Don Schmierer On Uganda: “What, Me Worry?”
December 5th, 2009
After more than nine months of controversy over Exodus International boardmember Don Schmierer’s participation in a virulently anti-gay conference in Kampala last March, he has finally deigned to speak up. And his defense is rather novel, something you might call the “Alfred E. Newman” defense. In a statement posted on Exodus International’s blog, Schmierer pretends that he had no idea that there was any problem with that conference until he was mentioned by Rachel Maddow:
Never in a million years did I expect to see my face on MSNBC. But there I was, plain as day – white hair, tanned wrinkles, looking every bit the grandfather I am- in a photo posted on Rachel Maddow’s show last night. Unbeknownst to me, she had decided to discuss a conference I spoke at in Uganda several months ago.
Remember, this is after nine months of outcry over the outcome of this conference, months of his own organization’s prevarications, half-hearted defenses, and finally — finally! — a letter. Even after all that, it wasn’t until just this past Tuesday that he decided that maybe it was time to add his signature to the letter more than two weeks after it was originally issued. (Exodus vice president Randy Thomas explains that Schmierer’s late signature was due to the fact that he was gallivanting elsewhere around the world with his “redemptive” message — and we all know where that’s gotten us.) But it wasn’t until his mug showed up on national television did he decide it was finally time to make a statement.
This international experience, however, turned out to be a bit different. For starters, I didn’t know much about the conference when I agreed to speak there. At first I thought I was the only speaker and was surprised to hear that Caleb Lee Brundidge of the International Healing Foundation and Dr. Scott Lively of Defend the Family International would be speaking as well. I disagree with several of their respective organization’s beliefs about this issue and have found several comments to be inflammatory. In retrospect, my decision to speak there might have been different, but one thing I did know was that Ugandans needed to hear a redemptive, compassionate view of this issue. So I set off to do my best in providing it. When my portion of the conference was over, a Ugandan gay bishop complimented me and remarked with gratitude that I “really understood” the gay community as well as the true nature of this issue.
I’m glad he got his “redemptive” message across. But there’s a problem with this statement. On February 27, the week before the conference took place, and the just shortly after we first learned about the conference, BTB’s Timothy Kincaid wrote to Alan Chambers to warn him about the conference:
On Friday, February 27, we inquired to be certain that Alan Chambers, president of Exodus International, was aware of the character and history of those participating at the Uganda anti-gay conference. Alan’s response was off the record. But because he responded we know he received our email and was therefore aware of the list of presenters and of our concerns.
So on Monday we asked him to let us know if he and the Exodus leadership would develop a position on Don Schmierer’s activities in Uganda.
We never heard back and the rest is a very well-documented history.
So what does this mean? Did Alan Chambers not pass on our concerns to Don Schmierer? If so, that would suggest that he does not maintain very good communications with his own board. But if the opposite is true, then Schmierer should have been warned about what he was up against and chose to go ahead anyway. Either way, this cop-out doesn’t just wash.
Schmierer concludes with what ought to be the main message, instead of his self-serving defense. He says:
What is true, however, and worth all the news media coverage possible, is the tragic nature of and heartbreaking potential this bill holds. I remember the gay bishop I spoke with and am deeply concerned that if this legislation were to go into effect, he would be in danger. I am grieved that the church and social workers I met may now be faced with the gut-wrenching decision of whether or not to turn in a gay friend or loved one. It should not be so. That is why I have signed on to the letter below in speaking out against this legislation. Please join me, and Rachel Maddow by extension, in voicing your concern over this bill.
Again, the concern is not so much over LGBT people (unless he knows someone personally who swallows Schmierer’s ex-gay line), but over church and social workers who may face a “gut-wrenching decision.” Fine. We’ll take whatever we can get. They say “better late than never,” but now I’m not so optimistic.