Why Does This Las Vegas Church Still Support Uganda’s “Kill-The-Gays” Pastor?
June 11th, 2010
Uganda pastor Martin Ssempa has become the public face of the “Kill-The-Gays” movement in Uganda, having eagerly embraced the Anti-Homosexuality Bill since its inception. Ssempa has been the instigator behind several forced outing campaigns, and he has hurled accusations of homosexuality toward rival pastors in an attempt to improve his own standing. Since the draconian bill’s introduction in Parliament last fall, Ssempa responded to international criticism by blatantly lying about the bill’s contents on several occasions. Those same distortions have been picked up by several leading American backers of the bill as well. More recently, Ssempa has resorted to showing hard-core graphic pornography in churches and press conferences in order to stir up hatred and revulsion toward gay people.
Ssempa had previously enjoyed backing from several American conservative Christian leaders and organizations, but one by one, they have mostly dropped him, either in embarrassment over his latest antics or in revulsion over his relentless support for proposals to kill gay people under certain circumstances. Most notably, Saddleback Church pastor Rick Warren, who had previously been identified as having had ties to Ssempa, “vigorously condemned” the Anti-Homosexuality Bill in December and disclosed that he had cut ties with Ssempa in 2007 over his “beliefs and actions.”
Another American backer, the Evergreen, Colorado-based abstinence advocacy group WAIT Training, announced that “[r]ecent developments in Uganda and around the world associated with Ssempa have caused us to sever all former associations with him.” WAIT Training is so adamant about it that this notice appears on the front page of WAIT’s web site (Note: A video automatically plays when the page is loaded). Philadelphia Bible University, which had previously granted Ssempa an honorary doctorate degree in 2006, denounced Ssempa’s activities and “categorically condemn[ed] any position that calls for violence against human beings created in the image and likeness of God.”
Not so with Las Vegas-based Canyon Ridge Christian Church. They continue to list Ssempa as a Global Outreach Strategic Partner. Last February, Grove City College professor and Evangelical Christian Warren Throckmorton contacted the church to ask about their association with Ssempa. Executive Pastor Mitch Harrison responded:
With the oversight of our elders and missions team, we constantly evaluate our ministry partners and their activities. We will only support those who engage in and promote activities consistent with the redemptive and grace-filled purposes of Jesus Christ in the world.
Canyon Ridge Christian Church does not wish to enter into the debate over the legislation in Uganda. We do encourage those involved to seek God’s leadership in humility and grace and to follow Jesus command to love one another as they wrestle with this difficult issue. Our prayers are for the good of the people Uganda.
That was in February, and Canyon Ridge hasn’t bothered to life a finger “for the good of the people of Uganda” since then. Meanwhile, Ssempa led a march in Jinja calling for swift passage of the proposed death penalty for HIV-positive gay people and “repeat offenders”. He has also appeared on ABC’s Nightline, in which he was shown displaying gay porn in his church. He also called homosexuality a form of “sexual terrorism.” More recently, Ssempa was featured on Current TV’s Vanguard episode, “Missionaries of Hate,” again displaying porn at churches, news conferences, and virtually everywhere else he can think of.
And still, Canyon Ridge dithers. In response to the Vanguard documentary, Canyon Ridge sent the following message to Warren Throckmorton:
The mission partners of Canyon Ridge Christian Church are more than just names on a bulletin board or a web site, they are our dearly loved friends and family. Because of this, we take seriously our commitment to them. When accusations or ill reports come to us about one of our partners and their ministry activities, we’re committed to do what the Bible instructs us to do; we go to our partners (when possible, going to see them face to face) and work through the issues with them personally. We don’t make public statements about our partners until we have worked through issues with them personally and brought those issues to resolution. We have been and are currently in conversation with Martin Ssempa and others regarding the controversy in Uganda and his activities in addressing it.
One has to wonder how long Canyon Ridge can dither while Uganda burns. More importantly, one wonders what Canyon Ridge stands to gain by being publicly associated with a man who wants to either kill gay people or imprison them for the rest of their lives. Or who wants to imprison the friends and families of gay people who refuse to turn them over to police. These issues aren’t something new that Canyon Ridge has only now discovered. The Anti-Homosexuality Bill was tabled before Parliament last October, but Ssempa’s public outing campaigns were going on in the Spring of 2009. And those weren’t the first for him either. He also participated in public vigilante and outing campaigns in several successive years prior to 2009.
Given Ssempa’s egregious and dangerous activities, it is critical to know exactly what kind of support Canyon Ridge provides to further his cause. How much money does Canyon Ridge supply to Ssempa? What other resources have they provided and continue to provide? In what ways exactly are Canyon Ridge facilitating Ssempa’s campaign to literally legislate gay people out of existence?
And for how much longer will they continue to provide that support?