Christianity Today author misleads on Uganda

In a web only piece on Christianity Today, Timothy Shah wants readers to believe that the Anti-Homosexuality Bill is “a legislative stunt” which has generated conspiracy theories about maltreatment of gays in Uganda. He writes:

Uganda has attracted human rights activism because of a single legislative stunt by a single low-level politician named David Bahati, a member of the country’s authoritarian ruling party and an Anglican. In 2009, Bahati proposed an anti-homosexuality bill so draconian that it would make “serial” homosexual practice a capital crime and punish pro-gay advocacy with a seven-year jail sentence.

At least Shah recognizes the actual intent of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. However, I take issue with his assumption that human rights activists have been interested in Uganda solely because of the AHB. In 2008, then-darling of American evangelicals, Martin Ssempa, led a rally where he proclaimed that gays have no place in Uganda’s HIV/AIDS programs because homosexuality is a crime in Uganda. Due to such incidents, activists were monitoring human rights concerns. Then when the three Americans, led by Scott Lively, went into Kampala to lead a workshop and meet with Parliamentary leaders, the situation attracted the attention of many in the US, even before Bahati got permission from Parliament to offer his private member’s bill in April.

Shah, without source or evidence, dismisses Bahati and his bill as “a single legislative stunt by a single low-level politician.” On the contrary, David Bahati is the Caucus treasurer for the ruling party, ran unopposed in the recent election (his opponent dropped out citing fears for his safety) and used his clout to support other ruling party candidates.

The AHB is not a legislative stunt. Bahati and the millions of Ugandan supporters that signed petitions asking Parliament to pass it are quite serious in their desire to craft strong laws restricting freedom of speech and association with the aim of eliminating homosexuality.

Shah then develops a fact-challenged narrative that has the bill “stopped in its tracks” not because of international outcry but because everybody else in Uganda was repelled by it. He writes:

But the legislation has received widespread attention not primarily because of its draconian provisions, whose very harshness has repelled virtually all of Uganda’s major political and religious leaders—including the President, the Catholic Bishops Conference, and a parliamentary committee that recommended the bill be thrown out as unconstitutional, effectively stopping it in its tracks. Instead, a major reason for the attention focused on the bill is that many believe it is the fruit of American evangelical homophobia.

In fact, the major reason the bill attracted so much attention is clearly due to the harsh provisions offered in the name of Jesus. Christian opposition in the US and around the world was prompted by the fact that Ugandan supporters of the bill used Christian tenets as a basis for their support. Ugandan pastor Martin Ssempa told Christianity Today that Rick Warren was wrong to oppose the AHB. David Bahati told numerous media that he had many American supporters. Religious right darling Lou Engle went to Uganda and failed to condemn the bill while Ugandan supporters, including the Minister of Ethics Nsaba Buturo and prominent religious leader Julius Oyet used Engle’s event as a platform to support the bill.

Shah reasons from hindsight. He says there is a Uganda conspiracy but has to ignore many facts and events to do it. In effect, he says the bill hasn’t passed and so the uproar about it must have been a conspiracy of the left. He says that everybody in Uganda opposed the bill. Not so at all. However, even those in Uganda who expressed some level of opposition did not do so until after the international outcry, including that coming from Rick Warren, had slowed the bill down.

The following statement is just wrong and should have disqualified the article from being published:

But the legislation has received widespread attention not primarily because of its draconian provisions, whose very harshness has repelled virtually all of Uganda’s major political and religious leaders—including the President, the Catholic Bishops Conference, and a parliamentary committee that recommended the bill be thrown out as unconstitutional, effectively stopping it in its tracks.

The bill’s harshness led to some calls for the removal of the death penalty and there was a government cabinet committee (not a Parliamentary committee) which said the bill was unconstitutional, but none of this stopped the bill in its tracks. The President was not “repelled” by the bill. He urged caution after the international outcry in January of 2010 (the bill was introduced in October, 2009). The bill is still in committee. The chair of that committee told me recently that if there is time in this session, he will bring it up. Mr. Shah should try talking to the people in Uganda who have something to do with the situation.

When all is said and done, I can’t really understand what Shah wants American evangelicals to do. He correctly called the AHB “draconian” but he doesn’t seem to think there was ever anything to it. Should evangelicals just dismiss those who think the bill is a threat because some left-leaning commentators find evangelical dirt in their reporting? What if evangelicals had not spoken out? What if Rick Warren had not produced his video and written his epistle? Having done the research on the precursors to the bill and interviewed the principle figures, I firmly believe the AHB would be law now save all that effort.

A commenter on the article at the CT website demonstrates one consequence of this article. A Patrix Devit replied to David Fountain, who referenced the actual themes of the March conference involving Scott Lively, Caleb Brundidge and Don Schmierer. Fountain noted the demonization of gays which occured at that conference which was reported by the New York Times. Devit responded:

Interesting, well-written article. @Mr. Fountain: It’s been shown on multiple occasions that the NY Times will alter facts or even completely fabricate stories when an opportunity to strike at Republicans, Christians (etc) presents itself. Nothing that the NY Times puts forth can be taken at face value.

Except that in this case, the NYT was mostly correct. However, reading Mr. Shah, one would not know much at all about what has really transpired.

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  • Richard Willmer

    I have made a brief comment on this article:

    “I’m in almost daily contact with Ugandans and it is most certainly the case that many gay Ugandans are very hard pressed, and have been for years. To downplay this is to indulge in irresponsible and deceitful tittle-tattle.”

  • Richard Willmer
  • My comment on the article was, perhaps, somewhat intemperate, but I think they deserved it:

    “Police now claiming that Kato was murdered by an acquaintance for reasons unrelated to homophobia.”

    Yes, the police are claiming that, but this is standard practice for police who don’t want to investigate the death of someone they despise. Bigoted police are always willing to find some excuse for murder. Not mentioning this well-known fact in your article is a lie of omission. Lie number 1.

    “Its draconian provisions, whose very harshness has repelled virtually all of Uganda’s major political and religious leaders.”

    In fact, almost all Ugandan religious leaders vigorously approve of the bill, though some would like the death penalty provisions changed to life imprisonment. In fact the related articles include one with the summary “American pastors and leaders are united in condemning the legislation while Ugandans are united in support.” United in their support, or repelled? Make your mind up. Lie number 2.

    “[The Family] is a relational and non-doctrinaire group that seeks to get the high and the mighty a little closer to Jesus.”

    It’s a bizare and secretive political pressure group operating under a cloak of religion. Lie number 3.


    “The agenda of the Americans who ran the 2009 conference was therapeutic.”

    Which was, of course, why they gave a platform to the hate-filled lying Holocaust revisionist Scott Lively. Lively is a fraud, is obsessed with homosexuality, and almost everything he says about homosexuality is a lie. The claim that this conference was “theraputic” is absurd, and counts as your lie number 4.


  • Richard Willmer

    @ TRiG :

    As Warren has correctly pointed out, Shah’s claims didn’t seem to accord with reality. Most of my comment pursuant to the article were in response to other comment, but your points look fair enough to me.

    Incidentally, the Kato murder trial was delayed earlier this month (I think it may resume tomorrow). My guess is that the ‘evidence’ is not holding together very well (someone who is ‘defending themselves’, as Nsubuga claims, does not arrive in a car, go into the house of the person from whom he is defending himself, and then leave a few minutes later – as other witnesses claimed in the immediate aftermath of the murder when the ‘theory’ was ‘robbery’), and other ‘evidence’ may be being sought.

  • Richard Willmer

    Well, the comments on the article are building up!