BY Jeff Sharlet
August 23 2010 5:00 AM ET
I left the rally with Bahati in his minivan. Riding with us was bishop Julius Oyet, another leader of the antigay movement with deep American connections through Fred Hartley’s College of Prayer; Lifeline Ministries, Oyet’s network of churches, has offices in Atlanta, London, and throughout Africa. He’s a massive, square-headed man who wears double-breasted suits and likes to tell stories about facing down the Lord’s Resistance Army, a psychotic rebel movement in the north that makes Oyet look mild. And that’s a feat. “In my view,” he later told me over sodas at the Sheraton Hotel, one of Kampala’s swankiest, “homosexuals should be grateful.” The bill, he explained, would cover them under the rule of law, leaving their fate to the court rather than the mob. There was even hope of redemption: Oyet claimed to have performed more than 10 successful exorcisms on those possessed by homosexual demons.
In the car Oyet and Bahati were ecstatic about Engle’s rally. “Amazing!” both men kept repeating. Bahati, who was driving (he’d given his driver the day off), turned around to boast to me that Pastor Lou had pledged his support of the bill. But I’d heard him hedge that support with a documentary film crew, I said. “Of course!” he explained. “The gays, they control the media.” Pastor Lou had cleverly deceived them, Bahati said with a giggle. Oyet jumped in and said he’d received the pastor’s support too. “This statement Pastor Lou has made, it could change the situation in America,” he gushed. Engle’s stand against the gays might inspire others to likewise pledge secret support to Uganda’s crusade.
According to Bahati, half a dozen American politicians already had. He wouldn’t name names, but he seemed to think Inhofe was on his side, identifying as his liaison to the senator an aide named John Mark Powers. Powers, Inhofe’s director of African affairs, is an Assemblies of God missionary who is also CC’d on numerous Family documents related to Africa. On Capitol Hill, Inhofe competes with two other members of the Family, Coburn and Brownback, for the title of most homophobic senator. His qualifications? Campaigning in 1994, Inhofe coined the phrase “God, gays, and guns” as his platform; he boasts of never having hired a homosexual; and once took to the floor of the Senate with a giant photograph of his children and grandchildren to declare, “I’m really proud to say that in the recorded history of our family, we’ve never had a divorce or any kind of homosexual relationship.”
Since his first trip to Africa in 1997 — to meet with Nigerian dictator Sani Abacha — Inhofe has traveled to the continent more than any other American politician, adopting 12 nations as special projects. Top of the list is Uganda, into which the Family has poured millions of dollars in “leadership development.” “We know Senator Inhofe,” Bahati told me. “We respect him. We know him.”
When I asked Bahati if there was any connection between the Family in Uganda (where it’s called the Fellowship) and his antigay legislation, he seemed puzzled by the question. “I do not know what you mean, ‘connection,’ ” he said. “There is no ‘connection.’ They are the same thing. The bill is the Fellowship. It was our idea.”
It needs to be stressed that Bahati, not Inhofe, wrote the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. After a long campaign of pressure, Inhofe did denounce the legislation, however timidly. But while the Family didn’t pull the trigger on the bill, they provided the gun. And the weapon was an idea: “God-led government” in lieu of democracy, scripture in place of law. The bill is a bullet, and whether or not it’s made law, it’s already been fired. What’s left for the Family is damage control.
In charge of that PR operation is a man named Bob Hunter. A former Ford and Carter administration official, Hunter built the Family’s relationship with Uganda back when the current dictator, Museveni, took power in 1986. Museveni replaced a pseudo-Marxist regime with a pseudo-Christian one, and Hunter, in the beginning, was his connection to the American Christian politicians whom Museveni knew could build Uganda into a well-armed U.S. proxy for a region that’s rich in both oil and chaos. Hunter, meanwhile, sees himself as a liberal, simply applying the principles of Jesus to foreign development. The Anti-Homosexuality Bill absolutely horrifies him, and he says he’s done what he can to prevent it from passing.
At the same time, though, he wants to distance his American friends from Bahati, who has been the Family’s guest in America but now is a liability — “off track,” Hunter explained. Hunter is more interested in people “behind the scenes,” as he puts it.
When Hunter told me his theory of advocacy — reaching out to “the little group around the president” instead of the dictator himself, “the nail on the wall” instead of the man in the presidential portrait, I thought he meant Bahati’s Parliament Fellowship group, which meets on Thursdays. No, Hunter said; “the Friday group is really the power group.” Bahati’s group includes some 60 legislators, and it’s responsible for much of the “morality” legislation that comes out of the Ugandan parliament, but to Hunter it’s secondary. The Friday group, just three or four influential people, “they are the ones we’d go to if we really needed something done.” The leader, he said, is an American named Tim Kreutter, the head of a network of youth homes, schools, and a leadership academy, one replicated in several other countries and designed to create a new generation of African leaders. Bahati, who calls Kreutter his mentor, is one of them.