Obama, DADT, and The Family

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In his State of the Union address, President Obama repeated his pledge to get rid of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. On Tuesday, the Pentagon will present Congress with recommendations on how to enable gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military. On Thursday, according to the White House, the president will deliver remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast.

Obama’s appearance at the breakfast became a bit controversial earlier this month after it was reported that David Bahati, author of Uganda’s notorious anti-homosexuality bill, was going to be on hand at the invitation of The Family, the Jesus fellowship that sponsors the thing. Subsequently, Family spokesman Bob Hunter has been at pains to make clear that Bahati will not be on hand, and gone so far as to inform Box Turtle Bulletin, which has been bird-dogging the situation, that a whole bunch of other Ugandan supporters of the bill won’t be either. The Family has become very, very eager to make the issue go away, but is still on the hook.

Obama shouldn’t let them off it. Uganda is moving towards criminalizing homosexuality up to and still possibly including the death penalty, while the Obama administration is proposing full inclusion of gays and lesbians in the U.S. military. How about using the podium to ask which approach Jesus would have preferred, Mr. President?

  • Jeff Sharlet

    Glad you’re staying on top of this, Mark. With respect to Bob Hunter — seriously — the question of Bahati’s attendance and the significance of that question is a bit more complicated. We heard an indication of this last week on Voice of America’s all-Africa program, “Straight Talk Africa,” on which Hunter and I were the guests. Hunter said that as far as he knew, Bahati had been invited, and had declined, before the bill controversy arose. Bahati called in to say he had been invited, but would not be attending for personal reasons. As it happens, Bahati and I have been speaking quite a bit, lately. Bahati told me last week that he had been invited (he’d been a guest in 2007 and 2009) and had not yet decided whether to attend. His concern, he said, was the pressure that his attendance would put on his American friends. Bahati believes that “homosexuals” possess enormous, monolithic power in the U.S. He did not want them to turn their wrath on the Family.
    Later, Bahati contacted me again to say that he would not be attending – that the tipping point in his decision was personal. (His wife is expecting a baby Feb. 11.)
    So let’s give everybody the benefit of the doubt, and assume that Hunter was going on the best information he could obtain, and that Bahati is speaking candidly about his reasoning. What does this leave us? An organization (Bahati describes himself as a “member” of it; Hunter has done the same, though he dislikes the term “member”) of tremendous reach and influence, very little institutional structure, and less transparency. That’s the problem here — one that, to a certain extent, members of the Family such as Hunter and I agree on. Hunter frames it as the “tension between access [to power] and accountability.” That tension becomes a tightrope in the absence of institutional safeguards; in the absence of a transparency, it can become a garotte for democracy.
    So let’s hope Obama asks tough questions. But let’s ask them ourselves, as you have here, about the structures that have led us to this sorry pass, and what they say about the uses and abuses of religion in international affairs.
    Why is this significant?