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Opinion: Rick Warren should denounce Uganda's anti-gay legislation

Zambian pastor describes how conservative US evangelicals are influencing African policies toward gays.

Members of religious groups campaigning against homosexuality hold placards during a rally in Kampala, Aug. 21, 2007. (James Akena/Reuters)

NEW YORK — As the world celebrates Human Rights Day Thursday, Pastor Rick Warren should make his own contribution to human rights by denouncing Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill of 2009.

Although homosexuality is already illegal in Uganda, the proposed law calls for the death penalty for people convicted of something called “aggravated homosexuality,” as well as life imprisonment sentences for being gay. If family, friends, teachers or counselors fail to report gay individuals, they too can be imprisoned.

Human rights groups around the world have condemned the bill, so why do we need Rick Warren’s voice on this?

Warren — the evangelical pastor who heads the Saddleback megachurch in Orange County, Calif. — is now one of the most influential figures in African politics. In March 2008, he traveled to Uganda to pronounce it his latest “purpose-driven” nation, saying, “My challenge to business and government leaders is to use their influence for the glory of God and partner with local churches in solving community problems.”

Warren is the author of the bestselling book "The Purpose-Driven Life," which instructs readers to ''abandon your agenda and accept God's agenda.'' Uganda is the second East African country to invite Warren to bring his purpose-driven life training to the entire nation.

The more African nations are declared “purpose-driven,” the more church leaders promote active homophobia and the more laws are proposed criminalizing all lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people.

Warren has “purpose-driven” projects in Rwanda, Nigeria and Uganda, the very countries where anti-LGBT laws grow ever more cruel. And Warren’s allies — particularly presidents like Rwanda’s Paul Kagame and Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni, and Anglican Archbishops Henry Orombi of Uganda, Peter Akinola of Nigeria, Emmanuel Kolini of Rwanda and Benjamin Nzimbi of Kenya — are in the forefront, advocating for drastic laws against LGBT persons in their countries.

Warren’s relationship with Uganda goes back to the George W. Bush years, when he promoted “abstinence only” as the way to fight the spread of HIV/AIDS in that country. He is among those who influenced Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni to reject the use of condoms in the fight against HIV/AIDS. And now, despite what Warren and his supporters say, HIV/AIDS infections are on the rise in Uganda.

Warren’s influence in Uganda extends to anti-gay activities. During his March and April 2008 visit with African religious and political leaders in the region, Warren said, “Homosexuality is not a natural way of life and thus not a human right.”

That statement has echoed through Africa, and only reinforces the hideous and outrageous statements made by other conservative evangelicals who traveled to Uganda this year and fanned the flames that became the Anti-Homosexuality Act. The Uganda-based Family Life Network’s “Seminar on Exposing the Homosexuals’ Agenda,” held in March, revealed the profound influence of U.S. conservatives on the African continent.