Does Exodus Support Criminalizing Homosexuality?
October 16th, 2009
Scores of Human Rights activists around the world have publicly denounced Uganda’s proposed anti-homosexuality bill which, in addition to lifetime imprisonment for those convicted of homosexuality, adds the death penalty for those who are HIV-positive. It also criminalizes all advocacy on behalf of LGBT citizens in Uganda, and contains an extra-territorial clause which extends the long arm of Ugandan “justice” to LGBT Ugandans abroad. Reading the text of the bill, it’s hard to imagine anyone crafting a worse piece of legislation.
The three Americans who kicked off this latest spasm of anti-gay hostility have really outdone themselves. This whole thing started last March when Exodus board member Don Schmierer, Holocaust revisionist Scott Lively, and Caleb Lee Brundidge of Richard Cohen’s International Healing Foundation conducted a three-day anti-gay conference in Uganda. Schmierer was there as the “ex-gay expert.” The result of that conference was the initiation of an anti-gay task force calling for strengthening Uganda’s already draconian anti-homosexuality laws. It also unleashed a wave of anti-gay vigilantism which led to arrests, torture, blackmail and ruined careers. According to Sexual Minorities Uganda, it has also led to several deaths, including the death of Brian Pande at Mbale Hospital as he awaited trial. And it has led to where we are today, with Parliament Wednesday giving first reading to this new proposal to effectively ban all freedoms — even the freedom to exist — for LGBT people and those who would support them and provide safe haven.
While human rights activists around the world have been quick to raise their voices for the defenseless, one might ask where’s Exodus in all this? Early signs indicate that you needn’t bother looking. Exodus Vice President Randy Thomas left a comment on Warren Throckmorton’s blog in which, speaking strictly for himself and not on behalf of Exodus, he condemned the proposed bill. It’s interesting that he can only say this speaking strictly for himself. Would Exodus be willing to say the same thing officially? Will they try to tamp down the wildfire their own board member helped to ignite? Thomas says don’t count on it:
Not sure that a statement from Exodus will happen. As for the past, Don never needed our permission to spend his own money to attend a non-Exodus conference to talk about topics from his books. He is one of the most caring people I have ever met and am glad those folks had a kind person to minister to them. That said I’ll be praying for doors to open for ways to try and speak love and redemption into what is obviously a very hostile environment.
This is a cop out. They knew about the conference long before it took place, when it was still possible to do something about it. And since then, they’ve tried every way they knew how to wash their hands of their board member’s handiwork. And they’ve refused to address the situation in Uganda where it really matters — in Uganda. This isn’t beyond their facility to do so. Uganda media has telephones, fax machines and email just like everyone else, and Don Schmierer has contacts over there. Exodus is not helpless or without resources.
And Exodus leaders certainly aren’t incapable of raising their voice when they want to. Anyone following Exodus International knows that this is not a shy outfit. We know well that they are very eager to have their voices heard on issues they really care about. They quickly went on record as being “troubled” by the ELCA’s vote to affirm same-sex relationships. On something like that they have no problem whatsoever finding their voice, loud and clear. Obviously, the decisions of a church to minister to those who are comfortable with their same-sex attractions — a decision which has no impact to conversion therapy or ministry to those who are “struggling with unwanted same-sex attractions” — is something that Exodus nevertheless cares deeply about.
But ask them to take responsibility for their own handiwork in Uganda, and we get unofficial excuses, denials, and crocodile tears. But no official statement, even though, according to Sexual Minorities Uganda, Exodus already has blood on its hands. And Exodus may well end up with more blood on their hands when the first HIV-positive gay person is executed by the Ugandan government.
Does Exodus Support Criminalizing Homosexuality?
Exodus’ silence is puzzling. But as disturbing as this silence is, it is in keeping with Exodus’ pattern of saying one thing to one audience and saying something else (or keeping silent) for another audience. And we see this whenever the subject of criminalizing homosexuality comes up.
For example, Alan Chambers told the American publication The Christian Post that Exodus doesn’t support Uganda’s policy of criminalizing homosexuality. He added that “neither Schmierer nor the ministry agrees or endorses Uganda’s criminalization of homosexuality law, imprisonment of homosexuals or compulsory therapy.”
That’s great as far as it goes. But this statement appeared in one specific forum to one specific audience concerning one specific set of circumstances. Uganda’s current law, which provides for lifetime imprisonment for those convicted of homosexuality, ought to be an easy law to denounce. So good on them for doing so. But they did it to that limited American Evangelical audience only, addressing only this particular set of circumstances. There was no attempt to make their position known to leaders in Uganda, not even to the evangelical Ugandan leaders who hosted the conference where the three Americans spoke. That’s where the message counts, not on the pages of the Christian Post.
So what if someone who hadn’t seen the Christian Post article wanted to know if Exodus supports criminalizing homosexuality? One would hope that the simple answer is no. And to find that simple answer, a natural place to look might be on Exodus’ own web site. But it turns out that the answer is not that simple, and perhaps not that “no” we were hoping for. It turns out that when one searches Exodus’ web site, one is left with the distinct impression that Exodus actually supports criminalization — at least as it existed in the U.S. before the Supreme Court struck down anti-sodomy laws in Lawrence v. Texas.
I have found only two statements on the Exodus web site related to criminalizing homosexuality, and both are reactions to the 2003 U.S. Supreme Court decision. In this “News Media Highlights,” Randy Thomas posted excerpts from “one who believes sodomy to be a sin and is directed to people who share that belief.” Thomas quotes the reaction of that unnamed writer with no further comment:
If the Supreme Court does repeal these laws, it will rob citizens, of all beliefs, the opportunity to enter their voice into the public record over this issue. Yet on the same hand it is this writers conviction that sodomy laws work against our redemptive witness.
So clearly that unnamed writer that Thomas quoted was against the Lawrence v. Texas ruling. But what about Exodus themselves? The only other statement I could find, this one quoting Alan Chambers, is equally negative:
As a result of today’s ruling, young people will be led into further confusion. Alan chambers [sic] states, “Our young people are not going to grow up under the same teachings about morality that we did. The school books will simply state that homosexuality was legitimized by the Supreme Court on June 26, 2003. We are risking the moral upbringing of all the generations to come. …”
Unfortunately, the political pendulum could swing harshly the other way. Americans of all conservative faiths are facing a serious problem; now that this decision damages the traditional view of sexuality and relationships, progay initiatives across the country will gain momentum. People of faith could potentially experience marginalization if we do not implement loving concern and active civic involvement.
Why won’t Exodus Speak Up Where It Matters Most?
So the question remains: What is Exodus International’s position on the criminalization of LGBT people? And if their position is any different from these two examples posted on their official web site — as Alan Chambers implied in the Christian Post — then why can’t they just say so on their own web site?
And more pressing, why can’t they raise their voice in Uganda? They ought to be able to do that pretty easily. After all, their own board member has some pretty powerful contacts over there.
One possible explanation for Exodus’ silence — and if this is true, then it means that they are far more petty than anyone can imagine — is that they don’t want to be seen as caving to “gay-identified activists.” But look at what’s happening. This isn’t some comparatively petty culture war over employment non-discrimination legislation or Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. We’re talking about a very real and imminent matter of life and death in Uganda. At some point, if Exodus had an ounce of integrity or a smidgen of conscience, they would have to see that it’s time to suck it up, drop the defensive ego trip, screw whatever the “gay-identified activists” might say and do what they know in their hearts what needs to be done to try to fix what Schmierer helped break.
But so far — and you don’t know how eager I am to be proven wrong in this! — it looks like they have neither the integrity nor conscience. Their silence — or their actions; it’s their choice — will tell us everything we need to know about their character. Everything.