New Yorker Whitewashes “The Family’s” Involvement In Uganda’s “Kill-The-Gays” Bill

Jim Burroway

September 7th, 2010

[Update: In an earlier version of this story, I incorrectly identified the New Yorker’s author as Peter Boyle. His name is Peter Boyer. My apologies for the error.]

We noted previously that Jeff Sharlet’s upcoming book C Street: The Fundamentalist Threat to American Democracy, will explore, among many things, the specific connections between the secretive American evangelical movement known as the Fellowship or “The Family” and the draconian Anti-Homosexuality Bill that was introduced into Uganda’s Parliament last year. A key chapter of that book has already been published in the September issue of Harper’s, and another modified excerpt was posted online at The Advocate. Now it appears that the Family has decided to react, and they are in full PR mode with the help of Peter Boyle Boyer at The New Yorker.

By all accounts from those who have met the reclusive Doug Coe who heads the group, Coe is an very quiet and charming man. With this New Yorker article, it is evident that Boyer has fallen for Coe’s charms. Boyer describes The Family as little more than a “frat house”, composed in equal parts of Democrats and Republicans, Christians and Jews. In fact, he appears to have fully bought the line about The Family not being a Christian organization at all, but merely a group of people whose sole mission is to influence powerful political and business leaders “to follow Jesus.” One wonders exactly how one is supposed to define Christianity better than that, particularly when one is talking about a group that seeks to impose its understanding of Christianity’s tenets, if not its theology, from the top. Boyer’s description of events in Uganda are equally naïve.

When Uganda’s Parliament took up a bill last year that would have punished some homosexual acts with death, [“Family” member Bob] Hunter and his friends in the Fellowship felt they had the standing to urge the proposed measure’s defeat. [Uganda President Yoweri] Museveni appointed a commission that studied the matter and then recommended that the bill be withdrawn.

One wonders how Boyer managed the dexterity to write those two lonely sentences with his hands over his ears while singing “lalalala” to drown out the noise.

Nowhere does he mention that it was MP David Bahati, a key “Family” man in Uganda — a guy who organizes Uganda’s version of the National Prayer Breakfast that the Family is best known for in the U.S. — who proposed the bill, stands by it, and still insists that the bill must be passed in it entirety so that they can begin “to kill every last gay person.” Boyer would have you believe that the Family was responsible for the bill being dead when in fact the bill, while stalled, is still very much alive. It is currently in committee, and MP Bahati and other Ugandan Family members continue to push for its full enactment. Others however recommend that the bill be dismembered with different provisions attached to other bills with less flag-waving titles, and passed surreptitiously.

As for the Family’s assertion that they had “the standing” to urge the measure’s defeat, that completely ignores the international outrage that the bill engendered. Sweden threatened to withdraw its foreign aid if the bill passed, and Germany reportedly made similar noises. Meanwhile, when Uganda president Yoweri Museveni announced a special commission to study the bill, he cited phone calls from British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. According to Museveni, Clinton had him on the phone for 45-minutes talking about the bill. I think we all know Sec. Clinton well enough to understand that this conversation was probably very uncomfortable for Museveni.

To be sure, The Family was not united behind the bill. Bob Hunter, who was put forward as the Family’s main American connection to Uganda, appeared on American and international media outlets denouncing the bill. But Sharlet noted that the bill caused a split within the Family, and for quite a few months it was unclear whether MP Bahati or other prominent backers of the bill would travel to Washington to attend the National Prayer Breakfast. In the end, he didn’t come, but according to Grove City College professor Warren Throckmorton, who did attend the Breakfast, many Family members of the Uganda delegation who were there at the Family’s invitation fully supported the bill.

When Jeff Sharlet learned that the New Yorker was preparing to publish a piece on The Family, he offered five predictions pointing to a whitewash. He was right on all five counts. The Family’s PR campaign is in full swing.


September 7th, 2010

I am reading the piece, but some of it seems to confirm Sharlet’s research, as well. Here is one example:

D. Michael Lindsay, a Rice University sociologist who has studied the ways in which evangelicals have become part of the American élite, was astonished by what he discovered about the Fellowship. “They are the most significant spiritual force in the lives of leaders—especially leaders in Washington—of any entity that I know,” he says. “They are mentioned more often in the interviews I’ve conducted than any other group. They have had a more sustained influence over the decades than any other entity. There is nothing comparable to them.”

Read more


September 7th, 2010

Ok I have read it—thanks for posting. The Fellowship still seems creepy to this American. Prayer meetings at Pentagon offices, which then moved to the Justice Department? It all sends a shiver.

Albert McMeen

September 7th, 2010

I sent this as a letter to the editor of the New Yorker:
I was a Manhattan resident for 40 years and a long-time subscriber to the New Yorker. So, I was shocked to read Peter Boyle’s whitewashing of The Family’s connection to the anti-homosexual bill in Uganda. You are promoting those who think we should somehow change ourselves to please God. My chosen career ended in 1980, being fired for being a gay VP of Irving Trust Co. I became a faculty member of LIU and continued raising my two sons to become productive members of society. Please publish stories of gay people overcoming adversity in our prejudiced society, not provide a reprieve for those discriminating against us.


September 7th, 2010

irksome. i hope they don’t get away with this.

brings to mind two things:

1. ssempa calling american evangelicals flakey, very wimpy and inconsistent regarding their positions on the bill.

2. bahati and oyet’s claims that american evangelicals who publicly distanced themselves from the bill were secretly supporting the bill after openly denouncing the bill.

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