As I discussed here last week, Jeff Sharlet, guest-posting on Warren Throckmorton’s blog, reported from Uganda on how supporters of the Anti-Homosexuality bill there understood American evangelist Lou Engle’s statements there as supportive of their efforts to get the bill passed. The role Engle might have played in offering American support for the bill is of intense interest, given that Engle has become an increasingly visible figure in the religious right — among other things, hosting a rally on the National Mall that included former presidential candidate and now Fox News host Mike Huckabee and the Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins; appearing in a “prayercast” against health care reform with Republican members of Congress; and playing a prominent role in the recent Freedom Federation Summit held at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia.
Engle’s anti-gay rhetoric is no secret, and in an interview with me on Friday, he supported criminalizing homosexuality, although he insists that he did not support the Ugandan bill because he believes the penalties are too harsh. But, as Michael Wilkerson reported for RD last month, at his Kampala The Call rally Engle did not contest the support for the bill of the speaker who preceded him, self-styled Apostle Julius Oyet. What’s more, Engle stated at The Call, “We know that Uganda has been under tremendous pressure—the church. We felt that same pressure. But I felt like The Call was to come and join with the church of Uganda to encourage you that in the nation who are showing courage to take a stand for righteousness in the earth.”
Engle now is splitting hairs and claiming that this statement wasn’t supportive of the bill, but rather of the bill’s promoters’ efforts to prevent the “homosexual agenda” from taking over the country.
Oyet and David Bahati, the parliamentarian who authored the bill, met with Engle before the rally and were, according to Sharlet, “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.” As Wilkerson reported, Engle’s speech at The Call was followed by James Nsaba Buturo, Uganda’s Minister for Ethics and Integrity, and a well-known supporter of the bill, who unequivocally supported it at Engle’s rally (something Engle claims he has apologized for).
Engle insisted to me — as he has in his public statements posted on his website — that he did not support the bill’s penalties. He also maintained that he did not know who the speakers at The Call were going to be, because the arrangements were handled by a Ugandan ministry (although he admitted meeting with Buturo beforehand). But he also made absolutely clear that he supports the criminalization of homosexuality, believes there could be a biblical basis for a death penalty, that the United Nations has promoted the “homosexual agenda” to Uganda’s detriment, and he lauded the bill’s promoters’ efforts to take a “principled stand” against that.
It’s no wonder, then, that Bahati and Oyet interpreted his statements as supportive of their ambitions.
Engle claimed to not specifically remember meeting with Bahati and Oyet while in Kampala, telling me:
I don’t even remember their names, I guess who they were. I met with the leader of the — with the bishop of the Assemblies of God of the nation. I understood as one of his key guys, one of his key leaders. I did not support the bill. I talked to them, whoever these two guys were about the lessening of the penalties, we even challenged them to make provisions so that the church would not have to report anything of homosexuality being exposed. But we appreciated the two guys whose hearts were to bring forth a principled bill. [emphasis mine]
Engle told me he didn’t know who Bahati was, but when I told him he was the author of the bill, Engle added:
David Bahati may have been in a meeting that I had with the minister of ethics [Buturo]. But in that, I did not come out and support that bill. It was a meeting of about 25 people, and really was a prayer meeting and I was there to mobilize The Call and to pray with them.
I pressed Engle to explain what he meant by a “principled stand” and a “principled bill.” I asked him whether he supported a law that dealt with homosexuality in some way, and he stated that there needs to be “some kind of restraint from the homosexual agenda:”
Most definitely. For instance, the court case Lawrence v. Texas, is the court case that basically decriminalized homosexuality in the U.S. Everybody knew that when that bill passed, or when that court case shifted, then it opened the door for the legalization, for the definition, or the legalization of same-sex marriage, which is now rolling into America. We knew that. So I’ve always had — yes, there needs to be a principled stand. There needs to be some kind of restraint from the homosexual agenda being able to roll over this, a nation that does not want it.
Reiterating his U.N.-brought-the-homosexual-agenda-to-Uganda theme, Engle added:
[B]ecause UNICEF and UN were promoting their agenda in the place and there were cases taking place but there was no law, there was no laws, so there could be no restraint and no punishment for that. Because of that, as I understood it, was one of the reasons they wanted to bring forth this — a bill so that they could bring an answer to that kind of offense.
Engle repeatedly insisted that he didn’t support the death penalty in the bill. But he did indicate that he believed there could be a biblical basis for the death penalty in the bill for transmitting the virus that causes AIDS to a minor:
I understand why biblically because biblically speaking you can find grounds in Romans 13 and other places, if innocent human life is taken, then the governmental leaders of a nation have obligation or a duty to bring forth justice. It actually says in Romans 13 the government does not bear the sword in vain. In other words, you don’t spank with a sword, you bring justice. So it’s the same argument in America. Should a person have a death penalty? The same question. People differ on that question.
I pressed him about which penalties in the bill he didn’t support — and he did say that although he could see someone supporting the death penalty, he did not, and he did not support “hard labor” as punishment or the requirement that churches report LGBT people to the authorities. But when I asked him if he would support a bill with less harsh penalties, he added:
My main thing is to keep — is to not allow it to be legalized, so to speak, so then it just spreads through the legal system of the nation. So I’m not — I’m not making a statement as to what I think the penalties should be. It’s not my job to do that. I do think, I do think that these leaders are trying to make at least some kind of statement that you’re not just going to spread the agenda without some kind of restraint, a legal restraint and punishment. And I don’t know what the line is on those, but I can’t go that far as I understand that bill already said. [emphasis mine]
Engle admitted that his praise for the bill’s supporters’ “principled stand” might have led them to believe that he supported the bill. Although he insisted he did not support the bill as written, “I did support the principle of a nation saying, restraining it from coming into their nation.” He then went on to maintain that because homosexuality hasn’t been “restrained” in the United States, “I don’t think it’s going to be good for the nation, it sweeps into the education system, and the church is going to end up losing its privilege to have its own voice. Gender rights, will trump religious rights. I think it’s wrong, it’s not good for society. Those are the statements I came with, so frankly I was quite surprised to be thrown into this huge controversy.”
It speaks volumes that Engle was surprised that calling homosexuality “wrong,” saying it can “sweep” into an educational system, can cause the church to “lose its privilege,” and will “trump religious rights” would be controversial. But that’s where the religious right is in the United States — and he thinks that’s a completely uncontroversial position.
Since Engle brought up “the homosexual lobbyists” and “worldwide kind of bullying of Uganda” over the bill, I asked him how the U.N. and other “lobbyists” were promoting homosexuality in Uganda; not surprisingly, he didn’t have an answer. He claimed that the pastors there told him “a story about how it swept into — the agenda promotion, of the agenda, and now the actual proliferation of the homosexual activity sweeping into the boarding schools of that nation. I don’t know much of the details so I can’t take responsibility for what I was being communicated.”
Yet Engle thinks it’s completely justifiable for the Ugandans to try to “protect” the country from homosexuality, telling me, “These leaders, Sarah, are actually simply trying to protect their society, their people, from an agenda that’s just not welcome,” and that they “were just wanting to do the right thing for their church and their nation.”