Dr. Jillian T. Weiss

CNN Blog Highlights National Prayer Breakfast Protest

Filed By Dr. Jillian T. Weiss | February 08, 2011 8:30 AM | comments

Filed in: The Movement
Tags: Breakfast Without Bigotry, David Bahati, Get Equal, GetEqual, National Prayer Breakfast, The Family

On Thursday, President Obama spoke at the National Prayer Breakfast, hosted by, among others, the Fellowship Foundation, which supports the Ugandan "Kill The Gays" bill, and which has helped foster the severe homophobic environment which led to the recent death of Ugandan gay-rights activist David Kato.obamas_prayer_bfkst.jpg

While David Kato lay in his recently-dug grave, President Obama chose to say nothing about this at the breakfast, instead basking in the glow of applause from the honored guests.

A protest was organized, called "Breakfast Without Bigotry," at which GetEqual connected with Faith In America, Unitarian Universalist Association's "Standing on the Side of Love" program, and others to offer attendees of the National Prayer Breakfast an alternative - an inclusive breakfast representing real generosity, love and respect.

CNN's "Belief Blog" covered the protest: Gay rights advocates question Obama's prayer breakfast appearance. It was a much-needed counter-narrative.

While no other national media chose to cover the protest, it is important to offer these counter-narratives. While the media may not pick up on many of these, we need to be there when they choose to discuss the issues. There might be one out of ten times that the national media chooses to focus on LGBT rights; we need to be there. Silence in the face of oppression is surrender.

While I applaud CNN's Belief Blog for picking up the story, it's interesting how they let The Family off the hook. Here's the part I mean. After discussing the death of David Kato, and the responsibility of The Family for playing a part in that, it quotes a spokesperson for The Family without comment:

J. Robert Hunter, who has worked with Fellowship prayer groups in Uganda and is authorized by the organization to speak on Ugandan issues, tells CNN the Fellowship has repeatedly condemned the proposed law.

"The bill flies in the face of Christian teachings," said Hunter. "It's very draconian. I know of no one here who supports it. Everybody thinks it's awful."

...

He says he met with Bahati in 2009 or 2010 and denounced the bill. When he visits this year, he has no plans to see him.

"We have opposed the bill consistently ever since it's come out," said Hunter. "The very first people to oppose the bill were people in Uganda, who were in the Fellowship group, who when Bahati explained the bill to them said it was wrong. So we're also the first people to oppose it."

The facts, however, don't seem to bear this out. The Nation said the following about The Family's involvement:

The Family has taken an interest in Uganda since the mid-'80s, when one of its members brought President Museveni into the fold. The Anti-Homosexuality Bill, which is probably coming up for a vote soon--perhaps in the weeks following Uganda's February 18 election--was originally introduced at the Ugandan Family's version of the National Prayer Breakfast in October 2009. Its primary promoter, Parliamentarian David Bahati, boasts of being a Family member despite the unwritten dictate that Family members keep their secret society secret.

...

Bahati told [journalist] Sharlet that, despite some public backpedaling, he had received no pressure from the Americans to drop the bill.

Bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, the Episcopal church's first openly gay bishop, explained the Family's responsibility well:

What I and others are calling for is for The Family organization to do far more than it's done recently. There's been a... mediocre and fairly listless attempt to distance itself from this law," he said. "If you start a wildfire and it gets out of control and burns a bunch of homes, you know, it does no good to say, 'Oh gosh, I never really meant to have it end up this way.

It's a shame the national media chose to ignore this issue. We must continue to press for justice, and to highlight the role of the American religious right in spreading anti-LGBT bigotry. What good does it do for us to press for civil rights when people are being told from the pulpits that we are evil sinners?


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Remember David Kato -- he was a fine member of our family.

Let's buy the T-shirt ... and wear it everywhere.

That's it? Nothing about how the national prayer breakfast is unconstitutional? This is disappointing.

Let's be careful here -- since it is not directly a government event, and it is underwritten with private funds (much of which are admittedly tax-exempt), it would be difficult to have it declared unconstitutional. Moreover, the President also appears before Jewish and even Muslim groups (here and abroad) although such gatherings are hardly ever called "Prayer Breakfasts".

As for the outside protest -- damned if we do, damned if we don't.