Seeking more reporting from Uganda

NYTimesAtNightWhen mainstream reporters write in and challenge something that we’ve published here, we always want to let that happen — especially if they will do that on the record. We want some of that discussion to happen out here on the “front page,” so to speak, rather than back in the comments pages.

Well, Paul Vitello of The New York Times has written us in response to the earlier post on the Ugandan legislation. We appreciate that Paul has taken the time to interact in this way. Once again, we’re trying to focus on specific articles and whether they meet basic journalistic expectations. In this specific case, we felt the Times did not. We should add that GetReligion has praised his work several times in the past.

Here was a key part of one of Paul’s comments:

I find it disturbing that you and so many of your commenters quibble around the edges of the issue and ignore the reality that Gettleman’s story quite ably describes: Gays in Uganda may soon face imprisonment and death because they are gay. The fact that evangelical leaders from the United States are cited by supporters of this proposed legislation — after the Americans visit and give their opinion that gay-ness is not a genetic predisposition but a “cureable” behavior — is important news. Most Americans did not know about it. I’m aghast that so many of you decided that the problem here is not one of fact (see gayuganda’s comment above) but one of some agenda you claim to hear in the voice of the messenger. Where is your outrage at the persecution of a minority population by political thugs? Where is the discussion of the violence that follows so close behind bithe declarations of the kind spewed by these foolish American ‘churchmen”? Did the last Christian really die on the cross?

As I mentioned in my earlier post, the proposed legislation does not suggest death for people who are just gay. Among others, it is for those who have homosexual sex with minors, the disabled, while being HIV-positive, serial offenders or if the person is in authority over another. Again, that doesn’t change the concerns many evangelicals and others have expressed about the legislation, but the specifics should be included in the article’s description of the bill.

Vitello says that the fact that evangelical leaders from the United States are cited by supporters of this proposed legislation is important news — but why did the Times not offer any quotes from these people? Where’s the proof? Wasn’t his dateline Kampala?

All of our personal opinions aside, would the Times say that the point of view of evangelicals and Catholics who believe that lesbians and gays can, in some cases, change or modify their behavior is accurately represented in this story? Is there a balanced debate between the two sides in this piece? Would both sides feel that their views were accurately represented.

Numerous American evangelicals and groups have spoken out against this legislation besides Rick Warren, including Exodus International, Charles Colson, and World Vision. Have any American evangelicals endorsed the legislation, in any form? On the record?

The most important point, though, is whether the Times could find any Ugandans to suggest that the evangelicals from this conference in March had anything to do with the proposed legislation. The whole angle of this news story is based on connections that haven’t been made by Ugandans.

One outlet that did better coverage was Bloomberg. Its coverage could have been more extensive, but their report included one of the key people in Parliament and told us something new at the time. As I mentioned in my earlier post, the Times article did not include the names of Ugandans in Parliament David Bahati and Nsaba Buturo, and the reporter doesn’t appear to have made an effort made to contact them.

The story’s dateline says Kampala, so why not quote more Ugandans? As a site that discusses journalism, we have concerns about actual journalism issues in the story, such as sourcing, and balance, not about a particular political agenda. The key here is an accurate portrayal of the views of people on both side of this very complex and tense story.

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  • Suzanne

    As I mentioned in my earlier post, the proposed legislation does not suggest death for people who are just gay. Among others, it is for those who have homosexual sex with minors, the disabled, while being HIV-positive, serial offenders or if the person is in authority over another.

    Others have raised this point before, but I will again: being a “serial offender” could be interpreted as having been caught having (adult consensual) homosexual sex multiple times.

    Saying the legislation “does not suggest death for people who are just gay,” assumes that those people would never act on their sexuality (well, more than once, anyway).

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    Suzanne:

    A good point, but how is the term “serial offender” defined? Does anyone know?

    And, again, what is the on-the-record link between the American visitors and the legislation? Please try to focus on that journalistic point. Who is making that accusation and what is the on-the-record proof?

    Please think journalism, on that.

  • Sarah Pulliam Bailey

    Yes – according to the bill, serial offender means “a person who has had previous convictions of the offense of homosexuality or related offenses.”

  • Suzanne

    Honestly I think that repeatedly misstating on this blog what the legislation calls for is a problem of journalism.
    Having consensual adult homosexual sex more than once is grounds for the death penalty under this legislation. You can try to differentiate between being gay and actually acting on it, but I would wager that many, if not most, gay Ugandans might take issue with that.

    beyond that, the article itself links Lively to the legislation:

    Mr. Lively has acknowledged meeting with Ugandan lawmakers to discuss it. He even wrote on his blog in March that someone had likened their campaign to “a nuclear bomb against the gay agenda in Uganda.” Later, when confronted with criticism, Mr. Lively said he was very disappointed that the legislation was so harsh.

    I’m more interested in somebody interviewing Lively about that admission. So he met with lawmakers — what was the purpose of that meeting? What did he believe the penalty would be when he discussed it with them? Did he suggest changes to the legislation?

    I would definitely like more Ugandans interviewed by name in the story. But I think the reporter made the case, at least with Lively, that he had some association with this proposed law.

  • Jerry

    Also, citing Rick Warren as one of those opposed to the bill ignores that he first refused to do so and finally only said something after media reporting. So a key part that MUST be reported is not only their current statement but the history of what they did or did not do.

    The American preacher severed ties with Pastor Martin Ssempa in October but demurred from saying more, saying it would be interfering in Ugandan politics. But after criticism grew in the U.S., Warren on Thursday released a video statement to Ugandan church leaders condemning the proposed law.

    http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1946921,00.html

    So I have to ask if Christians of any stripe should refuse to condemn evil because it would be interfering with another country’s politics? The Chinese communists have basically made that point about their own internal affairs as have other dictators. But for a Christian to use that as an excuse when a clear moral issue is involved strikes me about as well as fingernails on a blackboard.

  • dalea

    If one seeks Ugandan voices, one can Google Uganda newspaper and get a number of sites to look at. One such is called Daily Monitor:

    http://www.monitor.co.ug/page/search/DailyMonitor/-/691150/691150/-/view/asSearch/-/tfo3hfz/-/index.html

  • dalea

    From the Daily Monitor, a debate between: Risdel Kasasira faces-off Ndorwa West MP and mover of the Bill, Mr David Bahati, and a prominent city lawyer, Mr Ladislaus Rwakafuzi for their take on the Bill:

    http://www.monitor.co.ug/Magazines/-/689844/806302/-/n2xfsu/-/index.html

    News for Ugandans by Ugandans is readily available on the internet.

  • Bob Smietana

    I can’t find any indication that the Anglican Church in Uganda, or American congregations under the authority of Uganda, have rejected the proposed legislation. Anyone else seen any statements?

  • http://www.wthrockmorton.com Warren Throckmorton

    I believe a link to the full text of the bill might have been referenced by a commenter in your prior post on this topic, but I will provide it again for context.

    AHB 2009http://wthrockmorton.com/2009/12/18/ugandas-anti-homosexuality-bill-full-text-with-commentary/

    This is the copy of the bill sent to me by Martin Ssempa and is the same as the bill printed by the Uganda Gazette.

    Here is the exact text what is intended by aggravated homosexuality:

    3. Aggravated homosexuality.

    (1) A person commits the offense of aggravated homosexuality where the

    (a) person against whom the offence is committed is below the age of 18 years;

    (b) offender is a person living with HIV;

    (c) offender is a parent or guardian of the person against whom the offence is committed;

    (d) offender is a person in authority over the person against whom the offence is committed;

    (e) victim of the offence is a person with disability;

    (f) offender is a serial offender, or

    (g) offender applies, administers or causes to be used by any man or woman any drug, matter or thing with intent to stupefy overpower him or her so as to there by enable any person to have unlawful carnal connection with any person of the same sex,

    (2) A person who commits the offence of aggravated homosexuality shall be liable on conviction to suffer death.

    (3) Where a person is charged with the offence under this section, that person shall undergo a medical examination to ascertain his or her HIV status.

    Note the conflation of coercive behaviors with consensual behaviors. With proper precautions, people living with HIV may have sexual relations without placing anyone at risk. Also, it is important to understand that the definition of homosexuality is so broad that a person may be an offender for very minor kinds of intimacy.

    “sexual act” includes –

    (a) physical sexual activity that docs not necessarily culminate in intercourse and may include the touching of another’s breast, vagina, penis or anus:

    (b) stimulation or penetration of a vagina or mouth or anus or any part of the body of any person, however slight by a sexual organ;

    (c) the unlawful use of any object or organ by a person on another person’s sexual organ or anus or mouth;

    Note that “touching” is also defined in the bill:

    “touching” includes touching—

    (a) with any part of the body;

    (b) with anything else;

    (c) through anything; and in particular includes touching amounting to penetration of any sexual organ. anus or mouth.

    And then finally, the offense of homosexuality is defined as:

    2. The offence of homosexuality.

    (1) A person commits the offence of homosexuality if-

    (a) he penetrates the anus or mouth of another person of the same sex with his penis or any other sexual contraption;

    (b) he or she uses any object or sexual contraption to penetrate or stimulate sexual organ of a person of the same sex;

    (e) he or she touches another person with the intention of committing the act of homosexuality.

    (2) A person who commits an offence under this section shall be liable on conviction to imprisonment for life.

    Sorry for the long post. I think it is important to understand that this bill is quite detailed about what intimacy is and what is targeted. This not simply about protection of children. I also am aware that current law in Uganda protects “the boy child.”

    RE: Who supports the bill. Scott Lively has called it “a step in the right direction” even while he says he disagrees with the death penalty. My problem with some of the reporting on this topic is that reporters have to ask people their opinions to know them. For instance, I learned yesterday that Martin Ssempa is on Oral Robert University’s Board of Reference. I asked if ORU supported his stance in Uganda and the PR dept there indicated they would not be commenting. What does that mean? Do they support it? I don’t know and unless Christian and mainstream media start asking people who are affiliated with US groups, we won’t know.

  • Sarah Pulliam Bailey

    Suzanne makes a good point that journalists could do more by following up with Lively. But look at this statement again.

    Mr. Lively has acknowledged meeting with Ugandan lawmakers to discuss it.

    Wouldn’t this suggest that Ugandans were already drafting this proposal before the Americans did the conference?

    Jerry, see my post before on Bullying Rick Warren.

    Bob, I was told that the Anglican Church in Uganda will come to a decision mid-January.

    Thanks for posting the details of the bill, Warren. They are important, and I’m not sure why The New York Times did not flesh them on.

    On a more positive note, those interested in this case might want to check the AP report that the president has urged the death penalty to be removed from the bill.

    In the last paragraph, there’s more about the religious groups in Uganda. Why the AP buried them, I’m not sure. The religious presence in Uganda is huge. Nevertheless, here it is:

    The Catholic church in Uganda has said it supports the bill but not the death penalty provision. But a group of non-traditional churches has accused Museveni of siding with gays and maintains that the Bible supports killing gays.

    I’m confused why the article doesn’t quote anyone in the Catholic church in Uganda or name this group of non-traditional churches? Do they have a name? How large/influential are they?

  • http://www.wthrockmorton.com Warren Throckmorton

    Sarah: The AP report is problematic for at least two reasons. One, the gay advocate there, Frank Mugisha told me today he was misquoted. He said to me that he did not pledge to support Museveni in exchange for dropping the death penalty. See the link for more on this aspect of the AP article.

    And two, in contrast to the AP report, the Catholic Archbishop of Kampala Lwanga has said the church does not support the bill.

    Who knows if the rest of the article is accurate…

  • Jerry

    Sarah, I went back and read your previous post about Warren. But it seems to me that my comments could also have been made to that prior topic when you had asked who was questioning his statement. I think that his excuse and the delay is plenty of justification for a media review pointing out that his excuse does not cut it for a Christian.

    And I think the following part of the proposed law says all that needs to be said given that “intent” is sufficient for life imprisonment.

    (e) he or she touches another person with the intention of committing the act of homosexuality.

    (2) A person who commits an offence under this section shall be liable on conviction to imprisonment for life.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    BOB, et al:

    Crucial point: What is the position of the Catholic Church. Isn’t this largely a Catholic nation?

  • http://www.wthrockmorton.com Warren Throckmorton

    tmatt – The Catholic Archbishop of Kampala is opposed to homosexuality but does not support the bill.

  • michael

    Lest Paul Vitello accuse me of ‘quibbling around the issues’ and ‘ignoring reality’, let me say this off the bat: the Ugandan bill is horrendous. Though I should also say that I don’t know whether American evangelicals influenced it, directly or indirectly, and I have no clearer idea of this after the Times piece than before it.

    But Mr. Vitello’s little outburst is revealing, and it makes me ever more eager for the next installment in the Times dispassionate coverage of those “foolish American ‘churchmen’”.

  • PJH

    Mr. Vitello shows his hand with his comment, “Where is the outrage…?”
    If the point of a news article is to provoke a response, then let’s drop the pretense of balanced reporting.
    Once the gloves are off, however, let’s now feign indignation when someone questions your position.
    Reading the original article, as well as the GetReligion posts and comments, I see there is a lot to consider in relation to this story, the most troubling being that a government seems to be legislating persecution. I trust Gettleman did his best in getting this story to press; but it is safe to assert, as Vitello demonstrates, that in any publishing endeavor, the claim to objective rationality is a myth. Vitello’s defends his position mainly on political terms, going so far as to attack those who disagree with him, while he himself misses the point.
    Gettleman publishes a timely article in the NYT; GetReligion provide another side to the article.
    Where’s the outrage?
    That people like Vitello get more pumped up over protecting someone’s right to bugger another, than over the sanctioning of taking innocent life under the guise of “women’s health” and “equal rights” by the governments of most developing countries.
    Pardon my bias.

  • http://www.nocheapshots.blogspot.com Elizabeth

    Terry, as to the position of Catholics (and some other Christians) in Uganda:

    did you see this from John Allen a couple of weeks ago?

    According to him, Catholics are about 40 percent of the population.

    More background…more possible gas on the flames.

    http://ncronline.org/blogs/future-church/why-catholics-arent-speaking-uganda-about-anti-gay-bill

  • Chip Smith

    If Paul Vitello’s comment was important enough for you to use it as the basis for a new post, they why was it spiked in the comment thread of the original post? I understand that what you excerpted above is not strictly related to journalism, but he is responding to the many conservative non-journalism comments that got through. I don’t understand the spiking policy here. From the outside, it sure seems like it has an ideological component.

    “Mr. Lively has acknowledged meeting with Ugandan lawmakers to discuss it.”

    Wouldn’t this suggest that Ugandans were already drafting this proposal before the Americans did the conference?

    So? The NYT article never claimed that the law would not exist if not for the intervention of American evangelicals.

  • Sarah Pulliam Bailey

    I’m bouncing back and forth between posts, so I apologize for some overlap here.

    Thanks for pointing those details out, Warren. It seems as though the Catholic church’s position is still unclear?

    Jerry, at what point should media outlets expect outrage from Rick Warren on every single piece of legislation he disagrees with? I think I used the example of whether he should speak out against Spain’s proposal to allow girls to have abortions without parental consent. But I’m sort of done arguing that I think.

    Chip, we chose to discuss Paul’s comments up front in a separate post. The Times piece suggested a series of events, as though one probably led to another. The headline that went in print was “After Americans Visit, Uganda Weighs Death for Gays.” Hm.

  • Chip Smith

    Chip, we chose to discuss Paul’s comments up front in a separate post.

    I can see that. I was curious about why it was spiked but not the other non-journalism comments that Paul was responding to. As I read what you experted from his spiked comment, he was responding to the other commenters more than to your post. You have both pulled it out of context and made it impossible to see it in context by spiking it.

    I think it is great to pull some of the conversation that takes place in the comment section to what you call the “front page.” It is also great when the author of posts responds to the critical commenters. I would love to see more of that. Again, if it was valuable enough to respond to, why didn’t you also leave it in its original context?

    The Times piece suggested a series of events, as though one probably led to another. The headline that went in print was “After Americans Visit, Uganda Weighs Death for Gays.” Hm.

    It did not suggest that to me, and you detail how it does not actually argue for that type of causation, but your milage may vary. If the print headline was the reason behind this part of your criticism then it would have helped a lot to actually mention the headline. The headline for the online version (at least the current headline) is “Americans’ Role Seen in Uganda Anti-Gay Push.”

  • Dave

    Chip, comments of mine have been spiked because one of the GetReligionistas seriously misunderstood my intent. I worry more about the criteria that make a MSM article worthy of comment than “due process” in spiking. The former is supposed to be on some kind of objective journalistic principles; the latter is the fallback cyberspace rule: their board, their prerogative.

    I must say, if a comment of mine were extracted and made the topic of a separate post, I would not mind if it were deleted from its original venue.

    To the instant item, it seems to me the germane question is, What’s the story? The new Ugandan law, or whether American Christians had a hand in bring it into being? As a Pagan with concerns over the apparent involvement of American Christian clergy in the anti-witchcraft persecutions of my brother/sister indigenous Pagans in Africa, I’m more interested in the latter because of the parallel structure of influence. That’s the part I want well documented.

  • http://forgottencenotaph.blogspot.com J. Lahondere

    While I, like many religious people, feel that homosexuality is sinful behavior, I do not feel it warrants a death sentence. I feel the same way about pre-marital sex, and viewing pornography, etc. Is my belief a unique one? I don’t think so. So why am I accused of supporting the death sentence for gays by questioning this article?

    One of the issues at hand is that the article in question blames American Christian leaders for this anti-gay legislation. The reporter’s response didn’t make sense, either:

    “Where is the discussion of the violence that follows so close behind bithe [sic] declarations of the kind spewed by these foolish American ‘churchmen”? Did the last Christian really die on the cross?”

    This is not fair. If I were to publish an article in the news that says, “Jews are the cause of female circumcision rituals in Zimbabwe,” without citing any sources, people would call me on it. By this reporter’s logic, I could just ask, “Where’s the outrage for what’s being done to these poor girls?!” The issue is you insinuated certain religious leaders helped create a law that will kill people.

    I also would like to point out that denouncing sin is not automatically un-Christian. If these “foolish churchmen” were advocating killing gays, then yes, that is un-Christian.

  • http://www.wthrockmorton.com Warren Throckmorton

    Sarah asked if there were any Christian groups supporting the bill. I noted Scott Lively’s support for the concept but not the death penalty. Here is another one: American Vision.

  • http://goodintentionsbook.com Bob Smietana

    Hi Sarah and Terry:

    Not sure that the Catholic response matters much. There’s no direct tie between Catholics in Unganda and Catholics in Nashville.
    We do have, however, at least one local parish that broke away from the Episcopal Church in part over homosexuality – and aligned itself with the Anglican Province of Uganda–and claims to be under the authority of the church of Uganda. So that church’s lack of respone is newsworthy.
    The lack of an Anglican connection was a hole in the NY Times story.

    The Warren connection seemed right on, though. He’s had strong ties to Martin Ssempa, who promotes the antigay bill.

    Interesting letter
    on this site from Ssempa, asking Warren to apologize for critizing the bill. In the letter, Ssempa seems to accuse Warren of betraying their cause.

  • Sarah Webber

    The one thing that keeps occurring to me as I read this conversation, back and forth, is does the NYT really believe it can change legislation in an African country thousands of miles away? I mean, how many Ugandans do you think read the paper? Or is it expecting to change the policies of politicians in Washington who might have some pull with Ugandan politicians? Or does the NYT seriously believe American evangelicals (we are such a united group) have enough sway to change said legislation?

    In some ways, I’m with J.Lahondere. In no way do I wish for the death or imprisonment of Ugandan homosexuals, but I have to wonder why their lives are more important than the millions of other Africans starving or living in refugee camps or otherwise suffering. But, once again, sex sells.

  • Peter

    but I have to wonder why their lives are more important than the millions of other Africans starving or living in refugee camps or otherwise suffering. But, once again, sex sells.

    The NYT, especially Nicholas Kristof, hasn’t exactly been silent on starvation and the plight of the suffering in Africa. Arguably, by asking why U.S. Evangelicals are busy speaking at anti-gay conferences in Uganda, they are asking the exact same question you are.

    I don’t think the NYT is suggesting that the can change legislation in Africa, althogh arguably it is journalists job to raise concerns about human rights violations that include executions. It seems the question they are asking is why are U.S. Evangelicals involved at all in Uganda’s anti-gay efforts and what role does their rhetoric play in the legislation.

  • http://www.wthrockmorton.com Warren Throckmorton

    Sarah: the answer to your question makes no judgment about the importance of some lives versus others. For me, the problem here is that Uganda is suggesting this pogrom based on Christianity. Iran has such a law but I can see no way that the law brings a black eye to Christ. Not the case in Uganda where leading Christian pastors who have strong relationships with Christian icons here (e.g., Martin Ssempa and Teen Mania and Oral Roberts University; Stephen Langa and Joyce Meyer Ministries and Disciple Nations Alliance) are the ones who are leading the charge. Will say brothers, you are not reflecting the grace and tolerance of Christ (Rom 2)? Or will we say, not my problem?

  • http://www.nytimes.com Paul

    “Mr. Vitello shows his hand with his comment, “Where is the outrage…?” If the point of a news article is to provoke a response, then let’s drop the pretense of balanced reporting.”

    I’d like to respond to PJH’s remark, which seemed to reflect several others’ view of what I wrote on this site. Reporting is a discipline. When writing a story, a reporter’s job is to fairly describe all its elements, probe every side in a conflict, try to grasp the nuances of the various acts and actors.
    When I respond as a reader of an online site like GR, I am telling you what I think. It is not reporting. In this case, I was telling you that I thought much of the journalism-critiqueing of Gettleman’s story was thinly-disguised apologetics on behalf of the American evangelicals’ role in this sorry scene. It disturbed me.
    To leap from the self-evident fact that every human being has opinions, (including reporters who sometimes get irked reading blogs) to the ludicrous assertion that “the claim to objective rationality is a myth” — so “let’s drop the pretense of balanced reporting” — is evidence that you don’t like or trust (or perhaps know any) journalists. It is not however a cogent argument.
    People who respect what they do bring rigor to their work.
    If it is your contention that professionalism in reporting means having no feelings about the politician who happens to be a buffoon, or the financial executive whose unethical behaviour brings down his company, or the bishop who covers up for abusive priests, I think you are confusing reporting and stenography.
    Obviously you did not share my feelings about the Uganda story. That you described my indignation over the persecution of homosexuals as “getting pumped up over protecting someone’s right to bugger another” makes that pretty clear.

    Paul Vitello
    The New York Times

  • Chris Bolinger

    When writing a story, a reporter’s job is to fairly describe all its elements, probe every side in a conflict, try to grasp the nuances of the various acts and actors.

    Gettleman failed in that job.

    I thought much of the journalism-critiqueing [sic] of Gettleman’s story was thinly-disguised apologetics on behalf of the American evangelicals’ role in this sorry scene.

    You and others in your field need to be careful in your assumptions, whether reporting, editing, or responding to blog comments. Those assumptions, which often are invalid, tend to affect every aspect of your work.

  • Sarah Pulliam Bailey

    I’m catching up from a day of comments, so please bear with me. We have another Sarah in the thread, so it’s getting a little complicated.

    Warren, thanks for including links. Now if only the NYT would do the same…

    Bob, I agree that the Anglican Church is missing from this article. I’m unclear how influential they are in the political process. I disagree that Warren is relevant. As I said before, it would be like if Obama worked with a Chicago pastor on poverty, then the pastor opposes same-sex civil unions, therefore Obama must have been involved somehow. If someone is working on HIV/AIDS and then the colleague works on a separate issue, that doesn’t seem connected to me.

    Paul, thanks for weighing in again. Perhaps you were referencing commenters, but we do not make any effort to defend American evangelicals. Our intent is to discuss whether the Times presented a fair piece (which I don’t think it did.)

    Dave, see our comments policy. We do the best we can to keep the discussion about journalism, not about the issues. So did the Times document this American influence? I don’t think so.

    All right. While I’m excited for rigorous discussion on this issue, I hope further comments will move our discussion into what questions journalists could still answer. What questions can they still ask? I’m wondering, for example, when will Parliament be back in session. How likely are the chances for this bill to be voted on? Most importantly, what do Ugandans think?

  • http://knapsack.blogspot.com Jeff

    I very much appreciate Paul’s willingness to be part of this conversation, and his professional tone — for my own part, I didn’t read his use of the phrase “where’s the outrage” in a comment here as undermining his objectivity. Journalistic objectivity is a practice within a profession, and I’m underwhelmed by attempts on either side to say a good journalist “doesn’t vote” or is some utterly impartial person in every moment and in all settings.

    There does seem to be a “heads I win, tails you lose” formulation around Rick Warren’s role, both on CA’s Prop 8 campaign and in this. He only hesitated to opine on Uganda because that kind of political advocacy has never been his practice, in this country as well as overseas, and he stated that it might not work out helpfully. And in fact, there’s been quite a bit of indignation and (I infer, perhaps inaccurately) some digging in of the heels by Ugandan clergy, asking why the American big fellow is making an encyclical statement to them . . . which would seem to be why Warren didn’t want to jump right it. The fact that MSNBC and other outlets have been calling that cycle of events “he didn’t speak up until he was forced to” doesn’t seem to quite do the circumstances justice, and does feel more than a bit polemical.

  • http://forgottencenotaph.blogspot.com J. Lahondere

    I would also be interested to hear about what Ugandans think of all this. It’s hard to comprehend that such laws could ever exist in the United States (although at one time, they did: http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1061&context=englishfacpubs). I’m just a layman who doesn’t know a lot about Ugandan lawmaking, but do a substantial amount of Ugandans have to agree with this law for it to make progress?

    And maybe this is beyond the scope of day-to-day journalism, but I’d be interested in understanding the root causes of such a mentality. Is the desire for the death penalty seen as a natural extension of their Christian beliefs? If so, what is their religious justification? Are there other “lesser” crimes that people can be put to death for in Uganda (like theft)? Were their laws regarding sodomy or homosexuality before this one? Is this something most Ugandans are opposed to, but that some extremist Christians are pushing for?

    If there are Christian leaders, esp. American ones, who are advocating for this kind of law, then I think the world definitely needs to know. I just don’t like the insinuations that this was some covert Christian operation. If that IS the case, just come out and show us! Christians ought to be able to handle other Christians doing things that are morally wrong.

  • http://knapsack.blogspot.com Jeff

    Wow. I finally got around to reading the John Allen article linked above — http://ncronline.org/blogs/future-church/why-catholics-arent-speaking-uganda-about-anti-gay-bill — even more confusing angles to this story than I realized. And not to be a pathetic Rick Warren fanboy, but this helps me understand even more why he didn’t want to make a statement at first . . . and why his video & letter have provoked the kind of reaction that I’ve read from Ugandan pastors — which still disturbs me, but I feel as if I understand it better.

    John Allen is a consistently impressive source for whatever he covers, at least in my ten years of reading him on and off.

  • Julia

    In case anybody is still reading this combox, here’s a link to the entire index of John Allen posts on the Catholic Synod of African bishops that took place this past fall in Rome.

    http://ncronline.org/synodforafrica

    Allen reported that there was a lot of concern expressed by the African bishops about the behavior of staff members of NGOs working in Africa. The bishops had heard many complaints from their people about gay NGO staffers leading their young men into homosexual activity and liasons.

    Knowledge of these complaints might explain why legislators are trying to protect their young from what appear to be predatory Westerners associated with Western NGOs. I’m surprised that the NYT piece didn’t mention any of this culture war going on in Uganda.

    There was also some reporting on the bishops’ statements that condoms brought into Africa often sit in boxes in hot warehouses and docks rendering them unreliable. Seems there are cultural differences that Western opinion makers don’t take into consideration when dealing with AIDS problems in Africa.

  • Julia

    Peter:

    Did you not read the Catholic Archbishop of Kampala’s statement?

    December, 2009

    http://www.radiosapientia.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=2144

    Two excerpts:

    The recent tabled Anti-Homosexuality Bill does not pass a test of a Christian caring approach to this issue. The targeting of the sinner, not the sin, is the core flaw of the proposed Bill. The introduction of the death penalty and imprisonment for homosexual acts targets people rather than seeking to counsel and to reach out in compassion to those who need conversion, repentance, support and hope.

    and

    Further more, the Proposal to prosecute those who fail to disclose information regarding homosexual acts puts at risk of the breach of confidentiality and professional ethics of persons such as Parents, Priests, Counselors, Teachers, Doctors and Leaders . . . . . The criminalizing of such reaching out is at odds with the core values of the Christian faith.

  • Peter

    Julia, did you read Allen’s story on why Catholics haven’t spoken up about Uganda?

  • Julia

    Perhaps John Allen didn’t see the Archbishop’s statement.

  • http://www.ratio-magazine.com Andrea Bohnstedt

    Sarah (Webber),
    It’s taken quite some time until major media outlets have picked up this story. The NYT won’t aim to change the Ugandan government’s policy, but show its international readership what the goverment they are supporting with their taxes is doing. The US (and the UK and other Western countries) do have an immediate influence in Uganda since they pay for a good 30% of Uganda’s annual budget (this has only recently come down from more than 40%). Whatever you think about homosexuality, I think the majority of taxpayers in those countries do not subscribe to the death penalty or lifetime imprisonment for homosexuals.

    And on the other hand, Rick Warren and others (and I don’t mean to imply that all Evangelical Christians are a homogenous group) have far more immedidate access in Uganda than they would ever have, say, to the US president: It’s a much smaller country, with far weaker institutions, and power is very much concentrated in the presidency. Museveni’s wife Janet Museveni, these days a politician in her own right as an MP and Minister, has long cultivated her connections to US evangelical Christians. Rick Warren also has good access to Rwanda’s president Paul Kagame.

    Not journalism-specific, but maybe a bit of background helps.