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Posts for October, 2010

Las Vegas Church May Drop Support for Ugandan Anti-Gay Pastor

Jim Burroway

October 26th, 2010

Conservative Evangelical professor Warren Throckmorton, who has been a stalwart opponent to the draconian Anti-Homosexuality Bill that continues to linger in Uganda’s Parliament, received a message from Las Vegas-based Canyon Ridge Christian Church indicating that after several months’ delay and excuse-making, are considering dropping their financial support for Ugandan pastor Martin Ssempa, one of that country’s most ardent supporters of the proposed bill. The statement has also been posted on Canyon Ridge’s web site with a prominent link on the front page:

Because of the current controversy in Uganda over the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, and because of Pastor Ssempa’s involvement in the support of the bill, we have been in regular communication with him to clarify his positions and opinions. While we have come to understand that Pastor Ssempa advocates for an amended version of the Anti-Homosexuality bill that removes the death penalty and reduces other severe penalties, he is still supports passage of this bill.
 
We, however, do not support him in this effort.

We are in the process of determining how we can redirect our support in Uganda to activities specifically related to addressing HIV/AIDS issues.

It is still unclear exactly what this statement means. Will they continue to provide financial assistance for Ssempa’s work in “HIV/AIDS issues” while condemning the passage of the anti-gay bill? As I read it, that scenario could conceivably fit within the parameters of this statement. But it’s also worth noting that while Ssempa’s profile on Canyon Ridge’s web site is still accessible, the link to it from the Global Partners page has been removed and replaced with a link to the statement.

Was The Uganda Outing Campaign A Precurser To “Kill The Gays” Bill Revival?

Jim Burroway

October 21st, 2010

That’s the harrowing possibility that Jeff Sharlet raised yesterday during his interview on Amy Goodman’s Democracy Now.

Sharlet, author of C Street: The Fundamentalist Threat to American Democracy, spoke with Amy Goodman yesterday about recent events in Uganda, and gave some possible connections between a recent vigilante campaign launched by the Ugandan tabloid Rolling Stone (no relation to the U.S. magazine by the same name) and the Anti-Homosexuality Bill which has been languishing in at least one Parliamentary committee since earlier this year:

Well, this article in Rolling Stone, the Ugandan Rolling Stone, what it marks is really an escalation. We’ve already seen this happening in Uganda. Rolling Stone is a new paper. The big national tabloid, you might say, is called Red Pepper, and they’ve been publishing so-called kill lists for some time now, with names, sometimes addresses, photographs, of gay people. You see also some Ugandans taking out ads in these papers to say, “Here’s this person I don’t like, arrival at work,” or something like this, “I have secret information that he’s gay.” This idea of sort of formalizing the list, naming the top hundred, this is a real escalation.

And I think what it shows us, and with what’s going on in the bill right now and what’s alarming, is the bill hasn’t been passed. It got stalled after it was introduced, in response to international pressure. But it’s still there. It’s, in effect, kind of a tiger on a leash that the regime can let off depending on its own fortunes in upcoming elections. And what I’m hearing from David Bahati, the author of the bill, with whom I remain in touch, that he is now being promised a second reading. And I think this new step in the press is a very alarming one, because it shows it moving right back to the forefront of Ugandan society.

Sharlet also expresses concern that Las Vegas-based Canyon Ridge Community Church, which is a financial backer of Ugandan pastor and staunch Anti-Homosexuality Bill support Martin Ssempa, has not only maintained ties to Ssempa, but is misleading their own congregation on what Ssempa stands for. 

What’s interesting about it is it’s not even a far-right megachurch, and there’s a lot of members of Canyon Ridge who would be, I think, really outraged if they understood that their church was supporting one of the leaders of the anti-gay movement, Pastor Martin Ssempa, who’s also received US federal dollars, PEPFAR money. He has testified before our Congress. He’s held up as a champion in the fight against AIDS. His method has boiled down to “kill them.” The Canyon Ridge Church, there’s been a lot of pressure put on it, and I should say, by the way, by some evangelical activists. There’s a man named Warren Throckmorton, a professor at a Christian college, who’s been leading the fight to get Canyon Ridge to be accountable for the fact that they are financing part of this campaign. But, you know, even that is just one piece of this equation.

Warren Throckmorton has learned that the Las Vegas Steering Committee of the Human Rights Campaign met with Canyon Ridge more than a month ago. Throckmorton writes:

And I continue to wonder why the Human Rights Campaign of Las Vegas, who met with Canyon Ridge leaders over a month ago, have said nothing about a church in their community which indirectly supports a bill which is terrorizing GLBT people in Uganda.

This is beyond troubling. Supporters of the bill have disseminated tons of misinformation about what the bill would do if enacted (falsely claiming that it only affects pedophiles and rapists) and about its current status (falsely claiming that the bill has been withdrawn or shelved.) Both of those claims have been widely as fact by the mainstream press, and some of them have even entered into the LGBT press and held among advocates. This might help explain HRC-LV’s silence on their meeting with Canyon Ridge. If HRC officials were misinformed and accepted Canyon Ridge’s assurances, would anyone in the gay community be surprised?

I think it’s time for the HRC-LV to come forward with what they know about Canyon Ridge and join the effort to hold Canyon Ridge accountable. Failure to do so is not much different from collaboration. Surely the HRC can be a fierce advocate for something, can’t they?

Aid For AIDS Nevada FINALLY dumps Canyon Ridge Christian Church

Timothy Kincaid

August 25th, 2010

Top: Canyon Ridge Community Church in Las Vegas Bottom: Canyon Ridge's "dearly beloved family and friend" wants to kill you for being HIV-positive.

Although no one at Aid For AIDS Nevada has responded to (or even acknowledged receiving) my letter, they have finally responded to Dr. Warren Throckmorton in regards to their chumminess with Canyon Ridge Christian Church:

After evaluating Canyon Ridge Christian Church’s backing of Pastor Ssempa of Uganda and his support of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, we feel that it is in the best interest of our clients, supporters and staff to dissolve our relationship with the church immediately. Unfortunately, we will be unable to continue to work with the church, as long as they are associated with Pastor Ssempa. Since what he and the Anti-Homosexuality Bill represent violates the basic human rights that should be afforded to all Ugandans. Our mission is to provide client service programs that assist in enhancing the physical health and psychosocial wellness of the individuals living with and affected by HIV/AIDS in southern Nevada, while promoting dignity and improving the quality of their lives. We will further this mission without the support of Canyon Ridge Christian Church.

AFAN arrogantly dismisses concerns about CRCC

Timothy Kincaid

August 24th, 2010

There is nothing like public criticism to encourage a response. And after Change.org and the Red Ribbon Army and a number of others began to increase a call for explanation, Aid For AIDS Nevada has finally given the weakest of responses to Dr. Throckmorton for why they have not severed ties with Canyon Ridge Christian Church.

We do not partner with Canyon Ridge. In fact, we are simply a recipient of their donations in support of our lifesaving, essential programming for individuals surviving HIV/AIDS…we are not able to cease a partnership that does not exist.

Which still does not answer my questions: “please let me know whether you will continue to allow CRCC to participate in your organization and to display their organization’s name” and just why have you not responded to expressed concerns. And, especially, why have you deleted comments on your Facebook page from now half a dozen or so different activists who simply want answers.

The Red Ribbon Army is wondering something even more basic: “why Aid for AIDS of Nevada is unwilling to condemn Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill.” You’d think that would be a no-brainer.

But maybe AFAN doesn’t really care what you think; they don’t really need to. Two-thirds of their funding is from governmental sources and only about 17% of their annual budget comes from the AIDS Walk – and the majority of that is from corporate sponsors.

Aid for AIDS Nevada ignores concerns about linkage to Uganda’s “Kill the Gays” Bill

Timothy Kincaid

August 24th, 2010

As we have previously discussed, Canyon Ridge Christian Church is a Las Vegas megachurch which has been providing financial support for Uganda’s “kill-the-gays bill” cheerleading pastor Martin Ssempa. And previous efforts to encourage the church to either disavow Ssempa or at least oppose the incarceration of gay people in Uganda have come to no avail.

Neither protests nor the public disassociation by the Southern Nevada Health District has dissuaded CRCC from financial and moral support for Ssempa. But it did lead the pastor, Kevin Odor, to obfuscate the nature of the bill in a special presentation to his church as well as to dismiss concerns by self-righteously reminding his flock of thousands that they care about people with AIDS, as evidenced by their participation in the local AIDS Walk.

And, indeed, it seems that 74 church members signed up and perhaps even put on CRCC t-shirts and walked in the AIDS Walk sponsored by Aid for AIDS Nevada. However, considering that only 12 actually raised a cent and that the total which went to AFAN was $1,385, it is rather difficult for me to believe that their primary motivation was the care and concern for people living with HIV/AIDS. Rather, it seems as though CRCC has found a very inexpensive way in which to appear to care about their community without actually having to exert much effort.

I commend those who raise money for HIV/AIDS issues. But I don’t have much use for those who use HIV/AIDS infected individuals as a platform to advance their own personal image. And it was with this in mind that I wrote the following letter to Aid for AIDS Nevada.

I have recently become aware that Canyon Ridge Christian Church sponsors a team during your AIDSwalk. I further understand that CRCC displays their church name and logo on the shirts worn by their team members.

I wish to caution you that this may be extremely offensive to other participants who either are gay or who believe that gay people should not be jailed and executed.

Canyon Ridge Christian Church is one of the most prominent sponsors of Ugandan minister Martin Ssempa. And Ssempa is the primary champion of a bill before the Ugandan legislature that would:

* make it illegal for gay people to congregate

* institute a lifetime sentence for engaging in “homosexual acts”, which include “crimes” so slight as holding hands

* institute a death sentence for certain gay people, including:
* * when one partner is HIV positive, regardless of consent or protection
* * “repeat offenders”, which would include any same-sex couples
* * when one partner is a minor, regardless of the age of the other partner

* make it a crime for family members not to turn over gay people to the police

For the full text, please see http://www.boxturtlebulletin.com/2009/10/15/15609
For a comprehensive understanding of the events leading to and contributing to this bill, please see http://www.boxturtlebulletin.com/slouching-toward-kampala

Canyon Ridge has been made aware of the law. They consulted with Ssempa and were told that it only applied to pedophiles and those who intentionally spread HIV.

Ssempa has two messages, one for Uganda and one for their American sponsors. CRCC was provided with evidence of the language of the bill and that Ssempa was targeting gay people, not molesters. This information is readily available on the internet.

CRCC has refused to:

* Break ties with Ssempa
* Read the bill
* Condemn the bill
* Oppose the criminalization of homosexuality
* Oppose the incarceration of gay people

Instead they gave a lecture to their church (which was completely false), justifying their support for Ssempa and the Anti-Homosexuality Bill of 2009 (which is still before the legislature).

I very much care about whether gay people in Uganda are executed for being gay. I am not alone.

Actually, many conservative evangelical Christians are concerned about this issue and several have renounced the bill and Ssempa’s involvement including Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church and author of A Purpose Driven Life, and Joyce Meyer, author and international televangelist.

Of course, the condemnation is not restricted to conservative evangelicals. A number of mainline churches (the Episcopal Church, for example) and political leaders have weighed in. Barack Obama, the President of the United States, and Hillary Clinton, Secretary of State, have condemned this bill. The governments of Sweden and the United Kingdom have officially condemned the bill and warned about international sanctions.

In fact, virtually every decent person or organization that comes to know about the bill opposes it and its sponsors. Except for Canyon Ridge Christian Church.

So please understand that when your AIDSwalk includes CRCC, it is not their faith that is shocking. It is not that they are conservative.

Rather, it is that you have a participant in your event who stands virtually alone in refusing to condemn the incarceration and execution of people for being gay.

This is such an extreme position that the Southern Nevada Health District found it necessary to cease any outreach at the church. They found it not only offensive, but that their support for Ssempa served to endanger gay Ugandans and to harm and hinder the efforts to fight HIV in that country.

I understand that others have brought this situation to your attention, but have not been successful in determining your stance. As I am a writer for a website that has been successful in getting the information about the bill out to the public and which has a large readership and close connections to gay media, they’ve requested that we inquire about your intentions.

So please let me know whether you will continue to allow CRCC to participate in your organization and to display their organization’s name.

Jeniffer Morss, the Executive Director of Aid for AIDS Nevada, does not have her direct email listed on their website, so I directed my letter to:

Jared Hafen – Associate Director
Cira Jones – Director of Finance and Administration
Theresa Mayet – Development Coordinator
Blair Stirek – Development Coordinator

and requested that they “forward to the appropriate person and also please respond to let me know who will be addressing this issue.”

That was Thursday. As of today there has been no response. At all. Not even an acknowledgment of receipt of my letter.

But perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised. We are not alone in trying to get AFAN to look at the consequences of their relationship with the church funding a campaign to execute gay people. And their constant response has been silence and stonewalling.

Dr. Warren Throckmorton has also been trying to contact AFAN, and he describes his experience thusly:

When I [contacted AFAN], one staffer I spoke with declined to comment but forwarded my request to the director, Jennifer Morss. I then wrote Ms. Morss two additional emails asking for comment on the relationship with Canyon Ridge and the recent action of Southern Nevada Health to sever ties with the church.

To date, I have gotten no answer. Last week, I went on the Facebook group for AFAN and left a comment on their wall asking for a PR person from AFAN to contact me. Initially, that comment was answered with a recommendation that I contact Terri Maruca, Vice President at Kirvin Doak Communications. When I contacted Ms. Maruca, she replied that someone from the staff would contact me next (now this) week. In the mean time, Michael Bussee also left a request for public comment on the AFAN Facebook group wall. Sometime in mid-week last week, both of those comments were removed by the owner of the AFAN group. Currently, Mr. Bussee has another request for public comment on the AFAN wall.

That request for comment by Michael Bussee has now been removed.

Aid For AIDS Nevada may well have a very good reason for not wishing to confront CRCC (which may or may not have anything to do with their website’s need to assure us that most of their management is heterosexual). But they have no valid reason for ignoring and deleting questions.

We deserve an answer. AFAN owes us the courtesy of replying and letting us know exactly why it is that they are partnering with a church that is sponsoring murder.

Nevada Health Officials Sever Ties with Megachurch Over Martin Ssempa

Jim Burroway

July 13th, 2010

Top: Canyon Ridge Community Church in Las Vegas Bottom: Canyon Ridge's "dearly beloved family and friend" wants to kill you for being HIV-positive.

As we reported over the past month, Canyon Ridge Christian Church, the Las Vegas megachurch which has been providing financial support for Uganda’s “kill-the-gays bill” cheerleading pastor Martin Ssempa, was found to be simultaneously attempting an outreach program to Las Vegas’s LGBT and HIV/AIDS constituencies by being a test site for National HIV Testing Day on June 27.

In other words, the Las Vegas church that wanted to test you for HIV, is the same church whose strategic partner and “dearly beloved friend and family” wants to put you to death if you are HIV-positive. Despite widespread condemnation for their conflicting stance, Canyon Ridge defended Ssempa, saying they “do not believe Martin Ssempa to be the man the media and others have portrayed him to be.” We, who have been following Ssempa’s role closely through every twist and turn of Uganda’s proposed Anti-Homosexuality Bill, have countered by skipping how Ssempa was portrayed in the media, and instead reminded viewers of how Ssempa portrayed himself directly. That appears to have made no impression on Canyon Ridge’s leaders.

Southern Nevada Health District, which partnered with Canyon Ridge for National HIV Testing Day, however has announced that they are severing ties with Canyon Ridge. According to a letter from the health district posted on Warren Throckmorton’s blog:

Pastor Ssempa’s support of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, which would criminally penalize homosexuals, is in direct conflict with the overarching public health goals of the health district. It is with regret that I feel compelled to dissolve the health district’s relationship with your church as long as you continue this partnership.

One of the central tenets of public health is to provide services without judgment. We also apply this principle in working with our various partners. However, we are profoundly concerned about your partnership with Pastor Ssempa as it contradicts this central tenet in that it amounts to tacit approval of activities that violate the basic human rights that should be afforded to all Ugandans.

Canyon Ridge continues to stand behind Ssempa. That same day Canyon Ridge was notified that the health district was severing ties with them, Teri McCoy, Executive Assistant to pastors Kevin Odor and Doug Parks, sent the following response to a BTB reader:

Martin has given us some documentation to clarify his position as he has represented it to us. We also have included this link to a radio interview where he discusses his position. (http://lineoffireradio.askdrbrown.org/?s=ssempa)

Because of the documents he has given us and our interactions with him, we do not believe Martin Ssempa to be the man the media and others have portrayed him to be. He has, with other pastors in Uganda, publicly expressed objection to the death penalty in the Anti-Homosexuality bill and made recommendations to Parliament to remove the death penalty from the bill and reduce the severity of other penalties in it. (Please see attached documents.)

We have worked with Martin for several years, making trips to Uganda to see his ministry first hand. He has welcomed and ministered to homosexual people in his church. He has championed the cause of abstinence, sexual purity and faithfulness in marriage that has been instrumental in pushing back the scourge of HIV/AIDS in Uganda. This work has now become a model for other African nations in stemming the tide of the HIV/AIDS pandemic on that continent. This work of saving lives in Africa was the genesis of our partnership in Uganda.

As you know, we have, through recent face to face (March 11, 2010) and video phone conversations, questioned Martin about the controversial issues and asked him to provide additional video and written statements that further clarify his positions. He has asked for and graciously received our counsel and correction and committed to continue pursuing balanced teaching of the grace and truth of God.

However, since March 11, we have diligently recorded several instances in which Ssempa has continued to support the Anti-Homosexuality Bill without modifications, while publicly displaying hard core pornography in a campaign to vilify LGBT people. Ssempa continues to insist that the bill does not target gay people with the death penalty — a lie that Canyon Ridge repeated when they defended Ssempa to a local newspaper — and a lie that he attempted to repeat on Michael Brown’s radio program that Canyon Ridge referred the BTB reader to. While BTB has repeatedly posted the official text of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill and referred to the actual text of the bill to test Ssempa’s claims of what it would do, Ssempa and his supporters have refused to do the same despite repeated calls to do so.

It’s hard to imaging a church turning a blind eye to a truly disturbed man pushing an evil agenda. One can only speculate what Canyon Ridge’s true motivation might be to ignore the mountain of evidence that is available to them.

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:

YouTube Preview Image

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:

YouTube Preview Image

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:

YouTube Preview Image

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:

YouTube Preview Image

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:

YouTube Preview Image

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.

Las Vegas Church Stands By Martin Ssempa

Jim Burroway

July 1st, 2010

That’s the upshot of this report by Jason Whited that appeared in today’s edition of Las Vegas CityLife, the city’s weekly alternative paper. Whited reported on Canyon Ridge Christin Church’s support for Ugandan pastor Martin Ssempa, an ardent campaigner for that country’s proposed Anti-Homosexuality Bill. Controversy over the church’s support for Ssempa has simmered for several months, but bubbled over when it was learned that the same church which supported Uganda’s efforts to kill and/or imprison gay people would also play host to free HIV testing on June 27 as part of National HIV Testing Day.

Whited spoke to Mitch Harrison, executive pastor at Canyon Ridge, who defended their support for Ssempa:

Church leaders said they support Ssempa financially, but they refused to say how much they give to his ministry. Mitch Harrison, an executive pastor at Canyon Ridge, said activists have it all wrong. He said Ssempa actually opposes the more disturbing aspects of the Ugandan legislation that demands the death penalty for homosexuals who molest children or rape the handicapped.

We have gone over this dozens of times before. But every time I see someone misrepresent the bill, I feel compelled to go over it again. Harrison is either misinformed or completely lying about the bill, the text of which we’ve posted online numerous times. For the sake of transparency, here is the relevant portion once again:

3. Aggravated homosexuality.
(1) A person commits the offense of aggravated homosexuality where the

(a) person against whom the offence is committed is below the age of 18 years;

(b) offender is a person living with HIV;

(c) offender is a parent or guardian of the person against whom the offence is committed;

(d) offender is a person in authority over the person against whom the offence is committed;

(e) victim of the offence is a person with disability;

(f) offender is a serial offender, or

(g) offender applies, administers or causes to be used by any man or woman any drug, matter or thing with intent to stupefy overpower him or her so as to there by  enable any person to have unlawful carnal connection with any person of the same sex,

(2) A person who commits the offence of aggravated homosexuality shall be liable on conviction to suffer death.

(3) Where a person is charged with the offence under this section, that person shall undergo a medical examination to ascertain his or her HIV status.

As you can see, the provisions concerning child sexual abuse and “raping the handicapped” are a red herring. The provision against having sex with a disabled person doesn’t take consent into account. And other provisions of Ugandan law already prohibit sex with a minor, regardless of gender. The death penalty is clearly aimed at gay people, particularly those who are HIV-positive or “serially” gay — which pretty much opens the death penalty up to just about anyone. Despite claims to the contrary, the bill has not been officially modified nor has the death penalty been dropped. It’s very disappointing that the enterprising reporter didn’t catch the good pastor on that bit of misrepresentation.

Pastor Harrison continues:

“This year, we’ve had discussions with Martin about [the legislation], and I can tell you what’s being reported about him in the American media is wrong,” Harrison said. “He’s repeatedly said he wants the death penalty [provision] removed and that he’s not in favor of death for [homosexuals].”

Despite the hysteria among some left-leaning talking heads, official documents back up Harrison’s claim. In letters to his supporters and in official policy statements, Ssempa — who heads up a Ugandan AIDS eradication effort funded by both the U.S. government and popular evangelicals such as Rick Warren — walked back some of his earlier support for the Ugandan bill.

Longtime BTB readers will be interested to learn that we are among the hysterical “left-leaning talking heads.” It appears that the reporter relied rather heavily in a couple of pieces of paper provided by Canyon Ridge instead of the extensively documented words taken directly from Ssempa himself.  Ssempa’s active campaign on behalf of the bill can be traced all the way back to a march he led in April, 2009, some six months before the bill was introduced in Parliament. That’s when he and a handful of others garnered local media attention by “storming Parliament” and demanding that Uganda’s already tough laws against homosexuality be strengthened. Depending on which statute the individual is prosecuted under, he could be liable for twenty years or lifetime imprisonment under current laws. There is, in fact, little room to strengthen the law except to add the death penalty and change the definitions of the law to make prosecution much easier. Which, in fact, is only part of of what the final bill would actually do.

But Ssempa’s campaign on behalf of the “kill-the-gays” bill picked up in earnest in October 2009, shortly after the bill was introduced in Uganda’s Parliament. That’s when he made a statement to Dr. Warren Throckmorton, saying “I am in total support of the bill and would be most grateful if it did pass.” That bill, of course, famously included (and still includes) the death penalty provisions I’ve quoted above.

Since the bill’s introduction, Ssempa has repeatedly pushed for the bill’s immediate passage without delay or modification. In exclusive video provided to BTB on Dec 23, Ssempa is seen in local news reports attending a meeting with Ugandan Parliament leaders urging fast-tracking of the bill. He also denounced President Barack Obama’s statement against the proposed legislation, accusing the White House of “preach[ing] a gospel of sodomy.” On Dec 27, Ssempa appeared on state-owned UBC television alongside the bill’s sponsor, MP David Bahati, where the two of them repeated the false claim that the death penalty applied only to rape or child sexual abuse, despite the very clear and plain English of the bill itself. And ever since then, Ssempa has made it his habit to repeatedly try to explain away the death penalty as though it didn’t actually apply to gay people — the same misrepresentation made by Canyon Ridge’s pastor. It appears that they are both reading from the same fraudulent paper.

Back to Ssempa. On December 30, he called for a massive rally to push for the bill’s passage by Easter. The following day, Ssempa released a video statement addressed to his former supporter, Saddleback pastor Rick Warren, in which Ssempa again falsely claimed that the death penalty would apply only to rape or child sexual abuse. On Feb 16, Ssempa led his promised rally in the city of Jinja, again calling for the bill’s immediate passage, death penalty and all. On March 8, Ssempa had the chutzpah to once again repeat those very same lies about the bill’s death penalty provisions right here on Box Turtle Bulletin. By then, we were regularly challenging him to quote from the text of the bill itself and openly taunting his refusal to do so. It wasn’t until March 12 that Ssempa relented and decided that he would not support the death penalty.

But despite the fact that the bill still has not been modified, Ssempa still — still! — continues to defend the bill and call for its passage, death penalty and all.

As for Pastor Harrison’s claim that Ssempa has “said he wants the death penalty [provision] removed,” well there is evidence that he has called for it once or twice. Maybe that qualifies as “repeatedly,” but it hardly stacks up against the many more times he has called for the bill’s swift passage in its current form and lied about what that current form is — a lie repeated, knowingly or unknownly, by Harrison himself.

After all the close scrutiny we’ve given developments in Uganda and the literally hundreds of stories we’ve written on the subject, it is very disheartening to see a paper which sees itself as a heavy-hitting investigative news outlet give defenders of imprisoning and killing gay people such a soft ride. It’s as if that one sheath of paper from Ssempa dated March 12 somehow obliterated the active campaigning Ssempa has done for the unmodified bill, both before and since then. One sheet of paper makes him less odious and his critics “hysterical.” But when that paper is accompanied by the same blatant misrepresentation of what the plain English of the bill actually says, there is ought not be any credibility lent to either the paper nor the softly-spoken words accompanying them.

But such is the state of reporting these days. Pretty amazing.

But there is a silver lining out of all this. Whited reports that the Southern Nevada Health District will re-evaluate its working relationship with Canyon Ridge in future HIV testing events:

Stephanie Bethel, health district spokeswoman, said until recently she was unaware of Canyon Ridge’s partnership with Ssempa.

“We just found out about it. We were completely unaware of their partnership with the pastor. We disagree with [Ssempa’s] theory on homosexuality, and we are now re-evaluating our partnership with Canyon Ridge.”

S. Nevada Health reconsidering connections to Ssempa-supporting church

Timothy Kincaid

June 23rd, 2010

Top: Canyon Ridge Christian Church in Las Vegas. Bottom: Canyon Ridge's "strategic partner" showing hard-core porn at a press conference.

Several of us contacted the South Nevada Health District or signed a petition to express our concern about their partnering with Canyon Ridge Christian Church. This church has a global partnership with Martin Ssempa, the primary religious supporter of Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill of 2009, a legislative effort to execute HIV positive gay people and to incarcerate HIV negative gay people for life.

Michael Bussee, onetime founder of Exodus International and friend of Box Turtle Bulletin, has received a response.

Dear Mr. Bussee:

Thank you for bringing this matter to the attention of the Southern Nevada Health District. We were completely unaware of Canyon Ridge Christian Church’s partnership with Pastor Martin Ssempa or his stance on criminalizing homosexuality. The health district is absolutely opposed to the stated efforts of Pastor Ssempa and plans to evaluate and strongly consider any future partnership with Canyon Ridge based on this new information.

However, due to the timing of the testing event, and the outreach efforts that have already occurred related to this testing site, we do not feel we can cancel this venue for next week’s event. We do not condone the church’s continued partnership with Pastor Ssempa; however, we feel the immediate risk of canceling this venue just days before the scheduled event takes precedent at this time. If just one person shows up at a canceled event and decides to delay getting tested, that will be one person too many.

We share your concerns regarding this issue and remain committed to promoting testing in an environment that is comfortable for our clients. Thank you again for your input and for bringing this important issue to our attention.

Stephanie Bethel
Southern Nevada Health District

This appears to me to be a reasonable and responsible approach. Thanks to all of you who helped raise this issue with the SNHD.

Las Vegas Church Which Supports Ugandan “Kill-The-Gays” Pastor Wants To Test You for HIV

Jim Burroway

June 22nd, 2010

 

Top: Canyon Ridge Community Church in Las Vegas wants to test you for HIV. Bottom: Canyon Ridge's "dearly beloved family and friend" wants to kill you for being HIV-positive.

A Las Vegas church wants to test you for HIV. That church’s strategic partner and “dearly beloved friend and family” wants to put you to death if you are HIV-positive.

Canyon Ridge Christian Church, which lists Uganda pastor Martin “Eat Da Poo Poo” Ssempa as an international “strategic partner,” will host for National HIV Testing Day on June 27, 2010. According to a notice on the church’s web site:

Because of Canyon Ridge Christian Church’s commitment to “be a show of compassion” to our community and an instrumental force in preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS, we will be offering FREE HIV testing from 10 AM – 4 PM provided by the Southern Nevada Health District (fingerprick test with results in 15 minutes).

That compassion to the community also apparently extends to providing continued support for on of Africa’s most virulently homophobic pastors. Canyon Ridge has defended their partnership with Ssempa despite his avid support for Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill, which adds the death sentence for LGBT people under certain circumstances. Ironically, one of those circumstances which call for the death penalty is simply being HIV-positive. Here is the bill’s text for that section:

3. Aggravated homosexuality.
(1) A person commits the offense of aggravated homosexuality where the

…(b) offender is a person living with HIV; …

(2) A person who commits the offence of aggravated homosexuality shall be liable on conviction to suffer death.

It doesn’t end there. The bill also mandates that those who are accused of homosexuality be tested for HIV, presumably to determine their eligibility for the death penalty:

(3) Where a person is charged with the offence under this section, that person shall undergo a medical examination to ascertain his or her HIV status.

The bill would also criminalize employers, family members and medical professionals who fail to report LBBT people to the police within 24 hours. The bill would further jeopardize HIV/AIDS prevention efforts by imposing criminal penalties on anyone who “aids and abets” homosexuality or provides accurate information on safe sex practices for the prevention if HIV infection.

That Canyon Ridge — or indeed any American Church — would continue to defend its association with Ssempa is, frankly unimaginable. But that is precisely the case here. In a post to Grove City College professor Warren Throckmorton, Canyon Ridge pastor Mitch Harrison not only refused to disassociate from Ssempa, he said that Ssempa was among his “dearly beloved friends and family.”

This dearly beloved friend has been the public face for the “Kill-The-Gays” movement in Uganda. He 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.

And Canyon Ridge is providing material support for all of this activity, while simultaneously generating positive press in Las Vegas for their “outreach” to the gay community. It’s time for the LGBT community in Las Vegas to make their presence known.

[Hat tip: Warren Throckmorton]

Update: Change.org has a petition urging the Southern Nevada Health District to demand that Canyon Ridge condemn Ssempa’s work in Uganda. The form automatically sends an email directly to the Southern Nevada Health District. You can sign the petition using the widget below:

Petitions by Change.org|Start a Petition »

Why Does This Las Vegas Church Still Support Uganda’s “Kill-The-Gays” Pastor?

Jim Burroway

June 11th, 2010

Top: Canyon Ridge Christian Church in Las Vegas. Bottom: Canyon Ridge's "strategic partner" showing hard-core porn at a press conference.

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?