The Anti-Homosexuality Bill: Rumors of amendment have been greatly exaggerated

Canyon Ridge Christian Church pastor Kevin Odor told his congregation earlier this month that one reason they continue to support Martin Ssempa is so they can have an influence on his work. Since March when they met with Ssempa, he has gone a little quieter. He did meet with Muslims to rally support in May and in late March, he called Molotov Mitchell to complain that the Anti-Homosexuality Bill was being misrepresented. Mitchell then did a video which claimed to accurately describe the bill. That video is up on the WorldNetDaily video site but appears to have been removed from the initial March 31 WND post. (Check that, it is now back up)

This comes up because yesterday Rob Tisinai (ht BTB) described a Facebook conversation with Molotov Mitchell where Mitchell is still claiming that the Anti-Homosexuality Bill is being misrepresented. Mitchell said this in his March video about the AHB:

A deliberate disinfo campaign has convinced tons of people that Ugandans want nothing short of gay genocide.  I decided to look deeper.  This isn’t my opinion, this isn’t Rick Warren’s opinion, this isn’t even MSNBC’s monolithic gay opinion.  This is what’s in the bill.  Uganda’s anti-gay bill formally extends the death penalty to homosexuals who commit pre-existing capital crimes.  They are as follows:

#1 — Pedophilia or sexual abuse of the handicapped.

#2 — Knowing that you are HIV+ yet continuing to spread it to others, and

#3 –  Using positions of authority to coerce others into performing sexual acts.

That is it.  That’s as far as the “genocide” goes.

Anyone who has read the bill knows that those #1 and #3 are in there, but #2 is distored by Mitchell because the bill does not require knowledge of HIV status, let alone intent to spread it. That distinction in #2 is pretty important and Mitchell leaves out the reference to “repeat offenders” of other offenses of the bill which could be just about anyone. Failure to report homosexual behavior more than once could be construed as a repeat offense as defined by the bill. He completely ignores the life in prison for homosexual behavior aspect, and the extradition for gay behavior elsewhere, and the fines or jail terms for failure to report. If death is not involved, it must be a-ok with Martin Ssempa’s friend, Mitchell.

So Tisinai tells Mitchell that he is distorting the bill and Mitchell says:

Sorry Rob, but you’ve got shady info. There are multiple versions of the bill, even one that has no death penalty at all. The version I was discussing was the same one Pastor Ssempa was (and is?) supporting. The Left Wing is touting early versions and even fake versions of the bill, but they’re wrong. No bill calling for the execution of straight people will be presented or passed.

The problem here is, as Tisinai points out, is that Mitchell in his video claimed that he was not telling us opinions about the bill, but what was actually in it. But which bill? Mitchell says there are several versions; he says Ssempa has a version. He acknowledged he has not actually seen this bill but going on what he has heard. By this logic, there could be as many versions as there are people in Kampala.

Mitchell could be referring to the same recommendations that Martin Ssempa gave to Canyon Ridge Christian Church from the Uganda Joint Christian Council. I have that here but those recommendations do not constitute a new version of the bill. If me and a few of my professor friends here at GCC made up some recommendations to Congress about the health care bill, would I have been justified in telling people in Uganda that our recommendations constituted another version of the health care bill?

Are there different versions of the bill? Perhaps there are some proposals floating around but the official version is still the one published by the Uganda Gazette in September, 2009. To make sure, several days ago I went to the source, Uganda’s Parliament, to find out if any amendments had been read. Charles Tuhaise is a researcher for the Parliamentary Research Service and the President of the National Association of Social Workers – Uganda. I asked him if the rumors of amendments were true. He replied:

To the best of my knowledge, these rumours are unfounded. There are many Bills pending in committee and it is not clear when each of the pending bills will be tackled. Committees have no mandate to amend a Bill, but to present their proposals to the House in a report read by the Committee Chair.

In case it is unclear, by “many Bills” Mr. Tuhaise is referring to many bills on multiple subjects, not many versions of the AHB. When the AHB was first read in October, the bill was assigned to the Committee on Legal and Parliamentary Affairs and the Committee on Presidential Affairs. There was some debate on the matter but the Speaker asked the CLPA to take the lead with help from the CPA. According to Charles Tuhaise, the bill is still before those committees and cannot be amended without consent of Parliament. The role of the committee is to make recommendations but those come in the form of a report to Parliament.

It would really aid the conversation between all parties, supporters, opponents and undecided, if supporters would simply post the bill and discuss what is current. Martin Ssempa said he would do that on March 11 in a radio show with Michael Brown. Instead, he called Molotov Mitchell sometime afterwards and complained that people were distorting the bill. And from what Mitchell said, he didn’t see a copy of it before he told the world what was in it.

This really is pretty simple. Everybody, supporter and oppponents, post the Uganda Gazette copy (wait, opponents have already done that). We discuss what it says. Then if people want to discuss what they think should be in it, then we could call those proposals.

Protest at Canyon Ridge Christian Church

Sunday morning, a small group of teens stood outside Canyon Ridge Christian Church in Las Vegas and protested that church’s support for Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill. I reported about this event last night on

Chase Cates and Spencer Niemetz are listed as the organizers of the event on this Facebook event page. According to Chase, 17 students came out altogether with about 10 at any one time. The protesters ranged in age from 15-19 and represented a variety of views, backgrounds and orientations. The focus of their concern was that a local church was supporting one of the chief instigators of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. They wanted to raise awareness since there has been very notice of the situation around Las Vegas.

After the second service, some of the church leaders invited the teens in for a meeting. Some of them, including Cates, took them up on their offer. 

According to Cates, the leaders dodged some of their questions, including how much support the church sent to Martin Ssempa and what criteria would be used to determine support. Pastor Mitch Harrison confirmed to me that the meeting occured although he did not say whether or not he acknowledged that the Anti-Homosexuality Bill addressed adult consensual behavior. Cates seemed to think they understood, but Harrison did not confirm this. Here is an excerpt from the Salon piece on that point:

Cates said he wanted to raise awareness about the Anti-Homosexuality Bill and said that “if this bill was passed and people were executed or criminalized in any way, Canyon Ridge Christian Church in turn would be held responsible for financing Ssempa who so overtly pushed the bill.”

Cates, a Las Vegas man who will enter college in the fall, said the reaction from the church members was mostly positive. “After the second service, CRCC invited us to join members of the church to have an open discussion of the issue. We took them up on their offer and ended up having a two-hour conversation with Pastor [Mitch] Harrison and others,” he said.

According to Harrison, “nine or so” protesters came into the church for the discussion. Harrison said the teens raised “concerns about the bill criminalizing homosexual behavior.” He added, “Our goal in meeting with them wasn’t so much to express our opinions but to listen to their concerns and gain understanding.” 

I hope understanding was gained because the recent response on the CRCC website demonstrates a lack of it when it comes to the AHB. Cates told me that he was not finished with the issue and there may be more awareness raising to come.

Salon on Canyon Ridge response

Salon published my news article on the Canyon Ridge Christian Church response this morning.

Feel free to carry the discussion over there….

In his sermon, Pastor Odor mentioned his church’s involvement in the April AIDS walk in Las Vegas. If readers were involved in that event or live in Las Vegas, I would be interested in talking to you. Please email

Correcting Canyon Ridge: What Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill really says

 On July 11, Pastor Kevin Odor took about 17 minutes to open his sermon with a description of the current controversy over Canyon Ridge Christian Church’s partnership with Martin Ssempa. He described some of the methods Ssempa has used to promote Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill as “offensive” and said the church leaders met with Ssempa in March to hear his side of the story. While the church leaders advised Ssempa against the unnamed offensive methods, Pastor Odor said the group was heartened by Ssempa’s reasons for supporting the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. Those reasons seemed to center around the perception that the bill was needed to cover certain gaps in the law.

I certainly agree with Pastor Odor that Ssempa’s methods and rhetoric have been offensive to say the least. However, I completely disagree with Odor’s description of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. In essence, with the narrative he provided for his church, he suggests that Rick Warren, World Vision, WAIT Training, Philadelphia Biblical University, and numerous others have misunderstood and/or misrepresented the AHB. Although this is familiar territory for frequent readers here, we go over it again.

Here is what Pastor Odor told his congregation about the bill:

Now the problem comes last Fall that there was a member of Parliament who decided to propose a bill to take care of some things that he was concerned weren’t being protected. And it was introduced as the Anti-Homosexuality Bill in Uganda. There had been a number of sodomy laws on the books already in Uganda but there were a couple of things that weren’t protected. One in particular is aggravated pedophilia basically where there was a repeat offender who was violating young men over and over again and there wasn’t a protection for that. And the second was now with HIV/AIDS if someone with HIV/AIDS, knowing that, violated someone and passing that on that was another concern.

And so…the new bill that was written had about 60% of the old bill in it and it added these new provisions to protect young people and this lawmaker’s idea was to make the equal punishment because over there already on the books if a man violates a young woman, the man would be put to death. The death penalty was prescribed for that. Let’s make that equal for young boys, let’s make the death penalty for someone who violates young boys. And so that was his intent and that was what he put in the bill.

A little later in Odor’s speech, he described his interview with Barbera Bradley Hagerty of National Public Radio. He told her his view of why the bill was tabled:

…she didn’t understand the equal thing of boys and girls being protected and so there was a misrepresentation that we were trying to clarify.

Pastor Odor wants us to believe that Ugandan law does not address the same-sex molestation. However, as I pointed out here, it does. On April 18, 2007, the Uganda Parliament passed The Penal Code Amendment Act of 2007 and corrected the imbalance by removing references to gender.

The principal Act is amended by substituting for section 129 the following new sections—

Defilement of persons under eighteen years of age

129. (1) Any person who performs a sexual act with another person who is below the age of eighteen years, commits a felony known as defilement and is on conviction liable to life imprisonment.

(2) Any person who attempts to perform a sexual act with another person who is below the age of eighteen years commits an offence and is on conviction, liable to imprisonment not exceeding eighteen years.

(3) Any person who attempts to perform a sexual act with another person who is below the age of eighteen years in any of the circumstances specified in subsection (4) commits a felony called aggravated defilement and is, on conviction by the High Court, liable to suffer death.

If the boy child is unprotected by this language, then so is the girl child. In fact, all situations involving male and female victims and male and female perpetrators are covered here. Girls and boys are protected equally; Pastor Odor’s narrative falls apart.

The other issue referred to by Pastor Odor is intentional spread of HIV. The Penal Code Amendment Act also references that crime and imposes the death penalty:

(b) where the offender to his or her knowledge, is infected with Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome(AIDS);

Don’t believe me or the minutes of the Parliament? Then maybe Pastor Odor will believe Martin Ssempa. On Michael Brown’s Line of Fire radio show and then on his blog, Ssempa acknowledged for the first time that “the boy child” was, after all, protected. Speaking to Brown about the need for the AHB, Ssempa wrote:

3. Why does Uganda need bill now.

a. International groups which are coersing homosexuality down our throats ie France and Netherlands at the UN.

b. Lack of protection for the boy child from homosexual rape.

c. Lack of protection for the girls and women in the current law. Only focus on male homosexuality.

d. Lack of legislation against promotion and conspiracies to promote homosexuality.

Note: We have learnt that now the Penal Code was amended to cater for the gender imbalance in b above. (my emphasis)

Even Martin Ssempa acknowledges that there is no gender imbalance in the current Uganda Penal Code. That imbalance had been addressed in 2007. I informed Rev. Ssempa of that fact in November, 2009 via a link to a legal analysis of the bill. Ssempa was also aware that the AHB targeted consensual behavior via emails from a friend of his in the Ugandan Parliamentary research service, Charles Tuhaise.

When I first contacted Ssempa in October, 2009, he referred me to Tuhaise, believing he could help address my questions about the bill. Mr. Tuhaise made the purpose of the bill clear in a November 5 email to both Martin Ssempa and me. Addressing my concerns about the bill, Mr. Tuhaise wrote:

Pr. Ssempa and Mr Throckmorton, 

I appreciate Pr. Ssempa copying me in on this conversation and hope Mr. Throckmorton too appreciates us sharing this conversation as brethren in Christ. I have read to the bottom of your conversation and have understood the key issues of contention, basically, that critics of Hon. Bahati’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill see it as disregarding the right of adults to engage in consensual sex. I think this is where Mr. Throckmorton is raising objection when he says that the issue at hand is not “child abuse”, which is justifiable.

I would like to clarify what the Bill says and why, because it seems to me Mr.Throckmorton either has not read the full text of the Bill (with its memorandum) or has not correctly interpreted its import. The Bill states its object as:

 “to establish a comprehensive consolidated legislation to protect the traditional family by prohibiting (1) any form of sexual relations between persons of the same sex; and (2) the promotion or recognition of such sexual relations in public institutions and other places through or with the support of any Government entity in Uganda or any governmental    organisation inside or outside the country”.

The Bill’s specific objectives are to:

 (a) provide for marrige in Uganda as that contracted only between a man and a woman;

(b) prohibit and penalise homosexual behaviour and related practices in Uganda as they constitute a threat to the traditional family;

(c) prohibit ratfication of any international treaties, conventions, protocols, agreements and declations which are contrary or inconsistent with the provisions of this Act; and

(d) prohibit the licensing of organisations which promote homosexuality.

Even if I stop here, Mr.Throckmorton’s querry about “consenting adults” is answered. The Bill asserts that continued practice of homosexuality by anybody, including “consenting adults” constitutes a threat to the traditional family.

I’m a social scientist and know that this assertion is true, because behaviour spreads through social learning. All that behaviour needs to begin spreading like bushfire is any form of social or legal legitimacy. As science has proved, gay behaviour is not in the genes, it spreads through social learning and experimentation. Yet, the other aspect about behaviour is that once it is acquired, it is so difficult to unlearn – especially sexual behaviour that is associated with such powerful a reinforcer as “orgasm”. A young man who under peer influence experiments with homosexuality is risking fine-tuning his entire life in that direction, because the brain records such an experience, which then becomes a triger for sexual thoughts and feelings.

Mr. Tuhaise here confirms that the bill is not simply about child abuse and lays out his justification for keeping homosexuality criminal “for anybody.” Pastor Ssempa was also a recipient of the email and responded to both Mr. Tuhaise and me the next day calling Mr. Tuhaise’s views “a good reply to further your understanding.”

The AHB includes references to aggravated defilement as a duplication of the 2007 law but there is so much more to it. By making his narrative about a non-existent problem, Pastor Odor did not give his congregation the full picture. The problem is not just Martin Ssempa’s “offensive” methods or the way he says things, but it is with the proposals he helped to create and has supported for months. Toning down the rhetoric won’t change that.

To review the AHB, click here. Here is the full text with comments.

For all posts on the AHB, click here.

For my response to Martin Ssempa’s Line of Fire interview, click here. In this interview, he said the AHB was on the Ugandan Parliament website (not true) and that he would post it on his blog (has not done it).

Uganda Joint Christian Council recommendations to Parliament for the Anti-Homosexuality Bill

Recently Canyon Ridge Christian Church launched a defense of their partnership with Uganda’s Martin Ssempa. Despite the fact that Willow Creek Association expressed regret over their 2007 award to Ssempa for his AIDS work and Rick Warren’s condemnation of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, Pastor Kevin Odor told his congregation a couple of Sundays ago that the Anti-Homosexuality Bill and Rev. Ssempa had been misrepresented by the media. The Canyon Ridge leadership seems to take encouragement that Martin Ssempa leads a coalition of clergy which recommended that the death penalty be dropped from the bill. However, Ssempa expressed no reservations about the death penalty when the bill was first introduced, saying he fully supported it.  He has not explained why he changed his views.

Some of these recommendations were delivered to Rick Warren after he forcefully denounced the bill in December. I first saw this document in March after Martin Ssempa’s appearance on the Line of Fire show. I was told at that time by host Michael Brown that the document was not for public consumption and so I did not publish it. Now, a link to the first page of the recommendations is on the Canyon Ridge website. However, they failed to produce the entire document and so I thought it might be good to see clearly what has satisfied Canyon Ridge. Despite the length, I am publishing the whole thing after the break with commentary to follow.

To the uninitiated, these recommendations might look reasonable. However, without the actual bill, one might overlook that the UJCC did not make any recommendations about the part of the bill calling for life in prison for homosexual touching. Here is the section (S2) without any recommended changes:

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.

Please note that there is nothing in the proposed bill which specifies ages of the people involved or requires coercion to violate this section. Also, recall that the Introduction to the bill says this:

The object of this Bill is to establish a comprehensive consolidated legislation to protect the traditional family by prohibiting (i) any form of sexual relations between persons of the same sex;

And then also keep in mind that touching (see subsection 2c) is defined as:

“touching” includes touching—

(a) with any part of the body;

(b) with anything else;

(c) through anything;

and in particular includes touching amounting to penetration of any sexual organ, anus or mouth.

The plain language of Section 2 describes consensual relations. This was confirmed to me by Martin Ssempa’s colleague Charles Tuhaise, President of the National Association of Social Work – Uganda and Parliamentary researcher. The Uganda Joint Christian Council did not make any recommendations to change this section (Section 2). The UJCC recommends a change to the definitions section and then begins making recommendation to Section 3 (S.3) Aggravated Homosexuality. Based on what Canyon Ridge provided, a church goer would not get the full picture. See below for the full UJCC document.

Continue reading “Uganda Joint Christian Council recommendations to Parliament for the Anti-Homosexuality Bill”

Jeff Sharlet on The Economist’s report about Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill

On July 1, The Economist published an article regarding Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill. Cleverly titled, Slain by the Spirit, the article offered some parts truth and some parts falsehood to craft a misleading narrative about the current status of the bill. For instance in a paragraph on the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, the writer said:

A Ugandan Pentecostal preacher, Martin Ssempa, for instance, has mined a rich seam of homophobia in Uganda to help build up his standing. He and other Pentecostals pushed for the tabling of an anti-homosexuality bill in the Ugandan parliament, which advocates spying on gays and proscribes imprisonment for sodomy.

This section is true. Martin Ssempa, Julius Oyet and Stephen Langa did push for the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, prior to the bill’s introduction. However, making the narrative misleading is the following sentence.

Earlier versions of the law called for the death penalty in some instances.

There is only one version of the bill. It has not been amended. This morning, I asked Parliamentary researcher, Charles Tuhaise, if there was any truth to the rumor that the bill had been amended. He said, “To the best of my knowledge, these rumours are unfounded.” Tuhaise further elaborated that “committees have no mandate to amend a Bill, but to present their proposals to the House in a report read by the Committee Chair.” The Anti-Homosexuality Bill is currently in committee and has not been scheduled for a second reading.

Further unraveling the Economist piece, journalist Jeff Sharlet offers additional facts and fresh reporting with this guest post.

The strange moves of The Economist

Jeff Sharlet

The reverence with which so many upper-middle class Americans read The Economist has always puzzled me. There’s much to admire about the magazine, but it generally performs the same function as Newsweek, boiling down events into centrist conventional wisdom, facts be damned. A report in the July 3, 2010 issue, “The religious right in east Africa: Slain by the spirit,” is a case in point. I’ve been reporting on the religious right anti-gay movement in Uganda from here in the U.S. and from Kampala for nine months now, so I’m in a good position to see The Economist’s strange moves; I wonder what I’d make of the article that follows it, on Somalia’s elections, if I were as informed on that story. But one needn’t have expertise to debunk The Economist’s report; a Google search would do it, especially if you landed, as you likely would, on the well-documented blogs of gay activist Jim Burroway or evangelical scholar Warren Throckmorton.

The biggest error is The Economist’s declaration that the bill no longer calls for the death penalty. That’s propaganda put out by the bill’s defenders. In fact, as I learned by asking the bill’s author, Ugandan Member of Parliament David Bahati, it does. (I’ll be publishing those interviews in my forthcoming book, C Street.) Bahati acknowledges that the death penalty may drop out of the final version; but it hasn’t yet, and it’s dangerous for The Economist to say as much.

Just as dangerous — and puzzling — is The Economist’s contention that “support for the anti-homosexuality bill in the Ugandan parliament has fallen away after Mr. Ssempa and other preachers accused a rival Pentecostal, Robert Kayanja, of sodomy.” Does a plummy accent excuse Economist writers from fact checking? Ssempa and “other preachers” — most notably Rev. Michael Kyazze and Rev. Moses Solomon Male, both of whom I interviewed at length — accused Kayanja of sodomy months before the bill was introduced. Indeed, it was those accusations, and banner headline articles such as “Kayanja Reveals His Homo Secrets” in the April 29, 2009 edition of the wildly popular Red Pepper tabloid that helped drive popular support for the bill. I haven’t been in Kampala since May 2010, but when I was there, I did not meet a single person who wasn’t gay who didn’t support some variation of the bill.

What’s holding it back is international pressure, not the assertion of The Economist’s imaginary centrist norms. And that’s a more complicated story, since the international pressure does take an awfully pushy form — Germany’s offer of $148 million, for instance, if Uganda promises to shelve the bill, Sweden’s threat of an end to aid if Uganda doesn’t. And then there are the folks I write about in C Street, the American “followers of Jesus” who empowered the bill’s author, Bahati, in the first place. The passage of the bill would be a disaster for them, since they’re so intimately linked to it (Bahati is the secretary of the Ugandan branch of the organization, and its other chief backer in government, ethics minister James Nsaba Buturo, is chairman). Some of them, such as Senator Jim Inhofe and Senator Tom Coburn, both of Oklahoma, have been preaching the anti-gay gospel for so long and with such venom that it’s hard to take their disavowals seriously. Others, such as activist Bob Hunter, seem genuinely horrified by the bill. They’ve been putting quiet pressure on the Ugandan government, “behind-the-scenes,” as Hunter describes his work.

If such pressure can prevent the genocide that’s been proposed in Uganda — the bill’s backers describe it as a first step toward the eradication of homosexuality altogether — I think it’s justified. But democratic? Not exactly. Of course, it’s in response to the anti-democratic style that has long defined American and European relations with postcolonial Africa, the purchase of policies amenable to the West with foreign aid, with few questions about who actually benefits from those funds. Usually, those policies have to do with the extraction of resources, the location of military bases, or “coalitions” (the terrible bombing that just killed 74 in Kampala was in response to Uganda’s role as a proxy force for the U.S. in Somalia and its troops in Iraq). Sometimes, it has to do with what in the West are called “socal issues,” i.e., basic public health, such as the pressure put on Uganda by American politicians to de-emphasize condoms as a response to HIV. This time, the pressure is on over a bill that is murderous — in the service of a homophobia that all sides in this debate admit didn’t exist in Uganda before America’s exportation of  its culture wars.

Not so, according to The Economist which sniffs disapprovingly at the tacky Pentecostals. “The influence of the American Christian Right is often overstated,” it declares (true, but it’s  still enormous).”Then there is the question of class… The cabal of civil servants, soldiers and businessmen who dominate the golf and social clubs of Nairobi and Kampala… are mostly Anglican and Roman Catholic and are unlikely to be swayed by the casting out of demons.” There is indeed a class issue, but it’s not as simple as that. The bill’s main backers, Bahati and Buturo, are Anglican, and their extremely anti-gay pastor is Archbishop Luke Orombi, linked to Falls Church Episcopal, one of the upper crustiest churches in America. Bahati and Buturo (both elites in every sense) both told me they believe in demons and connect them to homosexuality. If that doesn’t square with the Church of England familiar to Economist writers, perhaps they’d better do some more reporting before they declare that all is essentially well with the good men of golf clubs in charge.

CORRECTION – 7/20/10:

In “The Economist’s Strange Moves,” I made a clumsy move, myself, identifying Falls Church (Anglican) as an Episcopal congregation. It was, when I visited in 2002. But my friend the Rev. Michael Pipkin, Priest-in-Charge of the current Falls Church (Episcopal), writes: 

“three and a half years ago The Falls Church abandoned The Episcopal Church, attaching themselves to the Anglican Church of Nigeria over issues of Biblical Authority and Sexuality… in the process, they kicked out several of their members who wished to remain Episcopalian, and thus my congregation, The Falls Church (Episcopal) continued on in exile (worshipping across the street in a Presbyterian Church, waiting for a major property dispute to settle).  They are currently referring to themselves (somewhat inaccurately) as The Falls Church (Anglican), though the Archbishop of Canterbury and other “Anglican” groups have not recognized them.”

I recognize the irony of my mistake in a piece taking The Economist to task for its lack of fact checking. Sorry, Falls Churches. But the two main points stand unaltered: 1. The Economist’s suggestion that Anglicans don’t engage in spiritual war as culture war is absurd; 2. I was just writing a quickie blog post; The Economist is a major international magazine, and should have gotten it right the first time.
Ok, now I’ve made my correction. How about yours, Economist?
(End of article – My comments resume in italics below)

Thanks to Jeff for allowing me to post his reaction to the Economist article and this insight into the religious background of the backers of the bill. I should note that on some of the issues here, I have no settled opinion (e.g., Falls Church Episcopal) but agree with Jeff that the Economist article is irresponsible in suggesting that the death penalty has been removed from the bill. When I visited the National Prayer’s Breakfast’s African suite in February, several Ugandan backers of the bill told me that the death penalty would be removed when Parliament resumed session in the Spring. They mocked my concerns over it saying that the bill would be amended and that the bill would be softened. However, nothing has changed.

The focus on the death penalty is unfortunate. While the existance of the death penalty in the bill gets attention, exaggerated rumors of it’s removal lull bystanders into a sense that the situation is improving and all is well. Canyon Ridge Christian Church is a prominent illustration. Because Martin Ssempa says he no longer supports the inclusion of the death penalty, they view him now as if he never supported it, even though he did. Also, by touting Ssempa’s confusing stance as justification for maintaining their support for him, they imply that 20 years in a non-existent rehab facility is reasonable and humane improvement.

While I have no personal experience with Falls Church Episcopal, I should note that it, like Canyon Ridge Christian Church is a Willow Creek Association member church. Given the relationship between Luke Orombi and many American Episcopal churches, some of which are Willow Creek Association members, it becomes even more important that the WCA take a position on the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. The public position would not be to try to influence a foreign government. Providing leadership to member churches would be sufficient.

Prior posts by Jeff Sharlet:

The Fellowship (AKA The Family) opposes Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill

David Bahati: Lou Engle expressed support for Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill

Canyon Ridge Christian Church puts recent statement about Martin Ssempa on their website

Canyon Ridge Christian Church has placed their recent statement to me on their website along with the documents provided to them by Martin Ssempa.

We are continuing our conversations with Martin Ssempa about his positions on the controversial issue of the “Anti-Homosexuality” legislation in Uganda. Again, we believe that because of the serious nature of the accusations that have cast him in a light inconsistent with our values, we are obligated to do what the Bible says – go to the person and work the issues through to discern the truth. This is what we have done and are continuing to do.

Martin has given us some documentation to clarify his position as he has represented it to us. We also have included this link to a radio interview where he discusses his position.

Because of the documents he has given us and our interactions with him, we do not believe Martin Ssempa to be the man the media and others have portrayed him to be. He has, with other pastors in Uganda, publicly expressed objection to the death penalty in the Anti-Homosexuality bill and made recommendations to Parliament to remove the death penalty from the bill and reduce the severity of other penalties in it. (Please see attached documents at the bottom of the page.)

We have worked with Martin for several years, making trips to Uganda to see his ministry first hand. He has welcomed and ministered to homosexual people in his church. He has championed the cause of abstinence, sexual purity and faithfulness in marriage that has been instrumental in pushing back the scourge of HIV/AIDS in Uganda. This work has now become a model for other African nations in stemming the tide of the HIV/AIDS pandemic on that continent. This work of saving lives in Africa was the genesis of our partnership in Uganda.

As you know, we have, through recent face to face (March 11, 2010) and video phone conversations, questioned Martin about the controversial issues and asked him to provide additional video and written statements that further clarify his positions. He has asked for and graciously received our counsel and correction and committed to continue pursuing balanced teaching of the grace and truth of God.

As with all of our partners, the evaluation of their ministries is ongoing. Our first move in moments like these is to clarify, then counsel and influence, not abandon.

CRCC Statement – released 6/27/2010

The video explains the history of the church relationship with Ssempa. I will have some reaction to these materials tomorrow. The volume is very low. Unfortunately the pastor in the video repeats the spin regarding bill and has misled his congregation. He blames the media for actually reading the bill. I have to ask why he does not simply post the bill.

Willow Creek Association: A really big tent

Researching the relationship between Canyon Ridge Christian Church and the Willow Creek Association, I corresponded briefly with WCA’s Executive Vice President, Steve Bell. I reported the initial statement provided by Mr. Bell regarding their relationship with Canyon Ridge in Salon on July 2:

The 10,000 churches that belong to Willow Creek Association are aligned by their mutual agreement with a statement of faith that reflects a historic, orthodox understanding of biblical Christianity.   WCA membership does not imply that the WCA supports or agrees with a church’s position on social or political issues. Willow Creek Association’s goal is not to interfere in the political processes of other nations.  Rather, its sole mission is to provide resources and training to church leaders around the world that will assist them as they minister to people in their communities and help them find a deeper understanding of God.

I followed up with questions regarding their stance on the Anti-Homosexuality Bill and the participation of Canyon Ridge in the upcoming Global Leadership Summit. Mr. Bell wrote back quickly to clarify WCA’s positions. 

WCA membership does not imply that we support the social or political positions of our member churches.  We align with them theologically and we take that very seriously.  But we don’t try to judge or interfere with their social and/or political positions (example: Episcopal churches).  And we don’t take outright stands on political issues within countries.  Our goal is to influence and support faith-based communities, not governments.

To be specific and clear, Canyon Ridge will be a host site church for the Global Leadership Summit in August.  However, that does not mean the WCA supports their position vis-à-vis Martin Ssempa, anymore than our relationship with Episcopal churches implies our advocacy for homosexual pastors.

I take from this response that some churches in WCA support the ordination of gay clergy. To be a member in the WCA, one must pay a fee and agree to their statement of faith.

One may locate a WCA church from their website. Seekers are greeted with this disclaimer:

While we do not oversee the ministry expressions of individual churches, WCA Membership is intended solely for churches that hold an orthodox understanding of biblical Christianity. All WCA Member Churches have affirmed the central doctrines of the Bible reflected in the WCA Statement of Faith and also presented in the historic creeds of the Christian faith. WCA Membership is open to churches of any size or denomination that are marked by a deep commitment to furthering the cause of Christ.

It appears that WCA does not make stances on cultural issues a condition of membership. They seem to want to be a big tent where many different perspectives are included. From the sound of Mr. Bell’s response, gay affirming or non-gay affirming churches may join. On this point, I am curious to know how any WCA gay affirming churches would regard Canyon Ridge’s support for Martin Ssempa. On the other hand, I wonder how other non-affirming churches regard the inclusion of Episcopal churches who affirm gay ordination.

Can a tent be too big?

I am conflicted a bit on this. I am generally a big tent person. I like to fellowship with believers of various opinions and perspectives where the focus is on the core elements of the faith. However, I do think that some issues cry out for leadership and I think the Anti-Homosexuality Bill is one of those issues. I do not believe that the bigtentness of the WCA should prevent them from expressing a critical view of the bill or of those who support it. 

The WCA’s position statement regarding stands on social issues has not stopped Willow Creek Community Church pastor, Bill Hybels, from taking a stand on immigration. Pastor Hybels recently introduced President Obama’s speech on immigration at American University (video on his favorably remarks). His wife, Lynne, offered support for immigration reform on behalf of herself and Rev. Hybels before the Senate Judiaciary Committee back in October, 2009. 

I suspect WCA does not monitor member churches on immigration reform, but I do wonder what they would say if one of their churches supported doing violence to undocumented people.

Those in leadership with the WCA have evaluated the work of Martin Ssempa on the Anti-Homosexuality Bill and come to a different conclusion than member church Canyon Ridge. However, I do not think it would do harm to their big tent if they went a step further and made explicit their concerns about the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. Saddleback Church pastor Rick Warren started where WCA is now but soon determined that a clear condemnation was needed. Will Willow Creek do the same?

Nevada Public Radio covers Canyon Ridge – Uganda connection

At 9:30 am pacific time (12:30pm here), a segment will air on KNPR, Las Vegas regarding the relationship between Canyon Ridge Christian Church and Martin Ssempa. The guest on the show is Derek Washington, President of the Stonewall Democrats of Southern Nevada. A hint of the content is here:

We talk with Democratic activist Derek Washington who thinks the Canyon Ridge congregation is unaware of the extreme positions taken by its missionary partner.

My guess is that Derek Washington is correct that the CRCC congregation is largely unaware of the issues involved. The local media there has for some reason not covered this local connection to an ongoing international news story persisting for about 10 months.

UPDATE: In addition to Derek Washington, the show featured a member of Canyon Ridge, Tyler Egeland who said the membership probably does not know much about the controversy. He also said that Ssempa has close ties to Southern Nevada (I believe his wife’s parents live in Las Vegas) and the church feels a close relationship to Ssempa. Egeland also said that the church’s brand of Christianity is at odds with how Ssempa is conducting his work in Uganda.

Derek Washington believes that the church has been hoodwinked. Washington believes that the people of Canyon Ridge are great people but that they have believed Ssempa’s attestations of good intentions but the leadership. Money is giving to church and then given to someone who advocates death and prison for gays.

Tyler Egeland agrees with Washington that Ssempa needs to apologize and turn away from his prior views.

According to the host of the show, the pastors at CRCC said they would be happy to participate and then backed out.

According to someone on the broadcast, Pastor Odor did mention this issue to the church. I would like to know what he said.

Derek Washington does not want people to leave Canyon Ridge but he wants Canyon Ridge to break ties to Ssempa.

Watch for the audio at the website and give the segment a listen. It is an intriguing show. On balance, I would say that the callers and the ministers of CRCC still do not understand the role that Martin Ssempa has played in this bill. They portray Ssempa as having a change of heart. If he has, he has never said so. He acquiesced to a change from the death penalty to 20 years in rehab for aggravated homosexuality but there is no documentation of any change in views on life in prison for consensual acts. He defended the death penalty to me in emails and on video on his Facebook page. He showed extreme porn about what “homosexuals do in private” when he must know that most homosexuals do not do such things in private.

One other observation. Tyler Egeland said that Canyon Ridge has denounced Ssempa’s extreme rhetoric, but I can find no indication of that. None of the emails I have from the staff indicate they have condemned the porn shows or any of his rhetoric.

UPDATE: As commenter andy pointed out, guest on this show Derek Washington attributed a murder in Uganda to anti-gay rhetoric. This story has turned out to be questionable and at least part of it was a false report. In any event, the murder is under investigation and cannot be attributed to Rev. Ssempa or any specific antigay faction.

NPR reports on Canyon Ridge Christian Church and Martin Ssempa

Barbara Bradley Hagerty reported today on the ties between Canyon Ridge Christian Church and Martin Ssempa. The audio will be up at 7:00 pm but the transcript and a bit more is up now on their website.

Hagerty provides the facts: Canyon Ridge has supported Ssempa since 2007 and Ssempa has become the face of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. She also has interviews with’s Michael Jones, Canyon Ridge pastor Kevin Odor and me. The interview with Rev. Odor is important for those following this story. Here are excerpts:

Ssempa’s turnaround satisfied Pastor Odor, and he sees no reason to condemn the minister. Nor does he think he should denounce the Anti-Homosexuality Bill.

“Why do we, as a church in America, need to say something about a bill in Uganda?” he asks.

The turnaround referred to is what seems to be a shift in Ssempa’s thinking about the penalties for aggravated homosexuality — from death to 20 years in a rehab facility. Odor continues to say that his church has compassion for gays.

Pastor Odor says his church has “a heart” for homosexuals. He notes that Canyon Ridge participates every year in a march for people with AIDS, and for the past two years the church opened its campus for HIV Testing Day.

“We love everybody, including people with AIDS,” he says. “There are two things: How you got AIDS and that you have AIDS. That you have AIDS is a matter of compassion. The church should be compassionate for people with AIDS.”

I suspect they do experience a desire to reach out but what they miss is the incongruity of what they support in Uganda with what they express here. As I note in the NPR segment,

“If you preach compassion here, you have to support compassion elsewhere.”

Odor says that his church is being crucified for simply wanting to help people with AIDS.

I am interested in reader reaction to that claim.

Go read the segment; Audio is below. If the player doesn’t load, click here.

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