Uganda's Anti-Homosexuality Bill Linked to US Christian Group
by Charles Lemos, Sat Nov 28, 2009 at 05:36:09 PM EST
Peter Tachell writing in The Guardian finds the British Commonwealth of Nations is but a Commonwealth of homophobes. Indeed, apart from perhaps Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia, gay men are most severely persecuted in the former British colonies now independent that make up the Commonwealth. Of the 53 current members of the Commonwealth, more than 40 still criminalize same-sex relations, mostly under anti-sodomy laws that were originally imposed by the British government in the 19th century, during the period of colonial rule. The most draconian laws are found in The Gambia, Nigeria, Guyana, Sierra Leone, Bangladesh and Jamaica. But these pale in comparison to a bill now making its way through the Ugandan Parliament that makes sodomy a capital offense. That's shocking enough, but the bill has ties to a conservative US Christian group whose members includes the high and mighty of American politics of both political parties.
The Anti-Homosexuality Bill 2009 is going through Uganda's Parliament after receiving its first reading last month. According to Clause 2 of the Bill, a person who is convicted of gay sex is liable to life imprisonment. But if that person is also HIV positive the penalty - under the heading "aggravated homosexuality" - is death. The mere touching of another person with the intent to have gay sex is punishable by life in prison. The bill also criminalizes advocacy of LGBT issues. Membership of LGBT organizations and funding for them, advocacy of LGBT human rights and the provision of condoms or safer sex advice to LGBT people will result in a minimum sentence of five years and a maximum of seven years for "promoting" homosexuality. Nor are gay Ugandans who flee their country safe. The bill has provisions for extra-territorial jurisdiction. The law, if passed, will also apply to Ugandans who engage in homosexual behavior while living abroad. Violators overseas will be subjected to extradition, trial and punishment in Uganda. There are estimated to be 500,000 gay people in Uganda, from a population of about 31 million, according to gay rights groups.
This weekend on the margins of the Commonwealth Conference being held in Port of Spain, Trinidad, both British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper told President Museveni of Uganda that legislation was "unacceptable." They might also have a chat with Senator John Ensign, Senator Tom Coburn, Senator Charles Grassley, Governor Mark Sanford, Representative Bart Stupak and Representative Joe Pitts among others because they are all members of a radical Christian group called The Family. The group which dates back to the 1930s more recently came to our attention for the shenanigans surrounding the affair of Nevada Senator John Ensign and the Congressional boarding house on C Street, but according to Jeff Sharlet, author of The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power, The Family is connected to the proposed anti-gay legislation in Uganda.
The Family, also known as The Fellowship, was founded in the United States in 1935. According to its founder, Abraham Verene, God came to him one night in April 1935, and told him that Christianity has been focusing on the wrong people, the poor and the suffering, "the down and out". Instead, God commanded him to be a missionary to and for the powerful, the "up and in", who could then pass off the blessings to everybody else. The group does not maintain a website and prohibits its members from speaking about its activities. The group is now run by Doug Coe. The group is also the sponsor of the annual National Prayer Breakfast that has been attended by all Presidents since Dwight D. Eisenhower.
Here's Doug Coe in action:
Last week, NPR's Terry Gross, the host of Fresh Air, interviewed Mr. Sharlet who detailed the decades long connection between The Family and Ugandan politicians. Mr. Sharlet noted that David Bahati, the Ugandan politician who introduced the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, is member of The Family who "organizes their Ugandan National Prayer Breakfast and oversees a African sort of student leadership program designed to create future leaders for Africa, into which The Family has poured millions of dollars working through a very convoluted chain of linkages passing the money over to Uganda."
Mr. Bahati, an MP from the ruling National Resistance Movement, has in the past said the homosexuals are undeserving of human rights.
In the interview. Mr. Sharlet, who has spent years researching on The Family, describes the core agenda of secretive but powerful group as one that is intent onfighting homosexuality and abortion, promoting free-market economics and dictatorship, an idea they once termed "totalitarianism for Christ". The Family recruits people in positions of power and influence to promote its agenda and, according to Sharlett, the group has had its sights on Uganda for over 20 years and its recruits include MP Bahati, President Museveni and Ethics Minister Nsaba Buturo. According to Sharlet, The Family identified President Museveni as their "key man in Africa" in 1986. From The Observer:
Individuals working for both the US government and The Family, he said, undertook trips to Uganda to reach out to Museveni to make sure that he came into the American sphere of influence [and] that Uganda, in effect, becomes our proxy in the region.
"They wanted to steer him away from neutrality or leftist sympathies and bring him into conservative American alliances, and they were able to do so. Theyve since promoted Uganda as this bright spot - as I say, as this bright spot for African democracy, despite the fact that under their tutelage, Museveni has slowly shifted away from any even veneer of democracy: imprisoning journalists, tampering with elections, supporting - strongly supporting this Anti-Homosexuality Act of 2009," he said.
Describing Museveni as a core member of the group, Jeff Sharlett alleged that President Museveni visits, spends time and "sits down for counsel" with Doug Coe, the leader of The Family, at the groups headquarters at a place called The Cedars in Arlington, Virginia.
This Doug Coe, with whom Ugandas President reportedly consults, is the same man who believes that ruthless dictators such as Hitler, Stalin and Mao mirror Jesus central message on power. Sharlett says that Core members of The Family participate in deciding the groups agenda, a privilege not enjoyed by other members of the group.
One of The Familys central ideas, according to Jeff Sharlett, is that Jesus Christs message was not about love, mercy, justice or forgiveness. Rather, it was about power. The group says that Jesus didnt come to take sides, he came to take over.
Doug Coe, the leader of the group, tries to illustrate this, for instance, by saying, sort of posing a puzzle: name three men in the 20th Century who best understood that message of The New Testament. And most people are going to say someone like Martin Luther King, or Bonhoeffer; or maybe the more conservative, they can say, [evangelist] Billy Graham.
And Coe likes to give an answer - Hitler, Stalin and Mao, which just makes your jaw drop. And he will say - hes quick to say these are evil men, but they understood power. And that message recurs again, and again, and again in The Family, Sharlett said.
Sharlett, who spent time within The Family as an undercover researcher, given access to its leaders and archives, said that the group actively promotes dictators in pursuit of its economic and other interests. Because of its influence in Washington, the seat of the American government, foreign leaders find it in their interest to associate with the group.
Senator Tom Coburn, who also sits on the Senate Arms Forces Committee, is quoted to have said he has been on a mission to Uganda to "promote the political philosophy of Jesus as taught to him by Doug Coe."
The relevant part of the Terry Gross transcript is below the fold but I recommend looking at the whole transcript for it provides greater details on the unsavory collaborative efforts of Bart Stupak and Joe Pitts.
GROSS: Let's talk about The Family's connection to Uganda, where there's a, really a draconian anti-gay bill that has been introduced into parliament. Uganda already punishes the practice of homosexuality with life in prison. What would the new legislation do?
Mr. SHARLET: Well, the new legislation adds to this something called aggravated homosexuality. And this can include, for instance, if a gay man has sex with another man who is disabled, that's aggravated homosexuality, and that man can be - I suppose both, actually, could be put to death for this. The use of any drugs or any intoxicants in seeking gay sex - in other words, you go to a bar and you buy a guy a drink, you're subject to the death penalty if you go home and sleep together after that. What it also does is it extends this outward, so that if you know a gay person and you don't report it, that could mean - you don't report your son or daughter, you can go to prison.
And it goes further, to say that any kind of promotion of these ideas of homosexuality, including by foreigners, can result in prison terms. Talking about same sex-marriage positively can lead you to imprisonment for life. And it's really kind of a perfect case study in the export of a lot of American, largely evangelical ideas about homosexuality exported to Uganda, which then takes them to their logical end.
GROSS: This legislation has just been proposed. It hasn't been signed into law. So it's not in effect yet and it might never be in effect. But it's on the table. It's before parliament. So is there a direct connection between The Family and this proposed anti-homosexual legislation in Uganda?
Mr. SHARLET: Well, the legislator that introduced the bill, a guy named David Bahati, is a member of The Family. He appears to be a core member of The Family. He works, he organizes their Ugandan National Prayer Breakfast and oversees a African sort of student leadership program designed to create future leaders for Africa, into which The Family has poured millions of dollars working through a very convoluted chain of linkages passing the money over to Uganda.
GROSS: So you're reporting the story for the first time today, and you found this story - this direct connection between The Family and the proposed legislation by following the money?
Mr. SHARLET: Yes, it's - I always say that The Family is secretive, but not secret. You can go and look at 990s, tax forms and follow the money through these organizations that The Family describe as invisible. But you go and you look. You follow that money. You look at their archives. You do interviews where you can. It's not so invisible anymore. So that's how working with some research colleagues we discovered that David Bahati, the man behind this legislation, is really deeply, deeply involved in The Family's work in Uganda, that the ethics minister of Uganda, Museveni's kind of right-hand man, a guy named Nsaba Buturo, is also helping to organize The Family's National Prayer Breakfast. And here's a guy who has been the main force for this Anti-Homosexuality Act in Uganda's executive office and has been very vocal about what he's doing, in a rather extreme and hateful way. But these guys are not so much under the influence of The Family. They are, in Uganda, The Family.
GROSS: So how did you find out that Bahati is directly connected to The Family? You've described him as a core member of The Family. And this is the person who introduced the anti-gay legislation in Uganda that calls for the death penalty for some gay people.
Mr. SHARLET: Looking at the, The Family's 990s, where they're moving their money to - into this African leadership academy called Cornerstone, which runs two programs: Youth Corps, which has described its goals in the past as an international, quote, invisible family binding together world leaders, and also an alumni organization designed to place Cornerstone grads - graduates of this sort of very elite educational program and politics and NGO's through something called the African Youth Leadership Forum, which is run by -according to Ugandan media - which is run by David Bahati, this same legislator who introduced the Anti-Homosexuality Act.
GROSS: Now what about the president of Uganda, President Museveni? Does he have any connections to The Family?
Mr. SHARLET: Well, first, I want to say it's important that you said it, yeah, it hasn't gone into law. It hasn't gone into effect yet. So there is time to push back on this. But it's very likely to go into law. It has support of some of the most powerful men in Uganda, including the dictator of Uganda, a guy named Museveni, whom The Family identified back in 1986 as a key man for Africa.
They wanted to steer him away from neutrality or leftist sympathies and bring him into conservative American alliances, and they were able to do so. They've since promoted Uganda as this bright spot - as I say, as this bright spot for African democracy, despite the fact that under their tutelage, Museveni has slowly shifted away from any even veneer of democracy: imprisoning journalists, tampering with elections, supporting - strongly supporting this Anti-Homosexuality Act of 2009.
He's come out just this - just last week and said that this bill is necessary because Europeans are recruiting homosexuals in Uganda, that Europeans are coming in and trying to make Ugandans gay. And he's been rewarded for this because this is sort of where these sort of social issues and foreign affairs issues and free market fundamentalist issues all come together.
GROSS: How did The Family create its relationship with Museveni?
Mr. SHARLET: In 1986, a former Ford official name Bob Hunter went over on trips at the behest of the U.S. government, but also on behalf of The Family, to which - for which both of which he filed reports that are now in The Family's archives. And his goal was to reach out to Museveni and make sure that he came into the American sphere of influence, that Uganda, in effect, becomes our proxy in the region and that relationship only deepened.
In fact, in late 1990s, Hunter - again, working for The Family - went over and teamed up with Museveni to create the Uganda National Prayer Breakfast as a parallel to the United States National Prayer Breakfast and to which The Family every year sends representatives, usually congressmen.
GROSS: What's the relationship of Museveni and The Family now?
Mr. SHARLET: It's a very close relationship. He is the key man. Now...
GROSS: So what does that mean? What influence does The Family have on him?
Mr. SHARLET: It means that they have a deep relationship of what they'll call spiritual counsel, but you're going to talk about moral issues. You're going to talk about political issues. Your relationships are going to be organized through these associates. So Museveni can go to Senator Brownback and seek military aid. Inhofe, as he describes, Inhofe says that he cares about Africa more than any other senator.
And that may be true. He's certainly traveled there extensively. He says he likes to accuse the State Department of ignoring Africa so he becomes our point man with guys like Museveni and Uganda, this nation he says he's adopted. As we give foreign aid to Uganda, these are the people who are in a position to steer that money. And as Museveni comes over, and as he does and spends time at The Family's headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, a place called The Cedars, and sits down for counsel with Doug Coe, that's where those relationships occur.
It's never going to be the hard sell, where they're going to, you know, twist Museveni's arm behind his back and say do this. As The Family themselves describes it, you create a prayer cell, or what they call - and this again, this is their language from their documents - an invisible believing group of God-led politicians who get together and talk with one another about what God wants them to do in their leadership capacity. And that's the nature of their relationship with Museveni.