December 2, 2009

Rachel Maddow and Jeff Sharlet discuss the ties between C-Street, Pastor Rick Warren and an anti-gay bill in Uganda. Good for Rachel for bringing some attention to this truly horrific story, unlike her cohort at MSNBC David Gregory who forgot to mention Uganda during the softball interview he gave Rick Warren on Meet the Press.

MADDOW: The government of Uganda is considering passing a law to execute gay people. Execute as in by hanging a, quote, “serial offender” or an HIV-positive person who commits same sex act. If enacted, this law would also impose a three-year prison sentence on anyone who knows of a gay person in the country but doesn‘t report that gay person to the government within 24 hours.

Who is supporting and promoting this legislation? Well, one of the proponents is a minister named Pastor Martin Ssempa. He was a familiar face to American conservative Evangelicals, because Mr. Ssempa has been a frequent guest of Pastor Rick Warren at One Saddleback Church in California.

Do you remember Rick Warren? Him being selected to deliver the invocation at Barack Obama‘s inauguration was the little black cloud that crawled inside the silver lining that day for a lot of Americans who support gay rights.

Given with Rick Warren‘s deep involvement with Pastor Ssempa on matters including gay rights and AIDS issues in Uganda, “Newsweek” magazine asked Pastor Rick Warren his opinion of this proposed “kill the gays” law in Uganda.

Mr. Warren responded by distancing himself from Martin Ssempa, but also by refusing to condemn the proposal saying, quote, “It is not my personal calling as a pastor in America to comment or interfere in the political process of other nations.”

In a moment, we‘ll speak with Jeff Sharlet who has written extensively about the secret of Evangelical religious organization called The Family. We first started discussing The Family on this show when it emerged as a player in, not two, but three Republican sex scandals - those of South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, Nevada Senator John Ensign and the alleged sex scandal involving former Mississippi Congressman Chip Pickering.

The Family, among other things, provides well-below market rent housing for a select group of members of Congress at its, until recently, nearly tax-exempt church on Capitol Hill - a house called C Street.

Jeff Sharlet is now reporting that there aren‘t just ties between American Evangelical Rick Warren and the “kill the gays” bill in Uganda. He reports that, in fact, the president of Uganda and the legislator who introduced the “kill the gays” bill are more than just supported by American Evangelicals. They are both members of The Family.

Joining us now is Jeff Sharlet, author of “The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power.” He is also a contributing editor to “Harper‘s” magazine. Jeff, it‘s nice to see you again. Thanks for joining us.

JEFF SHARLET, AUTHOR, “THE FAMILY”: Good to be back, Rachel. Thanks.

MADDOW: So who introduced the “kill the gays” bill and what‘s his connection to The Family?

SHARLET: It‘s a member of parliament named David Bahati who has been very involved with a sort of conservative Evangelical revival in Uganda, very involved with a lot of American Evangelical groups and has also taken a leadership role in The Family‘s Uganda operation through something called the African Student Leadership Program at the Uganda‘s National Prayer Breakfast, which is an offshoot of the prayer breakfast The Family hosts every year here in the United States.

So he‘s got this leadership role that puts him not just at the sort of the margin of things, but functioning as one of their key men on the ground in Uganda.

MADDOW: In the big picture, why is The Family interested in Uganda? Why are they interested in operating there? And what are their goals there?

SHARLET: Well, The Family has always viewed its religious outreach, its worldwide spiritual offensive, as they describe it, in very clear geopolitical terms. Uganda, right now, is an incredibly important country for world politics. It‘s functioning in many ways as a U.S. proxy with Sudan, with Congo, with Rwanda.

There‘s oil in that general region and The Family needs to have a presence out there. They‘ve had that presence in Uganda since 1986 when they sent over a man to recruit Museveni who was then the new leader. Didn‘t look like a bright Democratic spot in African leadership. And they recruited him to be one of their main brothers, as they put it, for the whole continent.

MADDOW: So President Museveni in Uganda - he‘s not explicitly backing this horrendous bill. But it is thought that he tacitly supports it, at least as far as I can tell, and that the ethics and integrity minister in his government is vocally in favor of this thing. You‘re saying he has Family connections that go back decades.

SHARLET: Yes, to 1986. And it‘s hard to call it passive support when he‘s coming out there and saying that homosexuality is a plot that‘s sort of being imposed on Africa by Europe and that this is a time for Africans to rally together against sort of the foreign influence of homosexuality.

Now, Museveni is - the thought in Ugandan politics is that he‘s sort of letting other guys take the lead on this. But through his ethics minister, who is the main organizer of the National Prayer Breakfast in Uganda and it‘s his right-hand man - he‘s got a direct involvement.

And just last week, in fact, Museveni responded to questions from Uganda‘s main newspaper, is he a part of The Family. And his press secretary said, “Well, I can‘t answer that.” But it certainly sounds like an organization the president would like to be a part of but only if they really, really hate homosexuals.

MADDOW: Wow. That bastardization of that Groucho Marx quote is running through my head right now. Back in July, Jeff, you uncovered a video and we played it on the show, of Oklahoma Senator Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, a Republican senator in the United States. He‘s got admitted association with C Street and The Family.

We played video that you found of him talking about his trips taken to Africa on the urging of leaders of The Family. I just want a real quick clip to remind folks here.


SEN. JIM INHOFE (R-OK): If you‘re a member of the United States Senate, in Africa, they think you are important, so you can always go to see the kings.


MADDOW: You always get in to see the kings. Is Sen. Inhofe or any other American politician powerful enough among Ugandan politicians that they could derail this legislation if they wanted to?

SHARLET: Well, working with colleagues, I‘ve reached out to Inhofe‘s office and he refuses to say a word about it despite the fact that he likes to boast of his incredibly close relationship with Ugandan politics.

He‘s attended the Uganda National Prayer Breakfast. He says, in fact, he has adopted the nation and he regularly travels over there in behalf of The Family. Yet, he‘s refused to condemn it.

Does he have the influence? We don‘t know because he‘s not exerting it. It‘s just like Rick Warren. Could Rick Warren, who has designated Uganda a purpose-driven nation, make a difference?

We don‘t know because they‘re not trying. And I think that‘s the kind of the bottom line with the American involvement. There‘s been a lot of American support for the guys who are promoting this bill and no pushback against this incredibly hateful piece of violence put in the legislation.

MADDOW: Jeff Sharlet is author of “The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power.” Thanks, as always, for joining us, Jeff. I really appreciate it.

SHARLET: Thanks, Rachel.

Transcript via MSNBC.

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