One of a series about the Fellowship Foundation, the secretive religious group that runs the National Prayer Breakfast and is popularly known as The Family. This series is based on Family documents obtained by TYT, including lists of breakfast guests and who invited them.
Ugandan Pres. Yoweri Museveni and at least one other speaker at Saturday’s National Prayer Breakfast in Entebbe used the event to stiffen opposition against international pressure to decriminalize same-sex relationships and recognize LGBTQ rights.
One event organizer proposed legislation in 2009 to impose the death penalty for “aggravated homosexuality.”
Museveni’s remarks Saturday were consistent with years of reporting about the use of National Prayer Breakfasts to build right-wing, theocratic, anti-LGBTQ networks around the world. Uganda’s National Prayer Breakfast was launched a quarter-century ago with help from the secretive Christian group the Fellowship Foundation, also known as The Family, which runs the original National Prayer Breakfast in Washington.
Typically, anti-LGBTQ policy and sentiment at The Family’s events around the world are cloistered in back rooms and cloaked in the rhetoric of “religious liberty.” But Museveni has publicly embraced anti-LGBTQ positions for years.
And The Family’s ties to Museveni and official LGBTQ oppression in Uganda also go back years. While The Family officially opposed legislation imposing the death penalty on gay people in Uganda, journalist Jeff Sharlet revealed how The Family had boosted and supported the politicians behind it.
A watered-down version of the anti-LGBTQ death-penalty law, which was signed by Museveni, was struck down shortly afterward by Uganda’s high court. Museveni has since sought to revive it.
Despite the international outrage over the law and The Family’s involvement, at least one Family insider involved at the time continued inviting members of Museveni’s party to the Washington prayer breakfast, documents obtained by TYT show.
Last year, TYT revealed Family operations – often abetted by apparently unwitting congressional Democrats – standing up right-wing, anti-LGBT networks around the world, including in Ukraine and Guatemala. Multiple organizations have issued warnings that prayer breakfasts are routinely used to build anti-LGBT networks and elevate their leaders. One Ukrainian group pleaded directly to congressional Democrats to stop enabling this work.
In his remarks Saturday, Museveni reportedly said, “We have been having pressures from some of these groups, who say that there are two ways of life…there is the normal way and the parallel way of the homosexuals… But this is not our interpretation.”
Museveni cited earlier remarks at the breakfast by Prof. Christiaan Alting, a speaker who made a thinly veiled reference to those pressures, saying, “[D]on’t allow other countries outside Africa and certain NGOs [non-governmental organizations] and international organizations to dictate to you how you should run your families, schools, and communities.”
In video of his remarks, Alting appeals to Europeans and North Americans to stop proselytizing tolerance. Alting says, “As you preach tolerance in the West and beyond, please also be respectful of the life, family, and social values of our African brothers and sisters.”
Despite Alting’s appeal to respect Ugandan cultural values – which in some quarters take the form of anti-LGBTQ sentiment – the Guardian notes that its anti-LGBTQ laws were first codified and enforced under British colonial rule, which exported western Christianity by force.
Alting leads two Catholic organizations; the International Theological Institute, a Catholic school focused on marriage and family, and the International Catholic Legislators Network (ICLN). The latter organization addresses issues ostensibly related to “religious freedom” but which equate in practice to limiting the freedom of others.
In a 2018 speech, for instance, then-Pres. Donald Trump’s director of the Office of Management and Budget, Mick Mulvaney, identified himself as an ICLN member. Mulvaney said that’s how he learned that some U.S. foreign aid was contingent on reproductive rights – which he called a case of using foreign aid to “crush religious liberties.”
Mulvaney said that after learning about this during annual ICLN trips to Rome, he and the Trump administration took steps to stop it, along with aid to the UN Population Fund. Mulvaney’s remarks came at the annual dinner of the Washington-based group In Defense of Christians (IDC).
As TYT revealed last year, IDC also has close ties to The Family.
(The IDC was also deeply involved in illegal campaign donations to Family insider Rep. Jeff Fortenberry. After Fortenberry was indicted for lying to the FBI about it, TYT reported that Fortenberry concealed the extent of IDC’s involvement. Fortenberry resigned and was sentenced this summer to two years probation.)
In addition to Alting, Saturday’s prayer breakfast in Entebbe featured Deliverance Church - Umoja Bishop J.B. Masinde as its keynote speaker. Masinde’s website describes him as “a tireless champion for godly marriage.”
The church’s Facebook page includes anti-LGBTQ posts. One includes the following quotation:
"Pray for exposure to public scrutiny those who are covertly working to advance the homosexual indoctrination of our children through the educational system.
"Pray that God would raise up righteous leaders to successfully contend against the encroachments of the homosexual activists upon our nation's educational system.”
Another, more recent church post says, “[T]he devil is trying to destroy the family unit by re defining it by bringing up things like same sex marriage and gender identity issues.”
In the scandal over Uganda’s death-penalty bill, The Family tried to distance itself from its Uganda affiliate. But internal Family records obtained by TYT show that the players in that scandal continued to operate in Uganda and bring allies there to Washington where they could hobnob with American politicians, building networks here while bolstering their status at home.
As journalist Jeff Sharlet reported, David Bahati, the Ugandan legislator who authored the bill, was tied to Family insiders Tim Kreutter, based in Uganda, and Robert Hunter. Bahati denied Hunter’s claims that The Family counseled him not to proceed with his bill.
Despite the scandal, Kreutter remained active with The Family in Uganda as recently as 2018, internal records show. A spreadsheet obtained by TYT shows that Kreutter, his wife, and three of his guests made up half of that year’s ten-person Ugandan delegation at the 2018 National Prayer Breakfast in Washington. Records from subsequent NPBs are not available, as neither The Family nor its congressional allies releases them publicly.
(Although the NPB presents itself as a congressional function, members issue few of the invitations. As the internal documents show, the lion’s share are handed out by Family insiders, primarily conservative evangelicals. The Family and its congressional allies refuse to disclose both the guest list and the identities of the Family insiders who compile it.)
Of the remaining five guests from Uganda in 2018, two were pro forma: UN diplomats. Two more were invited by Grace Nelson, one of the few Democratic Family insiders and the wife of NASA chief Bill Nelson, then a Democratic senator from Florida. Another guest was invited by a family member of Dabbs Cavin, an executive at the poultry company owned by a right-wing GOP megadonor and Trump associate, billionaire Ronnie Cameron. Both men are Family insiders.
While Cavin has served as The Family’s board president, Cameron has occupied in some ways an even more powerful position within The Family. In addition to serving on its board, Cameron has been, along with anti-LGBTQ evangelical leader Franklin Graham, a reliable financial backer of The Family’s work.
Despite the right-wing leanings of The Family’s leaders – some of whom backed the Big Lie and some of whom were instrumental in radicalizing MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell – congressional Democrats, most notably Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) continue to facilitate their secretive operations.
Last year, TYT reported that The Family’s arm in Ukraine, led by a right-wing opponent of reproductive and LGBTQ rights, used Democrats including Rep. Juan Vargas (D-CA) to bolster their network there. A European LGBTQ rights organization responded with a warning for Democrats that participating in apparently anodyne prayer breakfasts helps mainstream and empower their right-wing organizers and facilitates back-room networking.
(In 2019, for instance, video surfaced by the political blog Take Care Tim showed Rep. Tim Walberg (R-MI) at a Ukrainian National Prayer Breakfast side event using the forum to praise then-Pres. Donald Trump for supporting "marriage between a man and a woman for life." Walberg attributed Trump's new stance against gay rights to Christian influence, saying, "For that reason, I salute you for prayer breakfasts like this.”
As TYT revealed last year, The Family used prayer breakfasts to help stand up a right-wing network in Guatemala, connecting it to powerful U.S. allies who collaborated on protecting anti-LGBTQ evangelical Pres. Jimmy Morales. After deploying then-Rep. Janice Hahn (D-CA) to lure Guatemalan power-brokers to its prayer breakfasts there, The Family used the events to build a political network for a Guatemalan ally. It worked.
Ultimately, The Family helped kill American bipartisan support for a popular and effective UN anti-corruption task force that had been making progress in Guatemala. Morales ran the task force out of the country before it could indict him for campaign-finance crimes.
In the last few years, a number of high-profile Democrats have dropped their participation in the National Prayer Breakfast. Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) explicitly told TYT he wasn’t attending this year’s. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) didn’t respond to TYT’s requests for comment, but was notably absent at this year’s event, which boasted fewer participating House Democrats than in previous years.
Some Democrats, however, appear unaware of how The Family and the religious right use prayer breakfasts to promote a global vision of “religious freedom” that accordions from country to country to accommodate even radically oppressive discrimination. Even now, some Democrats reportedly are preparing to compromise on the issue in a bid to pass same-sex marriage legislation – even though “religious freedom” often serves as right-wing code for the freedom to restrict reproductive and LGBTQ rights and, in some countries, basic women’s rights, marital rights, contraceptive rights, and even the right to divorce.
Uganda last year criminalized a number of consensual sex acts. And Museveni has said as recently as 2019 that he wants to revive the bill imposing the death penalty not just for gay sex, but also, as one of his ministers told Reuters, “We want it made clear that anyone who is even involved in promotion and recruitment has to be criminalized. Those that do grave acts will be given the death sentence.”
Bahati, still a prayer breakfast organizer, reportedly said before this weekend’s event that it would be “an opportunity for us to fellowship together as sisters and brothers.”
Jonathan Larsen is TYT’s managing editor. You can find him on Twitter @JTLarsen.