Christianity vs Christianism, Love vs Power

The struggle for the fate of Christianity - in motion since the earliest times - has often devolved into a fight about whether Christians should seek worldly power or eschew it. It is a question constantly faced by Jesus in the Gospels himself, and it is one always resolved in Jesus' case by using love. Jesus had no politics. He sought no earthly power. But humans who live in a fallen world must live with power and under it. And in this fundamentalist age, where Christians and Jews as well as Muslims have embraced the power of government and law and war to reimpose their literalist beliefs, the battle is intense.

The defining element of Christianism is the pursuit of worldly power -  which is why I refuse to give these politicians and operators the term "Christian." The move into politics was a decision made by the Christianist right two generations ago. Its main vehicle is the Republican party, but it is not entirely partisan, as the remarkable story of "The Family" by Jeff Sharlet reveals.

"The Family," we now learn, is now part of a war to launch new anti-gay laws in Uganda that resemble legislation that preceded mass killings in Rwanda and Serbia in recent years (and, of course, the Shoah before that):

The law would impose a sentence of life imprisonment on anyone who “penetrates the anus or mouth of another person of the same sex with his penis or any other sexual contraption.” The same penalty would apply if he or she even “touches another person with the intention of committing the act of homosexuality.”

The law requires a three-year prison sentence for anyone who is aware of evidence of homosexuality and fails to report it to the police within 24 hours. It allows for the prosecution of Ugandans who engage in homosexual acts in foreign countries. And it imposes a prison sentence of up to seven years for anyone who defends the rights of gays and lesbians.

The origin of this law is not just Ugandan; it is backed by American Christianists determined to punish, imprison or terrify homosexuals violating their religious edicts. Sharlet explains:

The Family is secretive, but not secret. You can go and look at 990s, tax forms and follow the money through these organizations that The Family describe as invisible. But you go and you look. You follow that money. You look at their archives. You do interviews where you can. It's not so invisible anymore.

So that's how working with some research colleagues we discovered that David Bahati, the man behind this legislation, is really deeply, deeply involved in The Family's work in Uganda, that the ethics minister of Uganda, Museveni's kind of right-hand man, a guy named Nsaba Buturo, is also helping to organize The Family's National Prayer Breakfast. And here's a guy who has been the main force for this Anti-Homosexuality Act in Uganda's executive office and has been very vocal about what he's doing, in a rather extreme and hateful way. But these guys are not so much under the influence of The Family. They are, in Uganda, The Family.

If you want to know what senators like Coburn, Ensign, and Inhofe really believe about gay people and our rights, look at Uganda. If you want to know what motivates the traditionalist Episcopalian break-away church, look at their leader, Archbishop Henry Orombi, who is a strong supporter of the Ugandan law. If you want to see who Rick Warren's long-time allies in Africa are, check out Pastor Martin Ssempa, a Warren acolyte, who also enthusiastically backs the bill - although Warren has publicly opposed it and has said “Martin Ssempa does not represent me, my wife Kay, Saddleback Church.”

Rip off the mask and see what these people would do if they could.

(Update: I've amended the last sentence of this post to correct my impression that Warren has actually opposed the anti-gay law in Uganda. I conflated his distancing from Ssempe with opposition to the law. Warren is trying to have it both ways in public while privately enabling and abetting the stigmatization, terrorizing and murder of gay people.)