Michael Brown responds to Rabbi Shmuley Boteach: Are evangelicals obsessed with homosexuality?

On Tuesday, I posted a link to a column in the Washington Post by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach about a debate he had with Michael Brown, head of the FIRE School of Ministry, regarding the topic: Is Homosexuality America’s Greatest Moral Crisis? I did not watch the debate since I read up on the Rabbi and believed I already agreed with him. I have had many discussions with Michael Brown and those affiliated with him and know we are far apart.

After I published the post, Dr. Brown contacted me saying that the Rabbi had misrepresented him and the debate. Just this afternoon, the Washington Post published Brown’s rebuttal and I agreed to post a link to it in the interest of fairness. I have no plans to watch the debate to fact check. Interested readers can read both sides and decide whether or not to invest the 3 hours. From Brown’s post:

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is not only “America’s most famous rabbi” and my frequent opponent in public debates. He is also a dear personal friend, which is why I was more than a little mystified to see his editorial, published one day after our November 1 debate.

The title of that debate, as proposed by Shmuley but not to my liking, was, “Is Homosexuality America’s Greatest Moral Crisis?” In my opening comments, I answered this question in the negative, stating that America’s greatest moral crisis was certainly not homosexuality but rather the lack of the knowledge and consciousness of God, because of which every area of society suffered.

I also explained that what two gay men did in private was between them and God and was certainly not our greatest moral crisis, and I stated emphatically that rampant heterosexual divorce had done more to destroy marriage and family than all the gay activists combined. I then addressed the church’s sins against the LGBT community, for which I have publicly apologized a number of times. (Those reading Shmuley’s report on the debate would not have a clue that I made any of these statements.)

Boteach made the case that evangelicals now put too much emphasis on winning the culture war against gays. Brown disagrees:

As to the alleged evangelical obsession with homosexuality (an accusation raised through the debate by Shmuley), I asked the almost entirely evangelical audience to respond to four questions: How many of them heard a sermon in the last year on the importance of marriage? Virtually every hand went up. The importance of devoting time and energy to the raising of their children? Same response. The dangers of sexual sin (and/or pornography)? The same response again. A sermon about gay activism? Not a single hand!

The truth be told, there is no “gay obsession” in evangelical churches, and, where pastors and leaders are concerned about the effects of gay activism, they are hesitant to speak up, lest they be branded intolerant bigots, homophobes, Hitlers, or jihadists, not to mention accused of inciting violence against gays.

While I mean no disrespect to his audience, I am not going to trust that they are a representative sample. I certainly disagree with Brown about the obsession of some evangelicals with homosexuality. Worldnetdaily is obsessed. Sally Kern said homosexuality was a greater threat than terrorism and certain evangelicals promoted Rallies for Sally. Brown’s contention seems odd when writing about a debate over homosexuality being the greatest threat to morality. About being labeled Hitlers, perhaps Brown does not read Bryan Fischer’s love notes to gays where he blames them for the deaths of 6 million Jews. In the name of Jesus, the American Family Association’s Fischer does some pretty good branding of his own. If such people are criticized sharply by gays, it is not hard to see why.

Here’s another example of how a focus on homosexuality has distorted social conservatism. The Family Research Council actually ran ads against LA Rep. Joseph Anh Cao, Vietnamese-American who voted against Obamacare because he was not convinced abortion funding was excluded from the bill. His pro-life position is firm and yet FRC ran ads against him because of Cao’s support for equal rights for gays. Guess who was elected in Cao’s district? His opponent, Cedric Richmond, a pro-choice Democrat. I wonder if NARAL sent FRC a thank you note.

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach gets it: How evangelicals lost political credibility

This is a must read. He presents his perspective well and communicates clearly. Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, a conservative Rabbi debated Michael Brown, a really conservative minister last night in North Carolina over whether homosexuality is America’s greatest moral crisis. Rabbi Boteach wrote about it in WaPo’s On Faith Blog today:

I argued passionately that evangelicals had become obsessed with homosexuality. They took a single prohibition in the Bible and elevated it to single moral standard besides which all else pails. I pointed out how in 2004, amid President George W. Bush being the most hated man on earth he still won the election because of evangelical support. The reason: as the polls showed, 22% of all voters had voted for values. But now, just one night before the mid-term elections, the tea party had completely usurped the place of the evangelicals. The only thing being discussed in this election was jobs, money, the size of government, and the national debt. In other words, the economy and money. Not one major values-based issue was even on the table. Why? Because the people who talk about values and are a large voting block – primarily evangelical Christians – had utterly marginalized themselves with their obsession over homosexuality. Forget about the fifty percent divorce rate, the growing sexualization of young teens (Miley Cyrus is now pole-dancing), the collapse of the American economy because of addiction to shopping, no, all the problems in America can be laid at the feet of gays. And if we stop the gay agenda, then America will suddenly be transformed into a family-friendly, spiritually rich, Eden-like Shangri-La.

Boteach continues to say he could not convince Brown’s audience. I am not surprised. He concludes by calling values voters to stand up for some other values:

What is needed are Evangelical Christian leaders who finally change the subject and focus us on what really can be done to save the American family, namely, strengthening marriage, reducing the divorce rate, increasing male respect for women, and pushing for a congressional bill to make marital counseling tax-deductible so that couples who need help can afford it and keep their families intact.

I would add to Boteach’s list but the point is well taken. Some evangelical brothers and sisters have traveled the way C.S. Lewis’s Screwtape hoped:

Whichever he adopts, your main task will be the same. Let him begin by treating the Patriotism or the Pacifism as a part of his religion. Then let him, under the influence of partisan spirit, come to regard it as the most important part. Then quietly and gradually nurse him on to the stage at which the religion becomes merely part of the “cause”, in which Christianity is valued chiefly because of the excellent arguments it can produce in favour of the British war-effort or of Pacifism. The attitude which you want to guard against is that in which temporal affairs are treated primarily as material for obedience. Once you have made the World an end, and faith a means, you have almost won your man, and it makes very little difference what kind of worldly end he is pursuing. Provided that meetings, pamphlets, policies, movements, causes, and crusades, matter more to him than prayers and sacraments and charity, he is ours—and the more “religious” (on those terms) the more securely ours. I could show you a pretty cageful down here.

Your affectionate uncle, SCREWTAPE

Martin Ssempa on Line of Fire: An analysis

On March 11, Martin Ssempa was a guest on Michael Brown’s radio show, Line of Fire. I was invited to join in but I was teaching at the time the show aired. The program is online here. Brown said several times that he invited critics of the bill to come on the show or call in. No one else who has criticized the bill could or would go on so the entire program consisted of Ssempa telling his side of the issue.

Ssempa began by saying that homosexuality violated nature, Uganda’s cultural norms, the religions in Uganda, and the laws in Uganda. He said homosexuality violated the laws and customs of the Buganda kingdom and other tribal kingdoms going back hundreds of years. But then apparently without sensing the contradiction, he said that the Ugandans revere Catholic martyrs who were killed because they rejected the homosexual advances of Mwanga, a Bugandan king in 1886.  The martyrs were Mwanga’s pages who had converted to Christianity due to the work of European missionaries. King Mwanga was enraged that Christianity forbid the pages from honoring his decrees and had many of them killed. Thus, at that time, homosexual relations, at least with the king, were not forbidden, nor brought in by outsiders. Due to the efforts of the mission work, Uganda eventually embraced Christianity. For this reason, now homosexuality does violate the dominate religion (as well as the minority religion, Islam) and was encoded into law due to the role of the British colonizers.

When Brown asked Ssempa why the law was needed since homosexuality is currently a criminal offense in Uganda, Ssempa mentioned four issues he wanted to see the law address. First, he believes the UN resolution on decriminalization of homosexuality is a threat and so Ugandan law needs to forbid the government from ratifying any such resolution. Second, currently promotion of homosexuality is not criminalized and he believes it should be. Third, lesbianism is not covered in current statute and fourth, boys need to be protected from defilement in the same way girls are. On the last point, he acknowledged for the first time I am aware of that current Ugandan law already covers defilement of boys (see this post).

However, Ssempa’s discussion of the 2007 law which included boys in the defilement section of the penal code was confusing. He said to me in November, 2009 on British radio that Ugandan law did not cover boys, when in fact it did at the time he made that statement. On Brown’s show, he did not apologize for misleading people for months, but rather made it seem as though the law was just recently altered to cover boys.

He added that the Anti-Homosexuality Bill may need to be changed to make it clear that it only intends to punish rape and child abuse. However, then he said critics had misrepresented the bill. Just when I thought he was acknowledging that the bill was written in such a way that anyone reading it would see the harshness of it, he then said the bill was being misrepresented.

Regarding Ssempa’s reasons for the bill, I must say that the bill does more than prevent ratification of resolutions, and curtail free speech. Ssempa denied during the show that he wanted the law to bother consenting adults, however, consenting behavior is also criminalized by this bill. Ssempa denied wanting to fuel flames of a witch hunt against gays. However, he has collaborated with Islamic clerics who offered to form squads to round up homosexuals. No words of discouragement to this activity from Ssempa are recorded anywhere.

Michael Brown asked Ssempa why he did not post the bill on his website. Ssempa’s answers made no sense to me. First, he said the Parliament posted a copy of the bill on their website. Not so. Here is the Parliament’s website: (http://www.parliament.go.ug). There is a link to a search page of bills  before Parliament. When one enters in any or all of the relevant descriptors of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill in the search engine, no bill is returned. When I did a Google search of the entire site, no copy of the bill is returned. When I asked Parliamentary Researcher, Charles Tuhaise if the bill was on the Parliament website, he said it was not. However, I do know that when I first contacted Ssempa for a comment about the bill back in late October, 2009, he sent a copy of the bill to me via email. Then, he did not refer me to the Parliament’s website. At the time, I confirmed with researcher Tuhaise that the copy of the bill was accurate.

During the show, just after Ssempa said the bill was on the Parliament’s website, he added that the Parliament did not want the bill “to be taken out because it gets re-edited.” Then Dr. Brown pressed him and asked him why he did not post the bill on his own websites, to which Ssempa replied, “Unfortunately, we’ve not had Internet access until about two weeks ago…” He then goes on to plug his blog which he says has just come online.

I heard this notion that the Parliament does not the bill “taken out” first from Fred Hartley, President of the College of Prayer. Hartley told me that David Bahati told him back in October, 2009 that the bill could not be sent via email because the Parliament did not want the bill edited. However, by that time, Martin Ssempa had already sent a copy of the bill to me via the Internet. Also, by that time, the bill had been publicly printed in the Uganda Gazette which is the official publication for bills.

Regarding Internet access, I am aware that it can be spotty in Uganda. However, Ssempa has had access, as have others in Uganda with whom I am in regular contact, continuously throughout the last year. Ssempa had sufficient contact to post his statement to Rick Warren on his main website, and his video response to him on YouTube. He was able to remove all references to abstinence group, Wait Training, within two days of the request being made. His blog has been online since 2007.

About the bill, Ssempa promised, “I will be happy to draw it from the Parliament website and link it to my blog.” That was March 10 and he has not done so as of today. However, you don’t need to wait, you can read the Uganda Gazette copy here, and a pdf version here.

Near the end of the broadcast, Brown asked Ssempa if he showed gay porn in church. Ssempa did not directly answer but instead said that the show was given to a workshop where members of Parliament were in attendance. He said it was an adults-only meeting to provide information about what is done in private. He also dodged a question from Brown about why he did not show heterosexuals engaged in shocking acts. Regarding the location and the audience of the porn show, note this still picture drawn from the ABC Nightline broadcast of one of the shows (click to watch video). This show was done in his a church meeting and there was at least one very young child in the room as indicated by the second still. (Note: The ABC News broadcast said the presentation was provided to his “followers” and the venue might have been the one identified here.) If pressed, perhaps Ssempa would have added that detail, however, he did not really address these questions from Brown completely.

Judge for yourself if you believe Ssempa was answering candidly. His answer regarding why he did not show/shock his audiences with heterosexual S&M was irrelevant. To my knowledge, no law has been proposed there which would outlaw the acts depicted if done by an opposite sex couple.

Dr. Brown seemed to think that there were some important clarifications in the broadcast. Color me unimpressed. I did hear Ssempa admit that the “boy child” is currently covered in Ugandan law, but then he said the law was written for that purpose. I heard him say he does not think the bill should not cover HIV people for simply having sex, nor should it start a witch hunt. He thinks the penalties should be reduced. However, even these admissions were somewhat vague and rendered confusing by his other statements about the need for Parliament to see gay porn to know what goes on in private. If this behavior is not to be targeted then why is he showing it?

He failed to express any regret for misleading people for months. He misled listeners by saying the Parliament has a copy of the bill on the website. He said he would post the bill. He said the bill might need some changes but blames critics of the bill for misleading people. In light of these issues, I was not persuaded by his appearance and continue to advise opposition to the bill.

Martin Ssempa on the lines: Nightline and Line of Fire

Martin Ssempa will get some significant face time on ABC’s Nightline tomorrow night. Ssempa confirms it and notes that he will also be appearing on Michael Brown’s radio show, Line of Fire, on Thursday. I will be teaching during the show and will miss most of it. There is a call in number at the link. If anyone calls in, ask him to post a copy of the bill on his blog.

Ssempa gives his preview of the Nightline show here…

Must see TV.

Michael Brown responds to the Southern Poverty Law Center article on ex-gays

I posted yesterday about a Southern Poverty Law Center article, titled Straight Like Me, by Casey Sanchez, which blasted the ex-gay movement. In my post, I note several inaccurate reports. In this post, I provide a brief email interview with Michael Brown, president of the FIRE School of Ministry, who was named in a companion piece, Former Ex-gay Minister Speaks Out. I emailed Dr. Brown with some questions about these statements and he was very kind to respond quickly.  

Throckmorton: In a recent SPLC article, you are referred to as giving a keynote at the latest Exodus Conference. This subject of this article asserts that you believe the Old Testament law should be followed regarding homosexuals. Is this your belief?

Brown: Absolutely not! I am not and have never been a reconstructionist or theonomist, and if we were to put practicing homosexuals to death, we would also have to put Sabbath breakers to death, among many others. 

Throckmorton: Furthermore, in that same article, you were paraphrased as saying in that same Exodus speech that  you encouraged the audience to “give up their lives” in the fight against homosexuality. 

Brown: Out of context. What I did say was that JESUS was worth living for and dying for, and I often quote Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., to illustrate what Jesus meant when he said that if we try to save our lives we lose them but if we lose our lives for him and the gospel, we find them. King said, “A man dies when he refuses to stand up for that which is right; a man dies when he refuses to stand up for justice; a man dies when he refuses to take a stand for that which is true.” I was encouraging those fighting unwanted SSA in their own lives to be strong in the Lord and to give themselves unconditionally to His service, then talking about the threat to our freedoms coming through an activist gay agenda as a wake up call.

Throckmorton: Could you react to the following excerpt from the SPLC article: “When you have a keynote speaker like Michael Brown, to me that’s unacceptable. It’s preaching a message of Christians not just simply opposing gay civil rights and believing a spiritual revival is necessary for this country, but actually calling on Christians to lay down their lives in a spiritual revolution to set up civil laws based on one extreme interpretation of biblical laws from the Old Testament [that calls for the death penalty for homosexuals]. It’s Christian Reconstructionism [a doctrine that calls for imposing harsh Old Testament laws on civil society], Christian dominionism. It’s abhorrent, and it’s dangerous, not just for LGBT people but for our entire society. Because if civil laws are based on [Brown]’s interpretation of the Bible, it’s not going to be a democratic society.”

Brown: Well, as a Jewish believer in Jesus and a frontline apologist, I have been accused of many things, but I don’t think I’ve been accused of calling on people to sacrifice our lives to set up OT law!  I can actually send you my power point notes from the message or get Exodus to send you the message itself. I have no clue how such a claim could be made based on my message, which completely contradicts the tone and content of my preaching. Interestingly, since the Exodus conference, I have been invited to become a regular conference speaker with Love Won Out, which is hardly known for calling for the death penalty for homosexual practice.

I was also provided with this link [Straight Like Me] in which the following was written about me: “Brown is “a millennial Jew who once described the red T-shirts worn by his ministry students at a gay rights march counter-demonstration as ‘the shed blood of Christ flowing toward the gates of hell.'” I have no idea if anyone ever said that, but it certainly was not me. Also, our red-shirted students were not part of a counter-demonstration but rather of a compassionate, one-on-one outreach during the city’s gay pride event in 2005.

I intend to send the links to the this and the other post about the SPLC article for their reaction which, if I get one, I will post.

UPDATE: Michael Brown sent a link which provides proper attribution for the quote about the red shirts and the gay pride parade. Flip Benham, head of Operation Save America wrote that in this website newsletter.