Last week, the nation’s largest GLBT civil rights group joined a Washington, D.C.-based government watchdog group in calling for a boycott of the National Prayer Breakfast on February 4.
The breakfast went on as scheduled, with President Obama appearing, albeit criticizing homophobic Ugandan initiatives.
The Human Rights Campaign(HRC) and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) had sought to bring attention to an organization called the Fellowship Foundation – known more familiarly as ‘The Family’ . HRC leaders claim the shadowy group has had more than passing influence on anti-gay legislation recently proposed in the African nation of Uganda.
That legislation, sponsored by Members of the Ugandan Parliament, would make homosexuality a ‘crime punishable by death’, in certain cases, and life imprisonment in most others. The proposals have stirred international outcries of protest.
Now SFGN has learned that many gay leaders say that ‘The Family’ has direct ties to Ugandan leaders advocating the anti-gay laws.
Wayne Besen, executive director of New York City-based Truth Wins Out (TWO) and an SFGN contributing columnist, said that “many people at the National Prayer Breakfast have no idea about the radical and unorthodox, cult-like beliefs that The Family is passing off as Christianity.”
“With little transparency and regard for democracy,” Besen continued, “this organization, which believes God favors powerful elites, spreads its influence throughout the world.”
Besen, author of “Anything But Straight: Unmasking the Scandals and Lies Behind the Ex-Gay Myth,” lists among the prominent members of The Family Republican U.S. Senators Sam Brownback (Kansas), Chuck Grassley (Iowa), and Mark Pryor (Alaska),as well as Florida’s Democratic Senior Senator, Bill Nelson.
In letters sent out last week, HRC and CREW pleaded with President Obama and congressional leaders to skip the annual Prayer Breakfast, held since 1953 on the first Thursday of February every year. The organizations also called for a blackout of the Breakfast on C-Span.
In a statement, Harry Knox, director of HRC’s Religion and Faith Program, said: “More than prayers are offered up at the National Prayer Breakfast. We now know, due to the investigative journalism of Jeff Sharlet, author of ‘The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power,’ that when the breakfast is over, the wheeling and dealing begins.”
“Many participants remain in the city for training events on how to manifest theocratic control of business and government,” Knox said.
“Financial support for international projects flows from the National Prayer Breakfast, now known to be the annual meeting of the shadowy, secretive Family,” he added. “Tax documents from The Family show millions of dollars have gone into programs run by David Bahati, the Ugandan Parliament Member who wrote the anti-gay legislation.”
Author Sharlet, who secretly infiltrated the clandestine society in order to research his book, told The New York Times: “Here’s an organization that, in the past, has not acknowledged its own existence.”
“Their leader, Doug Coe, says that the more invisible you can make your organization, the more influence it will have,” said Sharlet.
Besen, Knox, and other GLBT leaders, including Gene Robinson, the openly gay Episcopalian Bishop of New Hampshire, organized several alternative gatherings nationwide, labeling them as the American Prayer Hour. Locally, the MCC Church of Our Savior, based in Boynton Beach, joined in the protest.
Said Bishop Robinson: “Although many faith leaders have stood by silently, today we speak out on behalf of the marginalized.”
“[We] should speak out for the most vulnerable in Uganda before it’s too late,” Robinson emphasized.
Despite the pleas from HRC, CREW and gay rights advocates, President Obama and top officials, including Vice President Biden appeared, along with former University of Florida quarterback Tim Tebow.
The President did censure the Uganda parliamentary initiatives in his talk: “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 … more extremely in odious laws that are being proposed most recently in Uganda.”