Now that the infamous anti-gay legislation in Uganda has been signed into law, with long prison sentences replacing the death penalty, the American evangelical leaders who assisted in fostering the climate that brought that legislation to life are trying to whitewash their role in the process. Scott Lively recently claimed that he didn’t contribute to anti-gay hate in Uganda, though both video evidence and his own earlier bragging suggest otherwise. Pastor Rick Warren, however, may have bitten off than he can chew, unaware that his advocacy against homosexuality in Uganda would prove to be a catalyst for such legislation. Or maybe that’s what he wanted all along, and he’s staying mum. Regardless, Dr. Kapya Kaoma has an interesting piece up that connects the dots between Warren’s early statements and collaborations with Ugandan leaders and what’s going on today in that nation:
Although documentation of the involvement of right-wing American campaigners (including by this writer) is ample, the current media scrutiny has brought forth predictable denials of responsibility. We’ve seen this movie before. When things get hot, as they did when Uganda’s Parliament considered a death penalty provision for its Anti-Homosexuality Bill, the likes of Lively and Warren attempted to deflate the public’s anger at their involvement by issuing statements distancing themselves from the very events they set in motion. Now again, there appears to be a dedicated PR campaign to whitewash the history of right-wing evangelical involvement in exporting their U.S.-style anti-LGBTQ and reproductive freedom campaigns abroad.
On March 2 of this year, Warren responded to the renewed public criticism of his promotion of homophobia abroad in with a post on his Facebook page under the heading, “Only fools believe everything they hear!” Warren says that he “publicly opposed [Uganda’s bill] nearly 5 years ago,” and argues that he’s been wrongly associated with the measure ever since MSNBC host Rachel Maddow “falsely accused” him of supporting it back in 2009.
It is true that Warren publicly criticized the bill in December 2009, calling it unjust “and un-Christian.” But his denouncement came only after intense and sustained pushback when Americans learned of his public statements in Africa condemning homosexuality, and about his close relationships with the Ugandan politicians and pastors who had taken up their American colleagues’ call to “defend” their children, families, and nation from homosexuality. When Pastor Warren visited Uganda in 2008, he supported and encouraged Anglican Archbishop Bishop Henry Orombi’s boycott of the Lambeth Conference (the worldwide gathering of Anglican Bishops every 10 years) where tolerance of sexual diversity was encouraged. Warren told the African press that “homosexuality is not a natural way of life and thus not a human right. We shall not tolerate this aspect at all.” Pastor Warren left Uganda, but his powerful condemnation remained, recirculated in the Uganda media for years.
Pastor Warren’s words and actions helped pave the way for the bill in the first place. But he has never acknowledged any of this, and has instead depicted himself as an innocent bystander to the whole affair who nonetheless had the courage to speak out against the measure. Warren fails to acknowledge his statement denying the human rights of LGBTQ people. Further, before he tried to distance himself from the “Kill the Gays Bill,” he responded to early criticism of his involvement by saying, “[I]t is not my personal calling as a pastor in America to comment or interfere in the political process of other nations.”
American fundamentalists have a bad habit of saying and doing completely different things, depending on where they are and to whose media they are speaking. We have long contended that the primary thing restraining them from acting like the Martin Ssempas of the world is that we live in a secular democracy with a (sometimes blurry, but definitely existing) line between church and state. When they go abroad, though, the filters often fall away, and they’re left to contend with it when American media picks it up. Indeed, as Kaoma explains, that’s what happened when Warren was forced to start speaking out against Uganda’s legislation. His friends in Africa felt betrayed:
Eventually the pressure grew too strong for Warren to avoid public comment. But his much-cited denunciation of the bill also provoked a reaction from his previous allies in Uganda. Martin Ssempa – a Ugandan pastor trained by conservative American evangelicals and one of the most ardent champions of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill – responded with an open letter to Warren, accusing the Saddleback pastor of failing to stand up for his own words and values. Ssempa’s criticism of Warren was not merely for standing in opposition to himself and the Uganda legislation, but for saying one thing in Africa, and another in the United States. Ssempa reminded Pastor Warren that when he went “to Uganda on Thursday, 27 March 2008, he condemned homosexuality.” Ssempa also wrote of how Pastor Warren taught Ugandans that “the Bible says evil has to be opposed. Evil has to be stopped. The Bible does not say negotiate with evil. It says stop it. Stop evil.” The underlying theme of the Ssempa letter is a charge of betrayal.
Warren’s major issue seems to be with the internet. He claims that it preserves “lies and errors,” but as Kaoma points out, it also preserves the truth, which may be a greater enemy to Warren and his ilk than anything else:
Pastor Warren laments that “lies and errors are never removed from the internet. False information on the internet is global, searchable, and permanent.” While that is true, truth and history also remain online. The Internet is where I found Warren’s on-camera endorsement of California’s anti-LGBTQ Proposition 8, and his claims that same-sex marriage was consistent with incest, pedophilia, and polygamy (all statements he later claimed he never made).
So when Pastor Warren laments the outcry over his involvement in the persecution of African sexual minorities, one has to consider the source. And when one reads Warren’s 2009 statement about the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, one has to consider the context.
Context is everything, in this case. Of course, a mega-pastor who wants to appear moderate would tailor his messages for the American media. Whether he feels guilty about what he helped create in Uganda, or whether he simply wants to hide it, there’s no question that, when he thought the American media wasn’t paying attention, his statements and actions were very, very different.