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Willow Creek Association’s Ties To Martin Ssempa Revealed While Las Vegas Church Continues to Hold Its Ground

Jim Burroway

July 2nd, 2010

In an article appearing on Salon this morning, Dr. Warren Throckmorton explored the close working relationship between Las Vegas-based Canyon Ridge Christian Church and Ugandan “Kill-the-gays” Pastor Martin Ssempa. And in pulling on that thread, Throckmorton discovered a much larger relationship between the Willow Creek Association and their East African hero:

Just consider the case of the Willow Creek Association, which bills itself as “the most influential ministry to evangelical pastors in the U.S.” and boasts “more than 11,000 Member Churches in 35 countries,” is now distancing itself from Ssempa. (Canyon Ridge is part of the WCA network.)

WCA’s signature leadership training events are conducted in “more than 250 cities in 50 countries each year” — including Uganda, where the group partnered with Ssempa in November 2009. In other words, as [Saddleback Church pastor Rick] Warren was publicly severing his ties with Ssempa, the WCA was strengthening theirs. In 2007, for example, the WCA bestowed its award on Ssempa’s church for its work in AIDS prevention.

The Willow Creek Association is a huge group of 11,000 contemporary Evangelical churches in 35 countries that are affiliated with the pioneering namesake megachurch near Chicago. Throckmorton reports that as of Thursday, WCA had apparently just discovered that Ssempa has been openly advocating the killing of LGBT people in Uganda, and so they decided to quietly step back a little:

On Thursday, Steve Bell, the organization’s executive vice president, told me that Ssempa is no longer affiliated with their leadership summit in Uganda. Regarding the 2007 award, Bell wrote:

Willow Creek Association (WCA) was unaware of Martin Ssempa’s views regarding the criminalization of homosexuality when the honorable mention award was presented to him at the 2007 Global Leadership Summit. Had his views been known, particularly his prior support of the death penalty related to the AHB [Anti-Homosexuality Bill], he would not have been considered as a candidate for the award.

And yet, through WCA member Canyon Ridge Christian Church, WCA continues to maintain an arms-length relationship with Ssempa. Throckmorton reports that WCA has no plans to sever its ties with Canyon Ridge, despite the financial assistance Canyon Ridge pays to Ssempa to staff his church in Kampala. And as we learned yesterday, Canyon Ridge is not only standing by their man, but they are also abetting his cause by actively propagating Ssempa’s intentionally false description of what is actually in the proposed Anti-Homosexuality Bill. Canyon Ridge and Ssempa insist that the death penalty applies only to those who rape the handicapped and child molestation, but we conclusively demonstrated yesterday that the bill still includes the death penalty for LGBT people with AIDS, who have a consensual relationship with a disabled person, or who is a “serial offender” — a category which, on close examination, can include just about anyone.

This is an important point to keep in mind. Over the past year, we have seen the Evangelical world divide itself neatly into two camps: Those who vigorously oppose the bill and call it evil, and those who attempt to justify it and call it good. Ministries and leaders like Andrew Wommack, WorldNetDaily’s Molotov Mitchell, and Cliff Kincaid have staunchly defended the bill and have included this very same misrepresentation of the bill’s death penalty provision as part of their defense. Others, who see the bill as “unjust, extreme and un-Christian” include Saddleback Church pastor Rick Warren, televangelist Joyce Meyers and, belatedly, Exodus International president Alan Chambers, have clearly read the text of the bill itself and are shocked at its horror. Reading it creates a clear line in the sand: either you condemn the killing of gay people, or you are for it. There is no middle ground. Yet Willow Creek appears to be trying to have it both ways.

But Canyon Ridge, following the path of the former group, has decided to cling fast to their man. And Canyon Ridge Pastors Mitch Harrison and Kevin Odor further insisted to Throckmorton that they “do not believe Martin Ssempa to be the man the media and others have portrayed him to be.”

Okay. Let’s ignore how “the media and others” have portrayed him for the moment. What about the ways in which Ssempa has portrayed himself directly to the public?

Here he is on December 22, speaking at a meeting in Parliament and demanding passage of the bill, including its death penalty:

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On December 23, Ssempa appeared on state-owned UBC television alongside the Anti-Homosexuality Bill’s sponsor, MP David Bahati. In it, Ssempa is seen lying about the death penalty provisions that are included in the proposed bill:

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On December 28, Ssempa posted a YouTube video addressed to Saddleback Pastor Rick Warren complaining about Warren’s unequivocal condemnation of the anti-gay bill. In this video, once again, Ssempa claimed that the death penalty only applies to child molesters, a claim that is demonstrably false with a simple reading of the bill itself. He also claimed that Uganda’s law currently doesn’t cover child sexual abuse in a manner that would include male children. Again, that claim was exposed to be completely false:

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In the second part of his video message to Rick Warren, Ssempa continued to protest that the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, despite its name and description of the new crime of “aggravated homosexuality” which calls for the death sentence, and despite what the text of the bill actually says — despite all that, he claims, with a serious face, that the bill would not result in the arrest and execution of gay people:

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In the next video, we see a rally that Ssempa held in the city of Jinja in February, in which he again falsely claimed that the death penalty only applied to child molesters. And in this video it appears evident that Ssempa fully supports the death penalty:

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And, of course, Current TV’s documentary “Missionaries of Hate” contains extensive footage of Martin Ssempa showing hardcore porn in churches, prayer meetings, news conferences and meetings with political leaders while calling for the bill’s swift passage in its current form. Here is some video taken from that documentary:

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None of this is a misrepresentations on the part of the media. This is Ssempa putting himself out there for all the world to see.

Canyon Ridge may very well decide to pretend they don’t see all of this and continue to financially support Ssempa. If they do, then they fully deserve the bright glare from his spotlight and all of the attention that brings. And as long as Canyon Ridge remains a part of Willow Creek Association while simultaneously supporting a Ugandan pastor who wants to kill gay people, WCA, too, remains culpable for their failure to denounce evil when it is plainly in front of them. They can’t, on one hand, pretend to distance themselves from Ssempa while embracing a church that is providing for his financial needs. As Throckmorton concluded, “you can’t preach one thing here and support something else around the world.” He’s right. Integrity just doesn’t work that way.



David Foreman
July 2nd, 2010 | LINK

Great article. Thanks for the info and update.
Jim, do you know what our President and we, as a country, are doing to stand against this gross stupidity and hatered?

Timothy Kincaid
July 2nd, 2010 | LINK

The Church (in a greater sense) has a little problem: they don’t trust the media, the sciences, or secularists.

“Who are you going to believe, the secular media or our good brother in Christ?”

So they believe Ssempa. BTB and the media and everyone else are taking him out of context and lying about him, you see.

This mindset is very dangerous. Not only does it lead to believing con men, but it is tied to the sumpremist notions that Christians are always right, even when they are wrong.

July 2nd, 2010 | LINK

“The Church (in a greater sense) has a little problem: they don’t trust the media, the sciences, or secularists.”

Please don’t blame that on “the Church”, in any sense.

People who are harming others do not trust the media, the sciences, secularists, or any one who might expose their harm to criticism or judgment.

There are scientists, journalists, secularists, as well as artists, business people, doctors, teachers, and every other category of affiliation or work, who have this little problem, not because of their affiliation, but because they have something to hide.

Timothy (TRiG)
July 3rd, 2010 | LINK

But it is an especially large problem in the church, which has a serious streak of paranoia.


Regan DuCasse
July 4th, 2010 | LINK

Now, someone can correct me if I’m wrong, but when churches like this are very explicit about their size, and influence, even with a country as far away as Uganda, that their support give credibility to people like Ssempa and the entire government of that country.

There are multiple churches, multiple pastors involved here. Who don’t seem to have any compromise to whatever financial holdings they have. As well as members of the Ugandan government who belong to those churches or who at least have the same religious affiliation.

It looks as if evangelicals who challenge this church, or the Ugandan government and Martin Ssempa, can easily be ignored.
There may be a split, but what indications are there that one side is influencing the other towards civil rights and understanding of the gay community there?

The church leaders, or even Alan Chambers may express concern, but what made them think this extreme was something they weren’t aware of to begin with?
As we have witnessed, they expressed concern, but also a delayed and tepid response.

I’m sorry, but I don’t think much about any of those who started the fire and then can’t control it after the fact.
Even in America, Scripture and Biblical directives have been employed to commit serious human rights abuses, it’s a tradition being employed to this day against gays and lesbians.

And it’s incredibly persistent, and virulent no matter what. I know I’m sounding pessimistic, but I can’t help it.
Ssempa’s ego, and strength seem to grow the more publicity this issue gets.

And even here, despite how craven supporters of Prop. 8 are, and despite having no evidence to support their claims in court: the voters still likely will have their side win. Maggie Gallagher and Brian Brown are more emboldened than ever, despite how contradictory and nutty they sound.
Their egos are growing too, and apparently they are still making plenty of money.

What can stop Ssempa? Even in a poor country and his conspicuous consumption, what could really stop him?
He has no shame.

F Young
July 8th, 2010 | LINK

@Regan DuCasse

“What can stop Ssempa? Even in a poor country and his conspicuous consumption, what could really stop him?”

Didn’t you answer your own question? Why not expose Ssempa’s conspicuous consumption? Has anyone tried this? How do we know it wouldn’t work?

For that matter, why not try it against all the multi-millionaire church leaders in the US too?

F Young

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