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RGOD2: Confessions of a naive gay cleric – “I fed and schooled Bahati”

I watched the video of the passage of Uganda’s now infamous Anti-Homosexuality Bill and particularly of its author, David Bahati, bouncing on his seat and slapping his hands in glee when it passed.

Poor David, in that very public moment, reverted to being a 7-year-old in school once again! When he found out his little bill had the votes it needed to pass, it was as if the chamber of the parliament (which appeared remarkably sparse of fellow members that day) became a scene from a school playground where the children danced with glee.

The Prime Minister left in disgust because he realized that this Christmas present, promised a year ago to the Ugandan people from the very ambitious Speaker Rebecca Kadaga, was not in the best interests of all Ugandans.

I am not surprised the bill has finally passed and the American evangelical theocrats, who have been grooming and funding Bahati and his sidekick, pastor Martin Ssempa, for years now, have “called in their chips.”

With all this marriage-equality nonsense in the USA and Europe, they needed the year to end on a happy note, and Uganda was the last finger to fag-loving America and the decadent western Europe. First Russia, then India and the last but not least, Uganda needed to send a clear message to the U.S. State Department that human rights are certainly not about gay rights. Hilary Clinton’s bubble has been totally burst. U.S. LGBT foreign policy has just been gutted.

I just spent a week in Northern Ireland in close proximity to unsuccessful peace negotiations led by Dr. Richard Haass of the U.S. State Department, and Northern Ireland is a close second to failure by the U.S. State Department to get in touch with reality on the ground … so this may be good news to LGBT people … it’s not about us entirely! There is something definitely flawed about U.S. foreign policy right now and it’s not simply a gay issue.

Bahati’s pedigree: Turn to the source

Long before they came on the scene and adopted Bahati as their poster boy, gay and straight Episcopalians in Orange County, California were writing checks to support Bishop William Rukirande, who was bishop of the region where AIDS orphan David Bahati grew up.

William was a very holy man and a good friend. We worked together in the early years of the AIDS epidemic and held a couple of reconciliation conferences following the Rwandan genocide when the remnants of the Anglican church who had not fled or been killed came to William’s diocese to learn how to rebuild. When it became unsafe for me to return to Uganda in the late 1990s because of the negative influence of American anti-gay rhetoric, William would come to my congregation in Orange County and preach about how he needed support for many of his AIDS orphans. I learned later that one of the orphans we supported was David Bahati.

So when he was really a 7-year-old (and not behaving like one in parliament last week), gays and lesbians from Orange County and our straight allies dressed him in his school uniform, put food on his table and bought books to educate him. Later influences would expose him to the evangelical movement in the USA and in Wales, where he attended university.

The notorious Washington-based “Family’ adopted him and trained him in the art of public speaking and theocratic politics, allowing him to become one of the most internationally famous Ugandans, other than President Yoweri Musevene and Idi Amin. (If you don’t believe me, simply recite the names of three Ugandans you know).

David is a hard-working member of parliament and I have heard about all the good things he has done for this largely neglected southwestern region of Uganda. I am sure that losing both parents in the AIDS epidemic severely damaged him emotionally, but this was soon to be transformed by that scary Christian certainty that knows exactly what God wants, political connections and monetary reward for carrying out the unofficial (social engineering) policy of American evangelicals.

“God Loves Uganda” epitomizes this faithless certainty and this theocratic political agenda, and I just know the film is going to win the Oscar in March, simply because David got his bill passed. Hollywood and the international media will speak. So poor David was seduced by something much greater and much more strategic than the basic human emotional response from some of us living in Orange County, so long ago, that his stepfather emoted from us. It is ironic that a gay man helped David Bahati survive an early trauma of deprivation and loss, who then become the author of such a frightening narrative, where parents and caregivers are now expected to turn on the very people who put bread on his table.

Selling your soul to the devil

Dr. Faustus was a character dreamed up by Christopher Marlow, one of the 16th century’s most famous gay men, and he is is characterized as smart, ambitious and eager to go beyond the normal limits of his profession. So he makes a pact with the devil for knowledge, power and longevity of life. In the end the devil claims him and he literally sells his soul to the devil for contemporary fame and popularity.

The David Bahati story is a modern day version of Faustus, and it is going to be interesting to see what Bahati now does with his ill-gotten gain. His political challenge to the Prime Minister and indeed to President Musevene himself will play itself out, and if American evangelical theocrats can have their three wishes, it would wish Bahati close to the succession to the throne of Uganda when Musevene finally meets his maker.

There is a special room in the afterlife for Ugandan leaders, and Musevene will most likely sit next to Idi Amin. We are not sure who killed more Ugandans, Congolese and East Africans, than Amin or Musevene, but God knows. There is a strange, unspoken folklore in Ugandan culture that the man who kills more is the most powerful and more to be feared and … respected.

It is likely Musevene will either send the bill back to parliament, for economic and practical reasons, or play along with the Religious Right, knowing that the bill is totally unenforceable. The bill, if it is signed into law, will make Uganda one of the most infamous and consciously anti-human rights nations in the world. There are many other worse places, including North Korea and Iran, but the bill, thanks to Bahati, has put Uganda in the international “Hall of Shame.”

The cost of gay annihilation

There has not been a significant cost analysis by any Ugandan parliamentary committee on what it might mean to arrest, interrogate, try and imprison 2% to 5% of its population.

The Prime Minister walked out of parliament that day because he simply knew his fellow parliamentarians had not done the math. With 33 million Ugandans, a very low and rough estimate of imprisoning 2% of your total population would cost $2 per day times 365 days times 660,000 people. Ugandan spends less on health care each year, so never mind on locking us all up. The bill is totally impractical.

Secondly, the remarkable statement on World AIDS Day by Archbishop Cyprian -- that the Ugandan Catholic health-care system was now going to serve everyone, including LGBT people, and they were not going to discriminate – now puts the faithful Catholics at loggerheads with the Uganda Parliament, bought by American “born agains” (as the Catholics refer to Bahati and his ilk). Musevene knows that Archbishop Cyprian (and his boss Pope Francis) has a direct connection to 13 million of his citizens and it would not be good for Catholic doctors, nurses and social workers to find themselves in court or in jail because they were trying to do what Francis, Cyprian (and Jesus) told them to do: Serve everyone in need. World Vision, the largest Protestant development agency in the world, has opposed the bill from the beginning for precisely these reasons: They don’t want their staffers, who have promised in their contracts to serve everyone without discrimination, to be persecuted for doing the Lord’s work. The bill is simply unworkable from a financial and moral perspective, but it has highly symbolic overtones.

Watch what you pray for

I have no regrets that gay and straight allies sent checks to support a vulnerable child who has turned into something that is unrecognizable, perhaps even to his own people. The bill, if signed into law, will force people to decide to do what is right and Christian and be fired or go to jail, or to turn on their own families and communities – a kind of infanticide.

Uganda is on the brink of a madness it has not seen before. There is nothing Christian about reporting your own children or family members to the authorities simply for being the way God made them to be and for Bahati, a double-bind of conscience, that the people who simply helped him, long before the evangelical “fat cats” turned up, he is now ready to send to jail for life!

What is wrong with this picture? I believe deeply in a God who shows love and compassion , even when that love and compassion is rejected and misunderstood. We are not loving less simply because Bahati and the Uganda Parliament passed a very bad piece of legislation that hurts Uganda. Bahati is simply losing his soul, and we must pray for his conversion. Historically, we can prove that we gays and lesbians supported his stepfather to allow him and his many orphan brothers and sisters to simply, survive. There is still time for him to recant the evil he wishes upon us in the name of a God I do not know. The British Prime Minister Harold Wilson once said, “A week is a long time in politics.” I predict God and Uganda are not quite finished with this journey to justice, equality and a deep compassion for all of God’s children, even our little David.

RGOD2, written by the Rev. Canon Albert Ogle of St. Paul’s Cathedral in San Diego, looks at faith and religion from an LGBT point of view. Ogle is known around the world for his work in support of LGBT rights and HIV-prevention efforts. He is president of St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation. Donations to the foundation can be made by clicking HERE RGOD2 appears on SDGLN and GLBTNN.