[Author Jeff Sharlet’s appearance on National Public Radio elevated the story of the Ugandan Anti-Homosexuality Bill to an important level of public awareness. One controversial element of Jeff’s reporting was his connection of the Ugandan legislators who introduced the bill to the Fellowship Foundation (aka The Family). I followed up that broadcast corresponding with Fellowship Foundation grantee, Cornerstone Development in Kampala and learned that Cornerstone had no input into the bill. In this guest post, Jeff Sharlet updates the NPR reporting, completes the picture and reveals for the first time that the Fellowship opposes the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. Thanks to Jeff for posting this news here and thanks to Bob Hunter for his candor.]
The Fellowship Opposes Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill
by Jeff Sharlet
Add one more very important name to the growing international list of those opposed to Uganda’s proposed Anti-Homosexuality Bill: Bob Hunter, the man who helped build Uganda’s relationship with the Family, aka the Fellowship, the international movement of “followers of Christ” – some reject the term “Christian” that also includes several U.S. politicians with ties to Uganda: among them, Senator James Inhofe, Senator Sam Brownback, and Representative Joe Pitts.
Bob has been active with the Fellowship, as he prefers to call the network of organizations he says can be fairly described as a movement,* since coming to Christ in the late 1970s. But Bob’s faith wasn’t simply a salve; it led him into a relationship with a missionary hospital in Uganda and then with Ugandan political leaders. Bob worked as a private citizen, but he brought to his pursuits the experience and insights of a distinguished career, as a federal insurance administrator for Ford and Carter and a longtime consumer advocate. In Uganda, he established relationships with members of all factions, and, eventually, a friendship with President Yoweri Museveni. Later, he would go on to help Museveni establish the Ugandan National Prayer Breakfast.
Today, his work in Uganda focuses less on high-level politicians and more on those whom he calls “the nail” – that is, not the people in the official portraits, but the people who do the real day to day work of keeping a country running. It’s not glamorous work, but it’s important – maybe never more so than now. Because it’s those relationships that matter most when legislation such as the Anti-Homosexuality Bill is at stake. And Bob has been quietly working through those relationships to stop the bill. His influence may matter more than all the petitions signed by gay rights activists around the globe. And Bob has been brave about using that influence, speaking to his friends in Uganda, and gently pressuring the Fellowship’s associates on Capitol Hill to take a stand against the bill. Bob even agreed to sit down with me.
That took some courage, since I’m the author of a book about the Fellowship called The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power, a critical analysis of the Fellowship in which I described Bob’s initial outreach to Uganda as linked to U.S. government interests in the region. Several weeks ago, I was a guest on NPR’s “Fresh Air” in which I made the same point. I based my characterization on a widely circulated account from Fellowship leader Doug Coe of Bob’s work, two documents in the Fellowship’s archive, “A Trip to East Africa—Fall 1986,” and “Re: Organizing the Invisible,” and a review of tens of thousands of documents in the Fellowship archives that present a portrait of the organization up to that point. I attempted to contact Bob, but failed. I wish I had contacted him: Bob was very forthcoming with details that present a more complicated, and, frankly, hopeful picture. Bob wrote a response to the broadcast that he shared with “Fresh Air” and with some associates in Uganda. He raised a number of important concerns and offered more detail on his involvement. But rather than duke it out, Bob invited me to his Arlington, Virginia home and spent the better part of an afternoon discussing my interpretation of events and his experience of them. We agreed that the first step was a statement making clear Bob’s opposition to the bill. Moreover, Bob adds “I know of no one involved in Uganda with the Fellowship here in America, including the most conservative among them, that supports such things as killing homosexuals or draconian reporting requirements, much less has gone over to Uganda to push such positions.”
That’s very, very good news. The Fellowship prefers to avoid the limelight; Bob has forsaken that to make clear his position and that of his American associates: The Fellowship, AKA the Family, opposes the Ugandan Anti-Homosexuality Bill.
Bob also asked me to clarify – and correct – some misperceptions. I’m glad to do so. First, Bob was troubled by my identification of him on “Fresh Air” as a former Ford official, which he felt implied right-wing affiliations. I didn’t think so – Ford hasn’t exactly gone down in history as a right-winger, and I mentioned it only to establish that Bob was not just some ordinary businessmen, as Fellowship leader Doug Coe’s account of his work** suggests (inaccurately, as Bob gladly concedes). It would have been better to say a former government official, or a former Ford and Carter official. Even that might have been selling Bob short – his career as a consumer advocate is long and impressive. While the Fellowship has historically been majority conservative, it has – as I note in my book – always included liberals. Bob is in that tradition. Over the course of the afternoon he shared with me his experience working with the Fellowship in Burundi, Rwanda, and South Africa. While I may take issue with the Fellowship’s behind-the-scenes approach, there’s no denying that in each of these cases Bob and his associates were working toward extremely admirable ends, and that in the case of Burundi Bob’s efforts helped make the difference that brought a truce to that country’s warring factions. Bob did what he did with the best of intentions, and, in several instances, achieved the best of outcomes. Continue reading “The Fellowship (aka The Family) Opposes Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill: Guest post by Jeff Sharlet”