Homophobic pastor exposed in "God Loves Uganda," showing July 19 in San Diego
Many of us who worked for marriage equality in California will remember the final weekend before the California electorate would decide our fate on Proposition 8, as religious leaders in San Diego planned one last strategic bombshell known as The Call.
Qualcomm Stadium became the venue for an all day anti-gay rally supported by the Roman Catholic Diocese of San Diego, local churches like Skyline and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons). The leader of The Call was Lou Engle, and he brought his circus of hate to San Diego, just as he had done in Kampala, Uganda with a rally to support the passage of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill there. The rallies were fueled with emotion, required fasting and religious hysteria. California and Uganda were seen as battlegrounds against rampant moral deviancy and homosexuality had to be cleansed from the land. Engle had perfected his appeal to young people through anti-abortion rallies in Washington, D.C. and even one in Jerusalem.
Rocking back and forth in a state of ecstatic prayer and screaming down a microphone to his listeners, it is hard to believe Engle has become one of the leading religious figures in the Republican Party. He was behind the “Christian only” prayer vigil in Texas as a last-ditch effort to get Gov. Rick Perry on the GOP presidential ticket and has used his spiritual powers to anoint presidential candidates like Mike Huckabee and Newt Gingrich.
Engle returns to San Diego
Engle “returns” to San Diego later this month in a film that is getting a lot of attention, “God Loves Uganda.” Academy Award winner Roger Ross Williams took an enormous risk to go undercover in Kansas where Engle’s International House of Prayer (IHOP) is based, to understand the effects of Engle’s theology on domestic and international foreign policy.
His unholy alliance with the Christian conservative movement cost the LGBT community five years in justice delayed, and the LGBT community in places like Uganda still face harassment and imprisonment for the misinformation his organization continues to perpetuate.
The film masterfully takes us from the prayer center in Kansas where naive young recruits are selected and trained, funds are collected and the mission to Uganda is sent forth. Williams joins the dots for an American audience largely oblivious to an underground movement that is unleashed on the world, with little government scrutiny. Vast amounts of money are behind movements like the International House of Prayer and its thousands of staff and volunteers and all are channeled through tax-exempt funding by the IRS. Just because IHOP is classified as a religious and educational institution, Engle can use these funds to come to places like California or Uganda and deliberately undermine the constitutional rights of minority communities without any recourse.
The Obama Administration has explicated stated the priority it is giving to the protection of LGBT rights around the world, at the same time allowing millions of tax exempt religious dollars to create their own foreign policies that are contrary to the Administration’s own foreign policy. “God Loves Uganda” not only documents this contradiction for Engle but also follows the same religious political axis for less well known religious fanatics like Scott Lively who actually encouraged the creation of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill.
Repairing the contradictions
We are not sure what the long-term effects of these kinds of documentaries will have on cult ministries like Engle’s, but for the IRS to allow these kinds of inappropriate uses of American’s hard-earned tax dollars seems contrary to what the Obama Administration is seeking to repair. Churches and charities are given the privilege of collecting funds for the relief of suffering, poverty and disease, not creating it. When the IRS grants an organization such a privilege, it represents both a public trust and a government sanctioned process that should not contradict other explicit values the Americans hold dear.
If these churches are involved in theological and political campaigns to undermine the citizenship of LGBT people in places where churches have enormous influence, they should lose their tax exemption and government privilege. The film raises important concerns about what our tax dollars are actually doing, either in the form of IRS approved support, or USAID support of anti-gay churches in places like Ethiopia and Uganda.
IHOP under scrutiny, and Engle moves to Pasadena, Calif.
IHOP has been not only portrayed negatively in the film “God Loves Uganda,” but recently, the so-called ministry has come under closer scrutiny by the authorities when the wife of one of its prayer leaders was found murdered. The story is pretty grim and is reported HERE by The New York Times.
This scandal may be another factor in why Engle has decided to leave Kansas and become a resident of Pasadena, Calif. In March 2013, he announced he was joining forces with the U.S. Center for World Mission. From their 35-acre campus in Pasadena, they organize young missionary activity around the world and have even researched and documented 17,000 ethnic groups they want to missionize through the Joshua Project.
The U.S. Center for World Mission also shares in the wider Evangelical movement’s strategy expressed in the Lausanne Movement’s 2010 Capetown Commitment. Alan Chambers and Exodus International were on hand at this important gathering of evangelical leaders to influence a mandate to convert gay people globally. The statement includes the following clause:
“Calling the Church of Christ back to humility, integrity and simplicity. The integrity of our mission in the world depends on our own integrity. The Congress called Christ-followers back to humble, sacrificial discipleship, simple living, and moral integrity. We need to be separate and distinct from the world (morally). Four ‘idolatries’ were singled out: disordered sexuality, power, success, and greed. Disciples of Christ must reject these. (The prosperity gospel is rejected under the banner of ‘greed’.)”
We know Exodus International’s recent apology to the LGBT community was a cheap and insincere media strategy, and like Engle and the U.S. Center for Global Mission their failure to stop the LGBT movement in this country means they now have to prey more on the Global South. Their movements are growing in Africa, South America and Asia, and our government is allowing them free reign to misinform on a wider scale than ever before.
I invite the San Diego community to come to the screening on Friday, July 19 at 7:30 pm at the Birch North Park Theatre. There is a VIP dinner beforehand for our leadership to meet Roger Ross Williams. He is also opening the LA Outfest earlier in the week and the film may be nominated for an Oscar.
Given our tragic history with Lou Engle in San Diego (justice delayed) and the fact he is living in OUR state, Williams' brilliant film confronts us with an ugly and contradictory side of being an American. The LGBT community may know more than our straight neighbors what this feels like, but we may not know the extent to which this unfettered movement is expanding. Come and join the dots. Tickets and more info HERE.
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.