Squeezing Uganda

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In retrospect, last week’s Prayer Breakfast shout-downs of the Uganda anti-homosexuality bill look like a carefully orchestrated effort to pressure Ugandan strongman Yoweri Museveni to make the bill go away. The play went like this: Coe to Clinton to Obama.

Coe is Doug Coe, the publicity-shy head of The Family, which has mounted the Prayer Breakfast since its inception over half a century ago. The day before last Thursday’s breakfast, Coe met with Warren Throckmorton and gave what counts as the official Family thumbs-down to the bill–which Throckmorton posted on his blog Thursday morning.

Throckmorton is a psychology professor at Grove City College, a conservative Christian institution, and he’s made a name for himself working with homosexuals whose conservative Christian beliefs make them want to repress their sexuality. But he does not believe he can convert them to heterosexuality, and he’s been a vigorous opponent of the Uganda bill, which he’s been tracking assiduously on his blog. He’s even created a bit of an alliance with Jeff Sharlet, exploring on his own some of the means by which The Family may or may not have had a hand in the bill.

In a word, Throckmorton is one of the media players in the Uganda situation, and the various conversations he had with Family members (in addition to Coe and including Ugandans) before the breakfast should be understood as a journalistic exercise on both sides. Coe himself made it clear that Bob Hunter, who had done the media appearances up till now, really does speak for The Family on this matter. Message: The Family really really does oppose the bill.

With that clear, Hillary Clinton proceeded in her “surprise appearance” at the breakfast not just to condemn the bill but to call out Museveni on it, in a sentence heavy with linkages: “And I recently called President Museveni,
whom I have known through the prayer breakfast, and expressed the
strongest concerns about a law being considered in the parliament of
Uganda.” Whereupon Barack Obama, referring specifically to Clinton’s remark in his own prepared remarks, also condemned the bill. (“We may disagree about gay marriage, but 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, as Hillary mentioned, more extremely
in odious laws that are being proposed most recently in Uganda.”)

Some on the left have found both Clinton’s and Obama’s comments lacking, and Jim Burroway over at Box Turtle Bulletin questions  whether Coe & Co. are really prepared to put their money where their mouths are. The proof, of course, will depend on what happens in Uganda. But it’s worth noting the extent to which opposition from the American evangelical establishment (including Rick Warren) has shocked and dismayed the bill’s promoters. At this point, all they have left in America is the lunatic fringe. And if the bill passes in anything like its present form, the consequences will be real. A nickel here says Museveni won’t let that happen.