I Just Got Uninvited from Speaking at the United Nations

I Just Got Uninvited from Speaking at the United Nations January 17, 2013

A few weeks ago representatives from the United Nations who were interested in holding a panel discussion about the international criminalization of homosexuality reached out to me to participate. They thought it would be good to have an evangelical representation on the very progressive panel, someone who has also been outspoken against the criminalization of homosexuality and reparative therapy. Those are both things that I have clearly spoken and written about (here and here), among other places.

Since 2010 I have done a number of things with the UN. The following is a quick, non-exhaustive, overview:

*Gave an all day training about our principles of bridging opposing worldviews at the UN’s International Headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland to the heads of the various UN agencies–including the Office of the Secretary General;

*Gave a training at the UN’s headquarters in NYC on those same principles to a select group of member state representatives from the global south, UN employees from around the world, and faith and civic leaders from around the US;

*Have been asked on as an advisor on at least a dozen calls, Skypes, etc with various UN agencies about the intersection of faith and certain public policy initiatives they are pursuing.

In all of these things the responses have been nothing but positive, affirming and that of gratitude. I’m humbled and grateful for the past opportunities to engage with world leaders on these topics and continually look forward to the next time, even though it wasn’t meant to be this time around.

Yet the one thing that many large bureaucracies face is having a holistic grasp on what their right hand does from their left. In anticipating such a problem, I asked the UN representatives reaching out to me about this event to give me the contact info of the folks running the meeting so I could have the UN representatives that I have worked with over the past 2.5 years reach out to the event’s organizers to vouch for me, and the role I have played in a variety of needed contexts. Unfortunately, no matter how much I tried to get that information, no one would contact me back. I don’t believe that is a conspiracy theory, I just think the UN representatives didn’t expect any issues and thus, didn’t prioritize my requests.

Then the Louie Giglio situation happened.

I genuinely believe the UN just freaked out, not wanting the firestorm that happened against the White House to happen to them. Because if it did, their important message against the criminalization of homosexuality would be overshadowed by unnecessary drama. I get that, and even agree with it. I wish, however, they would have handled the invitation repeal in a more personal fashion. But such is life…

This morning I got an email, not a phone call or anything else, saying,

Hi Andrew,

Hope you are well.

Apparently some concerns have emerged and I have been asked by the committee to rescind the invitation to be on the panel for the event. Sorry for any inconvenience this may cause.

That is it. They didn’t tell me what concerns were raised. Who was raising the concerns. Or they didn’t give me an opportunity to respond to said concerns. My guess, they could have been receiving heat from either of the activist conservative or LGBT worlds. Who knows when it comes to me? Both are a viable, accurate guesses. In light of this, if it is the conservative activist world, see here. If it is the LGBT activist world, see here. As I have shown countless times, if anyone has questions, just ask. I’ll always go on the record and respond to anything because I’m not trying to hide from anything or anyone.

And now it is time to practice what I preach about representing evangelicalism by not only focusing on more intelligent dialogue within the public square, but also living into my critical comments about Giglio’s silence in the face of accusations. If the UN will not allow me to communicate my thoughts about the international criminalization of homosexuality, reparative therapy, and how to move forward in such places as Uganda in their public forum due to some unannounced concerns, that is their choice and I am ok with it. I will then take this opportunity to communicate parts of what I was going to say there, here on my public forum.

I have already linked in the opening paragraph my previous outspoken coverage against the Anti-Homosexuality Bill in Uganda and my recent comments against reparative therapy. I will now address my thoughts on how to move forward in places such as Uganda, both legislatively and culturally…

The main questions with Uganda and other countries in the same vein are (from this point forward when referencing “Africa” the context is focused primarily on Sub-Saharan Africa):

A) How is the rest of the world supposed to stop the anti-homosexuality legislations in these parliaments from moving forward?

Then, and I would suggest more importantly in terms of the sustainability of justice,

B) How is the rest of the world to begin shifting said cultures away from such ingrained hostile environments against not only LGBTs, but a variety of other minority people groups, through the atrocities against inalienable human rights as defined by the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights?

All of what I am about to communicate is an overview of what I have said in every UN forum regarding these topics that I have been asked to participate in to-date. And I will keep beating this drum, as long as they ask me, until someone listens:

First: There needs to be a common definition of human rights.

I’m not talking about the academic version in the UN’s Universal Declaration, I’m talking about a cultural version. The United States’ definition of human rights, for instance, specifically when referencing LGBT people, beyond employment protection, is something to the effect of:

The ability for LGBT citizens of the United States to live in their right of not only entering into a marriage contract with legal recognition, but more importantly receiving all of the legal benefits that come with such a contract–the same benefits afforded to their counterpart US citizens who are of heterosexual orientation.

That Western cultural definition, understanding and implementation of human rights couldn’t be further from the truth from an African cultural definition and understanding of human rights–where most women, children, LGBTs and most with HIV/AIDS can’t even get access to treatment solely because they are either women, children, born with HIV or an unrecognized group–such as LGBT Africans. It’s no different than an Indian caste system in an African context.

So then how are Africans to wrap their mind around the title “human rights” being communicated by Westerners, when all they think about is the huge dichotomy between the Western cultural understanding and their African one? If I were an African I would fight against the Western definition too, because it doesn’t even make sense in their cultural context where basic rights aren’t afforded to hardly any minority population of people–sexual orientation notwithstanding.

That would be like saying, in the context that I grew up in within an Assembly of God church, that an outside group decides to fight to dictate that a woman be the Senior Pastor of our church and preach every week, when women aren’t even permitted to be in any role of leadership (which, let me just clarify that I believe women and men are totally equal, and women have every right to be Senior Pastors). The leap Westerners are imposing on Africans is too great to happen all at once. This doesn’t mean that I don’t believe African women, children, LGBTs and those with HIV/AIDS don’t deserve treatment. They do!

But from an African context that is currently fighting to allow access to health care and employment opportunities to all people, regardless, is a far cry from the West’s dominant current definition of human rights as gay equality. Do you see the disconnect? Unless their is a proper cultural definition that is holistically instilled, nothing will change. And that responsibility falls on the shoulders of the West, UN, White House, State Department, British Parliament, etc, to work within the cultural framework presented to them, rather than their continual attempt to force a cultural framework upon the Africans. Look how good that has worked out thus far…

Second: The West needs to be intentional about presenting a balanced worldview from both conservatives and liberals. 

In light of the disconnected situation misappropriating the converging worldviews, many African countries like Uganda believe that the West, and America specifically, is made up of nothing but scary liberals with a smattering of “acceptable conservatives.” That is why people like Scott Lively can go to places like Uganda and drum up huge amounts of support for the “Kill the Gays” legislation–he’s playing within the framework presented to him! He knows large sub-populations of Africans believe the West are “liberals trying to force LGBT people upon the world to take over.” So what does he do? He says:

I can help you live autonomous in your own context, away from those horrible gay and government people in my country. Let me show you how…

I’m not sure why anyone was surprised Lively could pull it off. He gave them a solution to what they simultaneously feared (Western liberalism) and wanted (autonomous freedom to live in their own context) the most, and he used the Bible and his extreme anti-gay views to do it. The only solution the West is giving very conservative Africans is to “catch up with the rest of the world and fall in line.” Here’s the problem, the West has been telling Africans to “catch up” with the rest of the world and “fall in line” for most of recent history–including slavery and horrendous religious prostlatization. Why would they listen to “us,” about “this,” then?

I was involved in a close-door meeting last year in Washington, DC with the leaders of the Ugandan parliament presenting the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, as well as leaders from our US government. Do you want to know what one of the Ugandan leaders said, in front of everyone?

The more angry we make you the more we know we’re headed in the right direction. We don’t want to be American. We are Ugandan and want to be Ugandan without you.

That. Is. No. Joke. Too many in the West are looking at this “Uganda situation” as an opportunity to advance Western ideologies of human rights, privilege and equality. None of that makes sense in an African context. We must either start redefining our intentions and worldview to actually make an impact in Africa, or we don’t. And if we don’t, more LGBT people will continue to be killed, beaten, imprisoned, or vanish; and women, children, LGBTs and those with HIV/AIDS will continue to not get treatment, employment or the simple recognition of being a dignified human being.

Then to settle our uneasiness, we’ll just keep building clean water wells and put a band-aide on the cultural problem rather than strive towards the long-view of justice for all Africans with Westerners understanding the steps needed to accomplish such a daunting task. I am not suggesting to give up LGBT issues in Africa or to stop building wells with clean water. But there is a way to address human dignity and fix these very prevalent and deeply rooted cultural issues apart from certain triggers that set them off. I will discuss that soon.

Third: A note to the UN, White House, State Department, British Parliament and any other Western government agency with power:

Sanctions and fines won’t work.

Back to the closed-door meeting last year with the Ugandan parliamentary leaders. One of them said:

I laugh when I see your President go on TV and threaten us. What more do we have to lose? We’re dying of starvation as it is. We’re getting swept away with HIV/AIDS. We’ve got nothing to sell in your “embargoes.” Empty threats mean nothing.

That Ugandan parliamentary leader sure has a point. If they’re already skeptic of the West, believe they are even more in the right when the West gets upset, and have nothing to lose (other than maybe the Ugandan President’s relationship with other foreign dignitaries–which in my opinion is the only reason why he has worked so hard to keep postponing the vote for the anti-homosexuality legislation to further parliamentary sessions), sanctions and fines are nothing more than ceremonial bureaucracy. The question then becomes, are Western government agencies actually willing to make a difference, or would they just rather go through their in-the-box-circling-the-wheels motions and not do the diligent work to figure out how to sustainably build bridges with very divergent worldviews and cultural justifications for what most of the “advanced” world sees as “barbaric.” History has shown us that short of waging war, big brother doesn’t win those battles.

Fourth: Religion.

Importantly now, the UN, White House, State Department, British Parliament or any other Western governmental affiliate can never ensure the shift I have been talking about apart from white Western evangelicals.

White Western Christians have wrongly proselytized African nations and people for centuries, teaching them they have to believe in a White American/British Jesus with Western values. They have theologically instilled “certainty” in “uncompromising cultural values” that were taught from a white Western perspective. They have taken a white Western understanding of political theology and embedded Western frameworks into the cultural consciousness of Africans in such a way that those principles cannot be translated to African contexts–hence the non-nuanced politics of many African countries using the Bible as justification for their assaults on human dignity and rights.

The unfortunate reality is that many white Western missionaries who thought they were doing good, earned the trust and respect of Africans, unknowingly shifted the axis of generations to come by mentally and religiously abusing Africans through their white Western ideologies and practices as “gospel.” All of these things completely “discredit” thousands upon thousands of years of African tradition, and cause irrevocable identity crises, with the greatest amount of value being placed in conformity instead of living as a free individual (in Christ if they so choose) with who they are, rather than who someone tells them what is supposed to be the best version of themselves.

Until very recently, there was no such missiological concept as “exegeting a culture“–defined as sociologically learning about a culture, its practices, its movements and its life blood, then giving up your life to become an active part of said culture instead of dropping unfamiliar contexts upon them as “Truth.”

With all of the culturally ingrained harm done from white Western Christians, the only way to undo such harm is to send in the same “type” of people who caused this problem in the first place to teach a more nuanced narrative. And those people unfortunately cannot be government officials or progressive liberals with a foreign, or “liberal” theology, for the reasons I described in points 1-3. They must be white Western Christians with a conservative theology that for generations have been some of the few trusted Westerners in Africa, who yet believe in the dignity of human life (don’t kill gay people), identity (reparative therapy is harmful) and are willing to work within the cultural and political frameworks presented to them, with an ever present eye in upholding the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights–in all aspects, from women to children to those with HIV/AIDS to LGBTs to persons with developmental and/or physical disabilities, etc.

To my knowledge through working on some projects and issues with various government agencies over the past few years, this is the one option that has not been tried–no matter how much I bring it up. The reason? None of those governmental entities fully trust evangelicals to actually make right what they have made so wrong for so longI can’t blame them, either. But there is a rising movement of new and younger evangelicals that “get it.” They get love. Dignity. Identity. Faith. Building Bridges. Policy. Cultural respect and ideology. Just say the word and I can have a group ready to go in a heartbeat. Anyone can vet them, question them, test them, whatever. The good to be done always outweighs the fears of what always end up stopping it from happening. We just need some boldness in leadership to give the ok to let this ship go.

It’s also important to know that I am not suggesting a new framework of “nicer” privilege. The goal of these white Western Christians who work to right what their successors had wronged is not to stay. It’s not to govern or be the false-savior, again. It’s to train, reaffirm cultural uniqueness while also affirming the contemporary understanding of biblical themes in a way that very conservative Africans can understand and relate. Then, those white Westerns get out. Let Africans run Africa. Obviously the Western world is here to help in anyway requested of us. But when it comes to the intersection of African politics and religious justification for oppression, those who caused the wrong must help make it right.

In turn, this will restore the trust back into the Western world and governments, and give our world a chance at reclaiming the best of what the UN, White House, State Department, British Parliament, etc believes can happen.

I thought this “uninvited” event was going to be the catalyst for discussion of such a work. If nothing else, I thought it was going to be a place to vocalize publicly what I have been saying to government entities behind close doors for the past few years. Maybe that was way to idealistic of me? So be it. But the time is coming, and when it does, we’re here. Open. Honest. Full of love and ready to be reconciliatory agents in spaces few want to immerse themselves within because it is the most difficult task one takes on–entering into the cultural, political and religious frameworks presented to them as a baseline for sustained engagement, training, education and justice. As I genuinely believe, incarnation is more than a nice theological term it’s a way of life.

My conscious is clear. My message has never changed. My commitment is strong. My determination has not wained. And I look forward to continue working with everyone willing to bring peace with in the most disconnect of populations. Perhaps this whole uninvitation is serendipitous in that it is allowing me the opportunity to specifically address the same themes I would have shared with world leaders, in this open forum on my blog. I hope others who take seriously this call to be ambassadors of reconciliation will join us in continuing to study how to best exegete our own cultures, while maintaining a readiness and willingness to engage in helpful and hopeful conversations throughout this world we live.

As our rogue staff for The Marin Foundation that is made up of half LGBTs and half heteros say–we are a movement shaped by bold individuals of reconciliation; whose orientation is one of love, who live in the tension and refuse to allow hate, disagreements or past experiences cause division in any community.

**Update 1/19/13: I received an email from my main contact at the UN from their International Headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, reaffirming the UN’s support of me, the work of The Marin Foundation, and our continuing partnership in working to build bridges between opposing worldviews in much needed spaces.

As always, Much Love.


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19 responses to “I Just Got Uninvited from Speaking at the United Nations”

  1. Thanks for the write up Andrew. Again, I’m sorry you were uninvited.

    I totally agree that sanctions and fines will not work. Spending a few weeks over in Uganda, there isn’t much more you can take from them. It’s literally like trying to “get blood from a rock.”

    I also agree that past Western missionaries have influenced Africa in negative ways. When we were there, the churches in Uganda were trying very hard to present a “Western-style” church. Our team was trying to talk with some pastors in not doing this, rather keeping alive the Ugandan traditions and culture within their church. I actually preached a message about this in Masaka.

    Africa is such a beautiful nation, rich in unique culture … this is what they need to be reflecting, not the United States, Britain, or other European countries. So, yeah, I totally agree with you on this.

    What I do have a question about, however, is that it seems – from your wording – that only Christians who believe that homosexuality is not a sin will be effective in bringing about change in places like Uganda. Only people who “get it” in regards to identity, sexuality, faith, etc, will be able to turn things around. Maybe I’m reading into things too much. Could you explain more?

    • Shawn – Thanks for your thoughts. I don’t believe that the only people who “get it” are Christians who believe LGBT sex is sin. So, so many people from all across the spectrum “get it.” What I am saying is that it doesn’t matter who “gets it,” what matters is who will the African’s listen to trying to explain the “get it.” And as I tried to communicate in this piece, my experience–both personal and governmental–is that many in Sub-Saharan Africa are unwilling to listen to progressive theology and those to teach it on this topic. So the questions become, does the West continue sending those folks to speak to a group unwilling to listen to them? Or does the West send folks to speak to a group willing to listen to a certain perspective, at least at this point? Then as you can read, I launched into the reasons why that is needed. Does that make more sense?

  2. Can only say I’m so sorry and that I support what you are doing. So many others do, too. Being where you are in the perceived spectrum of the issue, you’re gonna get hit hard by the Left (however one chooses to define it), too. Be encouraged. I sent my evangelical family the marin foundation link and it is opening doors for our family which have been closed for a loooong time.

    • Kevin – Thanks so much brother, that means a lot. Such is the circumstances with being a bridge builder who works with each diametrically opposed side of the spectrum. But I genuinely believe sustainable peace cannot happen any other way.

  3. i’m really sorry you were uninvited. but maybe you hadn’t been uninvited you wouldn’t have written this entry and that would have been a loss too. i really hope UN changes their mind!

  4. Maybe you just aren’t as special as you think you are. Maybe what you have to say just isn’t very interesting. Maybe you should get over yourself. Maybe you should internalize the subtle rejection that we in the community have been subjected to for centuries. Maybe your god connection is meaningless. Maybe some of us who now get to decide are pretty fed up with johnny come lately christians who have gotten trendy lately and have decided it’s cool to be a regular human. Maybe you should accept the reason for the hate is your god, and maybe you should do some serious repenting if your faith is real. Maybe you should walk a few miles in our shoes.

    • Joseph – I agree those all might be real possibilities, except the God stuff. It’s ok that we have differing views on God, or god as you put it. I don’t expect anyone to agree with me on that. What compels me is obviously different than what compels you. But we can still leave this world a better place. And it will be impossible to do such a thing in any sustainable fashion without practicing an ethic of actual inclusivity, that includes each population from the far left to the far right. Just a thought for you, my good friend Chris Stedman, who is the Associate Humanist Chaplain at Harvard, recent wrote a great book on how he, as an atheist, has found common ground with the (inter)faith community: http://www.amazon.com/Faitheist-Atheist-Common-Ground-Religious/dp/0807014397/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1358527024&sr=8-1&keywords=chris+stedman

      • Joseph: Thanks for your frank comments Joseph, and for your graciousness in using “maybe”. You verbalize what many think/feel and it is good to hear that in our journey of mutual understanding. Just now am actually struggling with the whole matter of repentance – want to be sure we repent for the right things – could you verbalize that further? Also, struggling with a statement of apology/confession and repentance – seems that whatever I come up with sounds hokey – as a kind of liturgy for a church service.
        Thanks for whatever you or Andrew have to say. Also, if I was to lead a small group in walking in your shoes, what are the critical experiences to be processed?

  5. It is unfortunate that the organizers rescinded the invitation, for what ever reason. I think people are too comfortable in surrounding themselves with people who are just like them, believe just like them, look like them. And so it’s more comfortable to reside with a dichotomous worldview. I think that’s why people don’t get you, Andy. We’ve been friends for many years and yeah I’ve heard it from both sides “about you.” But I’m confident in our friendship, in your sincerity, and in your heart for reconciliation. Whether at the UN or elsewhere, you are an ambassador . . . . for me.

    The decriminalization of homosexuality is a human rights issue that I strongly believe in. And I know it’s a complex issue. Your approach makes sense. In fact, I think we need multiple approaches for different purposes. We need outside activists because they will affect those on the outside – raise awareness on a global scale. But we also need inside catalysts, like you and/or people like you, who can understand the cultural context for which people operate, build relationship and trust, and help shape perspective from a more compassionate, loving, and hopefully empathetic level. This needs to happen – both approaches simultaneously – in the U.S., in Uganda, and every where else.

    Keep building the bridges, my friend. Despite those trying to burn them.


  6. Andrew:

    This is a nice but sad piece about you being uninvited. You gave a good critique and some recommendations. Could you please discuss further how to concretely engage in dialogue between two contending sides to achieve a common understanding that promotes respect of minorities. Please explain in further detail what you said, quoted below:

    1. “it is the most difficult task one takes on–entering into the cultural, political and religious frameworks presented to them as a baseline for sustained engagement, training, education and justice. As I genuinely believe, incarnation is more than a nice theological term it’s a way of life.”

    2. “we are a movement shaped by bold individuals of reconciliation; whose orientation is one of love, who live in the tension and refuse to allow hate, disagreements or past experiences cause division in any community.”

    The two quotes sound really good, kinda an abstract kumbaya type of feeling good. But my concern is how to *concretely* achieve the results of reconciliation and respecting minorities.

    3. Also, please answer your own questions, which surely will provide me with some enlightenment: “So the questions become, does the West continue sending those folks to speak to a group unwilling to listen to them? Or does the West send folks to speak to a group willing to listen to a certain perspective, at least at this point? Then as you can read, I launched into the reasons why that is needed. Does that make more sense?”

    In short, what is to be done *concretely*?

    Looking forward to specific, doable, concrete guides to action. Thanks.

    • Ray – Thanks for asking. I will try to keep it short and simple as best as I can. The answers could be a new blog post all together, which is still a viable option. Here are my responses to your points in the order you brought them up:

      1. In the context of the post, what this means is that in order to make a cultural and legislative impact in very conservative places such as Uganda is to affirm their conservative worldview as legitimate to them, while helping them understand the dignity of human life (e.g. not right to kill gay people) and people’s identity (e.g. no reparative therapy). Just because a culture doesn’t have a more progressive worldview doesn’t mean they are wrong or bad. What is wrong however, is fear based ideology that causes direct harm while violating the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It like the difference between Westboro Baptist Church and Willow Creek: Both have a conservative belief system, but only one lives out their belief system looking to cause dissent and destroy people; while the other is working to live into their worldview in a pluralistic society at-large that might not agree. My belief is that, whether progressive or conservative, the primary issue is about how one lives out their beliefs, more so than the secondary issue of what baseline they actually believe. It’s living in a freedom to religion while protecting human life.

      2. See here for the concrete answers to that quote: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/loveisanorientation/2013/01/video-my-recent-talk-at-christ-presbyterian-church-mn/

      3. The fourth point in the post, Religion, answers what to do with a concrete suggestion–send white Western Christians to who are conservative and belief in upholding human dignity, work within the conservative framework presented to them, and have them work to undo the harm their predisessors caused. After, they get out and let Africans run Africa. In response to the quote you mentoned, the question is, does the West keep sending liberals to change a conservative culture and have that conservative culture continue to rebel? Or, send conservatives to impact the conservative culture with an upholding of the Universal Declaration? My belief is the latter.

      4. I would love to hear your specific, doable, concrete guildines to action as well. And if need be, I can expland these in a separate post.