June 14th, 2010
The answer to that very simple question was never clear. Today, we might have a bit more clarity than before. If so, the news isn’t good.
American evangelical leader Lou Engle traveled to Uganda last month to put on another of his TheCall rallies on the sports field of Makarere University in Kampala. That event turned into a political rally in support for passage of the draconian Anti-Homosexuality Bill. The rally featured key bill supporters like MP David Bahati, the bill’s sponsor; Ethics and Integrity Minister James Nsaba Buturo, and Ugandan pastor Julius Oyet. Just before Engle traveled to the rally, he released an extremely ambiguous statement in which he promised that he “will not promote this bill.” He continued:
In fact, we challenge the Church of Uganda to join with Christians around the world, to first examine our own moral failures, confess our own lack of love, and from that heart seek to establish true biblical standards, reflecting compassion for those struggling with same-sex attraction and equal justice for criminal offenses committed by heterosexuals or homosexuals. We believe this also reflects the heart and intent of the Christian leaders of Uganda.
But news reports from Uganda itself suggests that Engle went back on his promise and spoke in favor of the bill. The New York Times reported that he praised Uganda for its “courage” and “righteousness” in proposing the bill. Further reports indicate that while Engle was clearly careful in not calling explicitly for the bill’s passage, he nevertheless gave his implicit support by defending Uganda’s pastors who were dealing “with a controversy they never wanted.” He also refused to comment when other speakers took the stage and demanded the bill’s passage. It’s pretty obvious from several reports of people who were there that the crowd was left with the distinct impression that Engle supported the bill, and Engle did nothing to disabuse them of it.
Five weeks later, and almost immediately following Exodus International president Alan Chambers’ contrite statement regretting his failure to more vigorously oppose the infamous “nuclear bomb” conference held in March of 2009, Engle tried to jump on the same bandwagon. Just two days later, Engle issued a press release:
I was actually asked to release a petition at TheCall for the people to sign in support of the Bill. I did not allow that to happen because the purpose of the gathering was not a political gathering; it was a prayer gathering. However, I had to leave the prayer meeting early to catch our flight back home. After returning home, I was told that the Bill had been clearly promoted after I left the meeting. I apologize that this took place and that my stated purpose of not promoting the Bill was compromised. I take responsibility for what was done on the stage of TheCall, even in my absence.
Engle’s apparent defense is that his tacit non-endorsing endorsement could have been worse. He could have circulated a petition that would have removed any lingering doubt whatsoever as to his real stance on the bill. Thanks for small favors.
But even if we try to look at this with the deepest rose-colored charitable glass-half-full benefit of the doubt, Engle’s true position on the bill still remains ambiguous at best. Even in this latest statement, he repeated his admiration for Uganda’s commitment ” to raise up a principled stand to protect their people and their children from an unwelcome intrusion of homosexual ideology.”
So even under the most generous assumptions, Engle’s stand with this bill would still remain anybody’s guess. I think you know mine. And today, we have some more information which confirms my strong suspicion that Engle really supports the bill but won’t actually allow those precise words to escape from his lips.
Engle’s most recent statement prompted Jeff Sharlet to write about his encounter with the bill’s supporters while attending Engle’s rally in Kampala. Sharlet, author of The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power, spent quite a bit of time with Oyet and Bahati immediately following the rally and reports that they were both “ecstatic at what they perceived as Engle’s strong support of the bill. They felt his rally and his statements would be a turning point for the bill, reassuring their Ugandan allies that they had support abroad.”
Sharlet also says that Oyet and Bahati both insisted that Engle had explicitly supported the bill when speaking with them, but that he had to “lie to the Western media because gays control it.” Bahati recounted that Engle spoke to the BBC against the bill, and then promptly walked over to Bahati offer his private support. Sharlet continues:
I tend to believe Bahati here, since Engle didn’t mean anything to him until he met him that day. He hadn’t heard of him and decided to attend the rally only after I’d told him a few things about Engle. In other words, he left the rally thrilled with Engle based on that encounter with Engle alone. Clearly, Engle did something to please him.
Sharlet also says that despite reports that Uganda may remove the death penalty from the bill, both Bahati and Oyet strongly support retaining the provision.
Sharlet confirms that Oyet is playing a very prominent role in promoting the bill, and is now officially working for Bahati. I’ve heard some suggestions that Oyet is the bill’s true author, but that hasn’t been confirmed. He is, nevertheless, very closely identified with it. For example, we know that Oyet was in the visitors gallery when the Anti-Homosexuality Bill was introduced in Parliament last October, and that the Parliament’s Speaker specifically acknowledged him and commended his presence there.
Oyet is the self-styled “apostle” who is vice-president of the Born Again Federation, an umbrella group of some 10,000 Ugandan Pentecostal churches. He is also an adherent of “Seven Mountains” theology, a Dominionist theology that calls upon Christians to “establish the Kingdom of God on earth” by claiming possession to “the Seven Mountains of Culture namely: Business, Government, Religion, Family, Media, Education and Entertainment.” Oyet is also the head of the College of Prayer International’s Uganda branch. MP David Bahati, the credited author and sponsor of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, is one of eight MP’s serving on COPI’s “servant leadership team” in Parliament.
Finally, according to Sharlet, “Oyet insisted that there are American church leaders who are supporting the bill privately but lying to the American media about it.” This repeats almost word-for-word what Bahati told Current TV’s Mariana van Zeller:
The many friends that we have, especially evangelicals in America, when we speak to them privately they do support us. They encourage us, but they are in a society that is very hostile. And we appreciate that and we say do what you think is right for your conscience. …But we have support in America. There are people who support what we are engaged in.
At that time, I asked aloud who some of those Americans might be. Today, we may very well have one answer: Lou Engle.
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