To the Editor: It Took a Village to Change Rick Warren’s Mind

The following is a response to ‘Calling’ Rick Warren to Task on Anti-Gay Ugandan Law.

It takes a village to build a campaign, and good tactics. The campaign for Warren to renounce the antigay bill in Uganda had both. U.S. conservative evangelicals operating in Africa have seemed untouchable–and now they are not because of credible research establishing Rick Warren’s role in fomenting homophobia in Africa, and the strong and brave work of human rights groups in publicizing the threat. I had a front seat watching the campaign while working at Political Research Associates and even I can’t say I know everyone who contributed to building the pressure. But I do know people who risked their lives to expose the truth.

In March, I received an urgent Skype call from Uganda where my colleague the Rev. Kapya Kaoma was investigating the links between U.S. Christian Right figures and antigay politics. He wanted our think tank to get out a public statement bravely written by the persecuted group Sexual Minorities of Uganda (SMUG) about the horrific antigay campaign developing in that country. Meanwhile, Box Turtle Bulletin, a gay rights blog, was covering the story for readers here and abroad, and Victor Mukasa, a SMUG member living in exile in South Africa, was blogging about it and speaking out through his position with the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC). Box Turtle Bulletin stayed on that story for months (and is still on the story), through every permutation of the antigay bill, alerting LGBT communities about what was happening and creating a handy resource once the mainstream press in this country decided to cover the story. Human Rights Watch also put the weight of its organization in the campaign.

The bill was proposed officially in mid-October and as awareness of the Uganda horror grew, Kapya was driven crazy that Rick Warren seemed untouchable, even as the American minister’s antigay remarks while in Africa helped legitimize the homophobia running rampant. So October 28, Kapya began publicly campaigning for the pastor to renounce the Uganda law, and using his research gathered over the past year worked to expose Warren’s deep connections with those powering the legislation. Pressure built on US supporters of the law, as Jeff Sharlet exposed alliances between U.S. politicians and Ugandan ones, and Rachel Maddow bird-dogged the story. Gay rights groups like GLAAD and Mukahsa’s IGLHRC picked up the cry against Warren and mainstream press—including CNN, Newsweek, and Time—were calling Warren asking for a statement from him. Faith in Public Life helped organize liberal and conservative Christians to issue a statement denouncing the bill. I believe this statement helped force action because it further isolated Warren.

The fight is not over, since LGBT people in Uganda—and elsewhere—are being attacked and persecuted, and the bill probably will be passed in some form. And we need to do more to interrupt the U.S. Christian Right, which, as Kapya’s recent report shows, continues to export its culture war to Africa through all of its media, money and contacts. Still, the fight against Warren proves that the flow of hateful politics can be challenged and gives all the groups involved a victory to build upon. They deserve all of our thanks and continued support.