Rick Warren Won’t Denounce Proposed Ugandan Anti-Gay Law

As Nick Street reported here last week, Uganda is considering passage of a bill that would, among other things, authorize sentences of life imprisonment for gay sex, the death penalty for HIV positive individuals who have sex, and criminalize LGBT rights organizing.

Political Research Associates, which researches right-wing movements, has called on Purpose-Driven Life author and megachurch pastor Rick Warren to denounce the proposed law.

In a statement to RD through a spokesperson, though, Warren said he had no position or comment on the proposed law.

In its statement PRA notes:

Kapya Kaoma, an Anglican priest from Zambia who just completed a report for Political Research Associates on the influence of U.S. evangelicals on African gay politics calls on Rick Warren to denounce the antigay legislation proposed in Uganda and challenge his friends like Archbishop Henry Orombi and Pastor Martin Sempa who are leading the charge.

“Rick Warren shows one face in the United States where he says he loves gays, and another face in Africa, which is on the verge of pogroms against this community,” said Reverend Kaoma. “We need to hear his voice loud and clear on this issue that gays and lesbians are entitled to full human rights.”

Warren’s spokesperson told RD today that he severed ties with Ssempa in 2007:

Martin Ssempa does not represent me, my wife Kay, Saddleback Church, nor the Global PEACE Plan strategy. In 2007, we completely severed contact with Mr. Ssempa  when we learned that his views and actions were in serious conflict with our own. Our role, and the role of the PEACE Plan, whether in Uganda or any other country, is always pastoral and never political. We vigorously oppose anything that hinders the goals of the PEACE Plan: Promoting reconciliation, Equipping ethical leaders, Assisting the poor, Caring for the sick, and Educating the next generation.

Warren’s spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment about his relationship with Orombi, a schismatic, anti-gay Anglican. According to the Christian Post, Orombi spearheaded efforts to bring Warren to Uganda to make it a “purpose-driven nation.” Orombi has stoked anti-gay sentiment in Uganda, and has claimed that homosexuals want to kill him. “Homosexuals are agitating that it is a human right. But how can it be a human right for a man to sleep with another man or a woman to marry a woman?” Orombi said last year, adding, “What we need is to wake up and protect our church and children against this practice.”

Jim Naughton, Canon for Communications and Advancement for the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, noted that Warren has allied himself with the three percent of Episcopalians who have joined more conservative churches in the Anglican Communion over gay ordination. About Warren’s refusal to denounce the bill, Naughton said, “what does it say if you’re unwilling to say that the state shouldn’t execute homosexuals?”

Meanwhile, the LGBT rights think tank Truth Wins Out has launched a campaign urging Congress to deny financial aid to Uganda should the proposed bill become law. In a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, four members of Congress, Reps. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Gary Ackerman (D-NY), Howard Berman (D-CA) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), wrote, “This egregious bill represents one of the most extreme anti-equality measures ever proposed in any country and would create a legal pretext for depriving lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Ugandans of their liberty, and even their lives. Particularly given the United States’ substantial contribution to Uganda through the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), we believe swift action is necessary to ensure Ugandan leaders understand this bill is wholly unacceptable and antithetical to democratic values.”

A State Department spokesperson said she could not confirm that Clinton had received the letter because she is traveling abroad. But the spokesperson did issue this statement from the State Department: “We are disturbed by violence, harassment, discrimination, exclusion, stigmatization, and prejudice directed at persons in all countries in the world because of sexual orientation or gender identity. We condemn human rights violations based on sexual orientation or gender identity, whenever they occur. We urge states to take all the necessary measures to ensure that sexual orientation or gender identity may, under no circumstances, be the basis for criminal penalties, in particular, executions, arrests, or detentions.”

UPDATE: This post was updated to clarify that three percent of Episcopalians have joined more conservative churches in the Anglican Communion, rather than three percent of Anglicans worldwide, as it originally read. 

Sarah Posner, author of God’s Profits: Faith, Fraud, and the Republican Crusade for Values Voters, covers politics and religion. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Guardian, The Atlantic, The American ProspectThe NationSalon, and other publications. Follow her on TwitterRSS feed Email