It took a while, but Rick Warren is finally running for his life, doing what he calls his "condemnation" of that gay-hating bill before the Uganda parliament.
Possibly Warren never imagined that an international outcry would expose how the Uganda bill is supported from the U.S. by an extremist pentecostal front calling itself the New Apostolic Reformation. Indeed, some NAR groups -- like the powerful Washington lobby known as "The Family" -- have been working with Uganda government officials who created the bill. The NAR aims to spread itself by capturing government leadership everywhere, which is precisely what it's doing in Uganda. For many weeks, as the bill was condemned by Canada, UK, some UN groups -- even (surprise) the Vatican -- Warren ignored the growing demands that he speak out.
By December 10, Warren's image as "America's pastor" had eroded to the point where it was time for damage control. So he went grandly online with a statement video aimed at pastors in Africa. It rapidly went viral on YouTube.
But while some Americans are praising Warren's video, others -- including myself -- see it as laced with lies, and disgustingly self-serving.
First of all, Warren recently published a book about putting Christ back into Christmas, and he has been on book tour. His statement takes the grim genocide-of-gays issue and uses it to springboard a cheery Christmas message of "peace and good will." So it looks like Warren waited till December to "speak out" so he could position himself as a messenger of "peace" and flog his book sales.
In a list of key points, Warren denies any association with the Uganda bill, or its supporters and authors. But Talk2Action political researcher Bruce Wilson doesn't believe Warren's claims.
Wilson has been researching the NAR for years. On December 10, he published a devastating dissection of Warren's statement. Among other things, Wilson says: "Warren's statement ... contains several blatant lies. In one, he claims that C. Peter Wagner wasn't his key advisor for Warren's 1993 doctoral dissertation. But the abstract of Warren's 350-plus page tome lists one academic figure, C. Peter Wagner, as Warren's 'mentor' for the dissertation." It's an important point because Wagner is known to be the chief organizer and instigator of the NAR.
Wilson points out other lies as well. For instance, Warren insists that he doesn't know any members of the Uganda parliament. But in the course of his church activism in Uganda, Warren has worked with the wife of President Museveni, who is an MP.
But Rick Warren's African ties are not a new subject for Wilson. In January 2009, he did a Huffington Post piece on growing UN Security Council concerns over Warren's religious affiliations with African leaders who have been accused of war crimes.
Blue Dogs for Jesus
Meanwhile, it's vital to note the response -- or lack of it -- from U.S. government figures, especially the growing number of conservative Democrats who are friendly with The Family.
So far our Democratic President, for whom so many LGBT people voted, has said nothing against the Uganda bill. This is not surprising. Like many conservative Democrats, Obama maintains discreet ties with The Family. His own office has confirmed that he has attended Family prayer breakfasts. And let's not forget that the President invited Rick Warren to give his inaugural prayer.
Gays also can't hope for much from our Secretary of State. In a speech on World AIDS Day, Hillary Clinton skirted the Uganda-bill issue, with a generalized comment that discrimination against LGBT people is "an unacceptable step backwards" and "undermines the effect of efforts to fight disease worldwide." And no wonder Clinton evades the issue. For years she has participated in Bible study groups run by The Family, and received spiritual counseling from The Family's head figure, Douglas Coe.
One of the few Democrats to condemn the bill is Russ Feingold, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on African Affairs. Feingold said, "This inhumane bill would sanction new levels of violence against people in Uganda based solely on their gender or sexual orientation." Unfortunately Feingold is blue-dogging with Family member Senator Sam Brownback on legislation committing the U.S. to deeper military involvement in Uganda. The aim: to fight what are allegedly Al Qaeda members of a rebel army. So it appears that the stridently "Christian" government of Uganda intends to broaden its ideological conflicts with the Muslim 12% of its population.
Some members of Congress have personally meddled with Ugandan domestic policy, by helping the NAR establish its U.S.-based movement there. Notable is Senator Jim Inhofe (R-OK), who claims over 100 political visits to Africa and helped the Family to bring Ugandan parliamentarian David Bahati into the fold. Bahati is the MP who wrote and introduced the infamous bill. Yet in early 2009, Inhofe was at the pro-life barricades trumpeting, ""I believe there is no mission more important than standing up for the sanctity of human life." Obviously he meant non-gay life only.
The other day Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) jumped on the condemnation bandwagon, but only to point out that the bill will set back HIV prevention efforts in Uganda. For several years, as head of Bush's AIDS advisory council, Coburn was busy pleasing the NAR missionaries in Africa by pushing abstinence and marital faithfulness and inveighing against condoms. Coburn sees the Bill as something that could disrupt church-approved prevention programs, since its death penalty for HIV+s would drive people with HIV away from testing. But Coburn has also fulminated against the "homosexual agenda," so he doesn't give a hoot about LGBT human rights.
Oh, and not a peep out of GOP Presidential hopeful Sarah Palin. Why? Because Palin's own spiritual mentor is pastor Thomas Muthee of Kenya, another prominent NAR figure who is busy stirring the pot for Jesus in Kenya.
And what of the U.S. major media's record on the Uganda bill? We all loved the way MSNBC's Rachel Maddow ripped a new one on Richard Cohen the other night. Cohen's ex-gay writings have been distributed in Uganda, and used to feed the homophobic frenzy against "gay recruitment of our children," a major concern of the bill. By yesterday, I noticed that independent media had picked up the Bruce Wilson story.
But what of the other TV networks? We will have to hope that these media bigwigs eventually do their homework on what the NAR is really up to in Uganda.
Defending Uganda's Traditions
Meanwhile, in Uganda, there are conflicting reports on the bill's current status.
Parliament may be buckling to the international outcry. It may have occurred to them that their treatment of one minority might prompt concerns for how they'll treat other minorities, which in turn might crimp the country's opportunities for foreign investment and tourism. According to James Nsaba Buturo, minister for ethics and integrity, the death penalty and life imprisonment clauses have been struck. He says that the modified bill will direct gays to "ex-gay" programs (this is where Richard Cohen comes in).
But some Ugandan leaders are outraged that foreigners would dare to have a negative opinion of their anti-gay legislation. MP Bahati, who introduced the bill, insists that "there is no amount of pressure or intimidation that will stop this bill."
Ugandan conservatives insist that homosexuality is a nasty foreign habit being exported into their country -- that it is defiling their African heterosexual traditions. Ironically the NAR is actually at war with African spiritual tradition, characterizing it as "witchcraft." Political battles against "demon powers" are a core MO of the NAR. In Kenya, Thomas Muthee has denounced "witches" by name from his pulpit. In an ugly incident last year, a mob with machetes took a list of names and rampaged through three villages where they chopped 11 alleged "witches" to death. In Nigeria, where the NAR is also making major headway, there are growing reports that churches have used abusive and cruel treatments on thousands of children in order to "cure" them of being "witches."
All in all, the religious situation looks to get very ugly in Africa
Meanwhile, Rick Warren probably is praying that the homo hubbub will blow over. And it may do just that. Most Americans are more interested in the Tiger Woods scandal than they are in cruel laws passed in some foreign country that they don't know how to find on the map.
When nobody is watching any longer, Africa may go on being captured by an extremist church movement exported from the United States -- one that is also working to capture our own government.
Hat tip to Bruce Wilson.
Update on 12/15:
I see that the White House has finally stepped forward to condemn the Uganda bill. I'm glad the President finally acted, though it's too bad he waited longer than Rick Warren to do it. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has voiced another generalized criticism of the bill in a Georgetown U speech.
Democratic Senator John Kerry also just condemned the bill -- not without prodding from LGBT media in his state. Meanwhile, Republican Senator Chuck Grassley, a known Family member, has admitted that the bill is "un-Christian."
In general, however, I continue to question whether the committed Family members in our government are truly interested in human rights for all, despite any PR statements they may be compelled to make right now that criticize the Uganda bill for any reason. I suspect that some of them are just posturing for the cameras, since the religious movement to which they belong is bent on establishing theocracies where "human rights" will be limited to those church figures who hold the power. -- PNW