparently, however, the gay affirming Anglican priest is still missing. At issue is the orientation of the deceased and the motive for the crime.


If accurate, this report is what many of us feared:

News from Uganda which surfaced today highlights why change in church teaching and practice towards homosexuality is imperative and urgent.

A search for a missing pro-gay priest, the Rev Henry Kayizzi Nsubuga, who disappeared almost two and half weeks ago after delivering a scathing speech at St. Paul’s Church, Kanyanya supporting homosexuality in Uganda, led the joint search team of Integrity Uganda and Namirembe Diocese to the severed head of another person. The head was found in a pit latrine on the farm of Badru Kiggundu, the Electoral Commission Chairman, in Makindye Sabagabo, Wakiso District.

Judith Nabakooba, a police spokesperson, identified the head as that of Pasikali Kashusbe, one of the workers on Kiggundu’s farm and a member of Integrity Uganda. Pasikali and his partner Abbey are youth workers with Integrity Uganda charged with the responsibility of mobilising young LGBT people in activities which build community capacity to face up to the challenge of homophobia, especially in the area of attitude change and care through drama and sports activities.

According to the police, a mutilated torso which was earlier in the week discovered in Kabuuma Zone, about half a kilometre away from Kiggundu’s farm was probably Pasikali’s The torso was described as belonging to a young man and had no genitals.

Here is a news report on what appears to be the same or a related situation without identifying the personal circumstances or identity of the victim. The names don’t quite match up and I am seeking to confirm the situation.

One of Martin Ssempa’s students said that gays should be killed if they are caught. Watch at about 38 minutes into the Missionaries of Hate and you will hear one say that

You’re caught and you’re homosexual, you’re hanged. We have not caught one as yet. That is the only good thing.


Those who marched with Martin Ssempa in February called for the death penalty for gays. The second man speaking on this video appears to be Bishop David Kiganda, who was identified by TheCall Uganda as someone who could respond to my questions about the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. David Kiganda is the pastor of the Christianity Focus Center where Martin Ssempa conducted one of his hard core porn shows.

In 2007 and again this year in January, a Tabliq cleric and colleague of Martin Ssempa in the war on gays, Multah Bukenya, announced his readiness to unleash squads of young men to hunt down gays promising “to wipe out all abnormal practices like homosexuality in our society.”

The priest is apparently still missing.

Does anyone need any help in connecting the dots here? No one knows for sure, and we may never know, who was responsible for the death of this man. We do know that members of a Makerere Community Church youth group can sit holding Bibles and a prayer meeting and casually tell an American journalist that homosexuals should be hanged if caught. We know that their pastor receives financial support from a member church of the Willow Creek Association and that church fails to see the problem. Did the Makerere kids catch a gay man? It is a fair question.

UPDATE – 7/6/10: This news report in the Daily Monitor corroborates the identity of the missing man. However, I am hearing from sources in Uganda that there is still some question about the man’s identity.  Thus, I have changed the title of the post to reflect the uncertainty of the situation. There is some possibility that the murder was conducted by witch doctors and was unrelated to anti-gay sentiment in the nation. Nonetheless, I have been following the situation there for months and given the rhetoric I noted above, it is certainly plausible that this was a crime based on hatred of gays.

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

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

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

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

Follow up on the tragic case of Rev. Brent Dugan

by David Blakeslee

In November, 2006, Presbyterian minister Brent Dugan was about to be outed and took his own life in a Mercer, PA hotel room. I wrote about that tragic event here and was prompted to look into aftermath of the situation by a recent comment left on that post from a person who knew Rev. Dugan.

On July 1, 2010 I called the Christian Associates of Southwest Pennsylvania and spoke with their executive director, Rev. Dr. Donald B. Green about the FCC complaint which was asserted by others to be filed against KDKA for its sensationalistic and provocative reporting on Pastor Dugan’s personal behavior.

Reverend Green was very generous to answer questions by phone from a person he did not know.  According to Reverend Green CASP is an association of pastors and bishops which need to reach consensus in legal matters before filing formal complaints to government bodies like the FCC.  Reverend Green stated that unfortunately, such a consensus could not be reached among participants in this association.  Instead they reached a consensus about facilitating a formal meeting with KDKA on the ethical issues involved in reporting Pastor Dugan’s private behavior in such a sensationalistic way.  The results of that meeting can be found here.

We also discussed the reporter involved in the Dugan journalistic “investigation.”  Marty Griffin apparently had a sensationalistic “journalistic” style prior to his targeting of Pastor Dugan.  This style cost his previous employer 2.2 million to settle the defamation suit that followed:

In 1997, Griffin’s then-employer, Dallas station KXAS-TV Channel 5, paid a reported $2.2 million to settle a defamation suit arising from a story Griffin aired about Dallas Cowboys receiver Michael Irvin. In that story, a topless dancer accused Irvin of participating in a rape with two other men — accusations she later recanted, and which resulted in perjury charges against her. Griffin also conducted a hidden-camera investigation of Irvin’s purported drug-buying activities, a story for which KXAS paid an informant $6,000. The station admitted no wrongdoing in the 1997 settlement, which Griffin opposed. In fact, Griffin’s online bio on the KDKA Web site boasts of winning awards for his reporting on Irvin, and adds, “That’s right — Michael Irvin doesn’t like Marty Griffin very much.”

Reverend Green reports that Mr. Griffin currently has a talk radio show which takes advantage of his sensationalistic and emotional style.

I would encourage readers to review the article above which thoughtfully addresses the chronology of events, the important considerations that journalists should consider when judging religious leaders who are in violation of their vows and the brand of journalists who may be ratings driven, rather than ethically driven in their pursuits.


Las Vegas paper covers Canyon Ridge controversy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. The offence of homosexuality.

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

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

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

stimulate sexual organ of a person of the same sex;

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

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

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

Sing a little louder

Somehow I missed this one.

Janet (I want CBS to be the Christian Broadcasting System) Porter was not happy that her media takeover was foiled temporarily due to the loss of her radio show. She used her June 8 column to blast, nay, to smite with a vengence an organization called Discernment Ministries who played a role in the decision of the VCY Network to drop her show.

Discernment Ministries has been all over the Seven Mountains Theology which Ms. Porter likes. VCY Network didn’t like the idea of promoting a theocracy so they decided to part ways. Porter is none too happy:

The “separation of church and state.” I could be reading from the constitution of the former Soviet Union, a decision by Ruth Bader Ginsburg or a fundraising letter from the ACLU. But instead, I’m repeating a philosophy of “Christian” groups like Discernment Ministries and their website, “Herescope.”

No kidding. There remains a very vocal group of self-proclaimed Christians who believe their “spiritual gift” is criticism and their role is to join the ranks of the ACLU and police the streets for Christians who dare step outside the four walls of the church into the light of day.

They insist Christians must stay within the church singing from the same page of the same hymnal, perfectly pious and free from those not legalistically aligned … all while our nation and our freedoms are burning to the ground. No, they’re not involved, just like the Christians who “sang a little louder” from their hymnals so not to hear the screams from the trains headed for the concentration camps.

Trivializing the Holocaust, Porter then tortures analogies between the ban on school prayer, abortion, and support for Barack Obama to the Nazi use of concentration camps.

Then she asks a question that I think she should address:

To those who still believe that we should stay out of the cultural war, I have a question: How is that working out for you?

We now have two generations who are lost in the lies of humanism, evolution and homosexuality, facilitated into fornication and abortion, trapped in pornography and devastated by divorce. Congratulations.

How is it working out? How is the effort toward Christianizing the government going? During those two generations the culture war has raged and where are we?

Herescope did not take Porter’s rant without a response. You can read the whole article here but here is the drift of it:

So now “apostle” Lou Engle is free to lay apostolic hands of blessing on 3-time divorcee Newt Gingrich. Now the NAR apostles and prophets, thanks to Janet Porter and WorldNetDaily, can take their equal places in politics. Now they have the blessing of James Dobson, who endorsed Janet Porter’s May Day event at the Lincoln Memorial. Now Cindy Jacobs, prophetess extraordinaire, who had a visit of the Seraphim in her room that caught it on fire, can share the stage with Newt Gingrich. Now Rick Joyner, who has his own political action organization which he calls the Oak Initiative — and who reportedly made a trip to heaven and heard Martin Luther repent of the Reformation — can rub shoulders with James Dobson.

So now these self-anointed, self-appointed apostles of the NAR, laden down with false signs and wonders, false apostolic decrees, and false prophets — who compete with each other in imaginary “can you top this” fraudulent oracles supposed to be from God — have been given the kiss of acceptance by Christian Right politicians, including James Dobson. The apostles and prophets see this as a match made in heaven, a giant step toward appointing apostles as governors of every state and province in the world, complete with in-house prophetic seers to make supernatural decisions.

The Herescope writer is a keen observer of the confluence of the far right and the New Apostolic Reformation. This movement of the religious right toward dominionism is having an interesting effect among evangelicals. The Herescope writer is just as good, if not better, at identifying these trends as anyone at Right Wing Watch.  As I have noted before, there are excellent religious reasons for supporting Jefferson’s “wall of separation” between  church and state. As the religious right tries to tear down this wall as a means of fighting leftist views via the coercive power of the state, many conservative evangelicals see the long term problems and react against the dominionist objectives.

As the dominionist choir sings Onward Christian Soldiers, the other group sings Just As I Am.