Two days before the National Prayer Breakfast, Americans United for Separation of Church and State joined a coalition of groups to deplore the intolerant agenda of “The Family,” a secretive Religious Right group that sponsors the annual event.
At a Feb. 2 Washington, D.C., press conference, Americans United Executive Director Barry W. Lynn joined religious leaders and activists in criticizing The Family for its behind-the-scenes theocratic maneuvers. The group’s ties to David Bahati, a Ugandan legislator who is pushing a draconian anti-gay law, came under extra fire.
The Family, also known as the Fellowship Foundation, sponsors the National Prayer Breakfast, which attracts the president and a large number of members of Congress each year, as well as foreign dignitaries. (See “Behind the Green Door,” September 2009 Church & State.)
According to researcher Jeff Sharlet, who authored a recent book about the Fellowship, Bahati is a member of The Family.
In a comment posted on the blog “Get Religion,” Sharlet wrote, “I’ve talked with people in Uganda. Extensively. David Bahati, the MP who introduced the bill, describes himself as a ‘member of the Fellowship,’ and secretary of its Ugandan parliamentary group.”
Sharlet added, “Bahati is joined in the parliamentary group by one of the bill’s most prominent backers, Ethics Minister James Nsaba Buturo…. The Family…emphasizes that they are not an American group but an international fellowship. So when their international brothers take action, they’re linked to it.”
Lynn called on President Barack Obama to condemn the Ugandan proposal, which calls for the execution or imprisonment of gays, as well as criminal penalties for Ugandans who fail to report homosexuals to authorities.
“We’re no longer shrugging over the National Prayer Breakfast,” Lynn told reporters at the National Press Club. “Rather, we’re taking a closer look at the group behind it and the alarming agenda that it brings and the consequences it spawns in Uganda and around the world. We deplore what we see, and people of goodwill should never be afraid to say it loudly.”
Added Lynn, “The leader of The Family, Doug Coe, should himself – in a public place like this prayer breakfast – repudiate the horrific anti-gay legislation in Uganda and urge that persons of all faiths join in its worldwide repudiation. If the president condemns this legislation, and if Doug Coe acknowledges that this was a sin and a moral scar on the face of the earth, then it would truly be a prayer breakfast to remember.” (The video of Lynn’s remarks is available at http://au.org/american-prayer-hour.)
The D.C. press event also featured religious leaders discussing an alternative to the National Prayer Breakfast called the American Prayer Hour. Inclusive prayer events took place in 17 cities on Feb. 4, the same day as the National Prayer Breakfast.
Lynn and the other speakers criticized The Family for its secretive nature and its effort to promote a mix of far-right politics and fundamentalist religion.
In addition to Lynn, speakers at the event included the Rev. Elder Darlene Garner, a member of the Metropolitan Community Church Board of Elders; the Rev. Harry Knox, director of the Religion and Faith Program for the Human Rights Campaign Fund; Bishop Carlton Pearson, senior interim minister at Christ Universal Temple in Chicago; the Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson, Episcopal bishop of New Hampshire; Frank Schaeffer, a former Religious Right leader who now disagrees with the movement; and Moses, a young Ugandan gay man seeking asylum in the United States, who had to speak with his face concealed for fear of reprisals.
AU and its allies were pleased when, during the prayer breakfast, both Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton criticized the Ugandan proposal.
“Surely we can agree that it is unconscionable to target gays and lesbians for who they are, whether it’s here in the United States or…more extremely in odious laws that are being proposed, most recently in Uganda,” Obama said.
During her remarks, Clinton decried the tendency to use religion “as a club to deny the human rights of girls and women from the Gulf to Africa to Asia, and to discriminate – even advocating the execution of gays and lesbians.”