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.
Uganda’s bill prescribing death for “aggravated homosexuality” didn’t come from nowhere. If you go back far enough, it didn’t even come from Uganda.
As one of its backers said in Parliament back in February: “[T]he law we are talking about is not new. When this country was colonised by the British, they actually left a law with us on homosexuality. In fact, the Penal Code Act that the colonisers left in this country banned homosexuality and criminalised homosexuality.”
The current iteration, the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, arose from and has been pushed by a Ugandan network that was inspired, nurtured, and backed by The Family, the secretive Christian group that created the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington and its spinoffs around the world. Those breakfasts have been identified in reporting by TYT and others, as well as LGBTQ+ advocacy groups, as an active threat to sexual and reproductive rights around the world.
Uganda’s new bill, which passed Parliament last month and now awaits the signature (or rejection) of Pres. Yoweri Museveni, has its origins in one of the nation’s parliamentary prayer groups, modeled on The Family’s weekly prayer meetings in the U.S. Congress.
As author Jeff Sharlet wrote in his book “C Street,” after Uganda’s so-called “Kill the Gays Bill” ignited a political firestorm in 2009, a top insider of Uganda’s prayer breakfast revealed to Sharlet where the bill was born.
That insider was then-Minister Dr. James Nsaba Buturo. “The bill had begun in the Parliamentary Fellowship, he’d said, through the democratic process,” Sharlet wrote.
As Member of Parliament Fox Odoi-Oywelowo told TYT, Buturo and Ugandan politician David Bahati are “the driving brain” behind the bill. It is, Odoi-Oywelowo said, a “replica” of Bahati’s original bill from 2009.
In his book, Sharlet recounted Bahati’s odyssey and how The Family mentored him on a political ascent that made him an influential champion of killing some of his nation’s LGBTQ+ people.
Bahati’s education was shaped by the west, at the University of Cardiff in Wales and the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. Helping with tuition bills was an unnamed foundation in Norway.
Two alumni of the U.S.-based and anti-LGBTQ+ Family Research Council advised Bahati to, in Sharlet’s words, “learn the art of political campaigning at the Leadership Institute, a well-funded school of ‘political technology’ for conservative activists.”
The Leadership Institute, in Arlington, VA, “made Bahati a star of its fund-raisers, and soon, [Bahati] said, he was on a first-name basis with men like ‘Mitch’ [McConnell] … and ‘John’ (Ensign).” That would be the current GOP Senate leader and former Sen. John Ensign (R-NV), star of one of The Family’s more tawdry sex scandals.
Bahati wouldn’t tell Sharlet who first pointed him to The Cedars, The Family’s Arlington, VA, enclave, but it was there that he met John Ashcroft, attorney general under Pres. George W. Bush until 2005 and a childhood friend of longtime Family insider Dick Foth.
After Bahati’s 2006 election to Uganda’s parliament, “the first thing he did was look for the Ugandan Fellowship he’d learned about in America.” He found it. And he attended the U.S. National Prayer Breakfast the following year. And again in 2009.
When he introduced the Anti-Homosexuality Bill later that year, “No one opposed,” among his Family brothers, he told Sharlet. “Not one.”
In fact, Sharlet writes, Bahati said American conservatives urged him to stand his ground. From “C Street”:
"The burden is on you, David, his American friends had told him. [Sen. James] Inhofe’s people had sent word, Bahati said. 'I have spoken to his assistant, Mark Powers,' he explained."
At the time, Powers wasn’t just African Affairs Director for probably the only Oklahoma senator ever to have an African Affairs Director. Powers, a former Assemblies of God missionary, was also a Family insider.
When Inhofe retired, he lauded Powers as “arguably my closest friend…a real brother, but it all started with Doug Coe.” That’s the longtime leader of The Family, who died in 2017, and first pushed Inhofe to Africa.
Internal Family documents obtained by TYT identify Powers as an associate of The Family in 2016, a formal relationship that typically meant The Family funded them or at least acted as an administrative clearinghouse for funding from third-party patrons. In other words, Powers was getting paid by presumably well-off benefactors directly or via The Family at the same time he was on the Senate payroll handling Inhofe’s Africa affairs.
The Family’s documents show that Powers submitted dozens of guest names for the National Prayer Breakfast in 2016 and 2018. Occasionally, he did so in partnership with Inhofe or other Family insiders, including former Gov. David Beasley (R-SC), later appointed by Pres. Donald Trump to run the World Food Programme.
(Last month, TYT reported that Powers brought a Burundi presidential adviser to the U.S. National Prayer Breakfast in 2015 and 2016. That advisor was allowed by The Family to invite guests of his own in 2018. He also reportedly attended this year’s National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, just one month before Burundi’s president told his own National Prayer Breakfast that “Any Burundian who indulges in homosexuality will be cursed by his nation.")
In a 2021 interview, a source close to The Family told TYT that “Powers is Mr. Africa…longtime right-hand man, manager of the Fellowship portfolio of Senator Inhofe.” In fact, referring to The Family’s legal name, the Fellowship Foundation, the source said that, “Inhofe stayed very arm’s length away from Fellowship world.”
That arm, however, was Powers. “You could say, in a classically political-staff sense, Mark was the guy that kept all of the stuff at arm’s length,” the source said.
When other people wanted to invite someone from Africa to the NPB in Washington, “You have to run that by Mark…and he would sit down with Inhofe and talk it through.” The source said this would have included Powers signing off on the invitations relevant to Uganda’s anti-LGBTQ+ crusade.
And that was the case when Bahati’s bill blew up.
“Absolutely, Inhofe was sort of the guy for Africa … with Mark involved in everything,” the source said. “And Mark would say, ‘Oh, yeah, we knew that guy but we were discouraging him from trying to pass that law, and he wasn’t like a close friend.”
Even if they weren’t close, Bahati had other friends. Sharlet writes in C Street:
In total, Bahati said, about half a dozen leaders had sent their support. He couldn’t name them, though, because the gays would destroy them. That’s what they told Bahati. You must fight the battle. “We have talked to a number of conservatives in America who believe what we are doing is right, and that if we do not close the door to homosexuality at this time, it would be too late for us to breathe,” he told me. “They wish that homosexuality was confronted and fought severely in America.”
Sharlet pressed Bahati: “Tell me first who the American politicians are who say they’re supporting you… The ones who tell you the gays control the media.”
Bahati chuckled. “I can’t tell you this!” “You’re protecting them?” “No, I am not protecting them. I am defending them.” He saw himself as a martyr to the cause, taking the heat for his American friends.
The Family says that wasn’t them – and in some ways that’s consistent with how they work. They might preach Biblical inerrancy, but they seldom united in a coordinated push for specific legislation, especially something so explosive.
But Bahati’s Family connections weren’t just U.S. politicians. One was a dual-citizenship missionary in Uganda named Tim Kreutter, one of The Family’s “men behind the face of power” as Sharlet put it and a “mentor” to Bahati. Both Powers and Inhofe, the Family source said, would have been working with Kreutter.
Bahati and Kreutter would ultimately be connected across a web of groups and efforts: Uganda’s National Prayer Breakfast and parliamentary prayer group; initiatives of Kreutter’s including Cornerstone and the Africa Youth Leadership Forum.
The network extended even further. Bahati and Buturo’s pastor was anti-LGBTQ+ Archbishop Luke Orombi. And Orombi was so tight with Hunter, Sharlet reported, that Orombi “always has a bed in Hunter’s home, called ‘the bishop’s room.’”
Hunter, now retired from the Consumer Federation of America, was celebrated by no less than Ralph Nader as “the greatest advocate for consumer justice against the insurance industry in American history.” He was also close enough with The Family – for decades – that the home where he hosted Orombi was right across the street from The Cedars.
Orombi, Sharlet wrote, “wants the gays out of Uganda, but he fears a witch hunt. ‘Go slow,’ he tells Buturo.”
Buturo was once “famed for his ability to make enemies of the state disappear” under Museveni’s predecessor. Having been born again since then – “though he couldn’t quite remember the details” – Buturo told Sharlet he now pursues his ends “democratically:”
Buturo saw Bahati’s bill as “evidence of his commitment to the rule of law,” Sharlet wrote. “It was a kindness to its victims; better the firing squad than the fists and feet and clawing fingernails of a mob. ‘It is in the interest of those who are homosexuals because people will start lynching them. Take the law into their own hands.’”
But after speaking with both Bahati and Kreutter about the bill, Sharlet described Kreutter as “displeased with his protege’s new initiative.”
Still, Kreutter wasn’t comfortable taking a definitive stand, calling the bill “complex.” Later, Kreutter told Sharlett, “Essentially I am against it,” but didn’t want to say so in a way that would hurt Bahati’s feelings.
What actually happened in The Family’s conversations remains a matter of dispute and conjecture. Warren Throckmorton, a professor and writer who also spoke to several players at the time, told TYT he believes The Family’s point people on Africa conveyed their opposition to the bill not directly, as their own sentiments, but by relaying the displeasure of others, suggesting that The Family was under a lot of pressure. Which it was.
In one scenario, The Family might have thought they had clearly opposed the bill, while Bahati took it as The Family saying they were on his side but too politically hamstrung to say so. “That is, I think, a very accurate description of the way the conversation went,” Throckmorton says now. But he has a caveat.
“After Bahati publicly said something to that effect – that the Americans would say they support it if they could – that’s when Hunter, at least, was saying, ‘No, this is not right.’”
To drive home The Family’s message, Throckmorton was summoned to the 2010 National Prayer Breakfast in Washington “so Doug Coe could tell me that the Fellowship was on record as opposing the bill.”
So when Democrats at the breakfast – on live television – lectured The Family and its guests about the bill, Throckmorton was in the right spot: The room at the Hilton set aside for guests from Uganda.
“I watched the speeches of [then-Secretary of State] Hillary Clinton and [then-Pres. Barack] Obama where they both mentioned the bill and I was in the Ugandan suite and wow, you could hear a pin drop when they were talking,” Throckmorton told TYT. Whatever Clinton and Obama intended, however, it didn’t work.
After the speeches, Throckmorton said, the Ugandan delegation “came after me hot and heavy.” They weren’t having it from the Americans. Any Americans.
In fact, the public spanking might have backfired – bolstering the Ugandan thesis that The Family was bowing to pressure from LGBTQ+ advocates and their allies.
According to Throckmorton, Ugandan Finance Ministry official Paulo Kyama “was a part of that conversation [and] told Hunter basically, ‘back off, don’t tell us what to do,’... [but] not that abruptly; it was more like, ‘Bob, let’s agree to disagree.’”
Kyama wasn’t just any Museveni minister. In C Street, Sharlet reported that Kyama was one of Kreutter’s two partners in starting the Parliamentary prayer group that sired today’s bill.
Steeled by his covert American cheerleaders, Bahati pressed on. And despite his American scolds, Bahati ultimately succeeded. The law was passed and signed by Pres. Museveni.
But as Bahati explained in Parliament last month, the “pressure” – presumably western and LGBTQ+ pressure – had led him and his allies to make a fatal mistake when they passed it.
“On that day, I remember, we agreed with the Speaker on a strategy of not putting the Bill on the Order Paper because of the pressure.” But that, Bahati said, meant that the bill came up “during the debate and that is the reason we could not raise quorum.” It was that lack of quorum – and only the lack of quorum – that led the high court to toss out the law.
Its supporters never lost heart.
According to Odoi-Oywelowo – one of only two nay votes on the bill last month – “The leaders here, the churches, the mosques, the Pentecostal movement, have for almost 20 years whipped up homophobia in this society to the extent that it’s almost suicidal to stand up against them.”
The bill re-emerged just three years later, faltering again.
Then, last year, a Catholic member of Parliament named Father Charles Onen sought to introduce a new version of the bill, Odoi-Oywelowo told TYT. “So they have been working on it from the time we defeated them in court in 2016. They have never given up.”
And, apparently, The Family never gave up on Bahati. In late 2020, Kreutter wrote that he’d been involved in the Uganda National Prayer Breakfast, which Bahati still chairs, for the previous two decades.
Throckmorton says Kreutter “had no interest in the culture war part of it. He wanted to help Ugandan families do better, alleviate poverty as best he could. His mission was unrelated to any of that stuff and felt that the whole thing was very unwelcome.”
Kreutter’s focus, however, didn’t rule out Biblical rationales for the culture wars finding their way into Kreutter’s work shaping Uganda’s next leaders. “There’s some [Biblical] passages where sexuality’s talked about,” Throckmorton says. “I don’t think [Cornerstone] would have shied away from what they think the Bible says there but I didn’t get any sense that [Kreutter] had any mission to import the culture war. In fact, he really felt it had gotten in the way of their work.”
Kreutter “was aware of…Bahati’s mission,” Throckmorton says, but adds, “I don’t know that he was very vigorous about trying to dissuade him.”
Why not? The Family’s work is to support political leaders, minister to them. Not challenge them. And definitely not lose access. “I remember [Kreutter] saying some things like… [he] doesn’t feel that he can say very much about his particular or Western perspective.”
Kreutter’s approach, Throckmorton says, mirrors that of The Family. “I guess that’s the way that the Fellowship, the criticism that’s always been leveled against them: They would always prefer the access versus standing up for what’s right.”
With Kreutter and The Family silent about their efforts, Bahati and his prayer cohorts soldiered on. When Onen tried to introduce the bill again this year, though, something weird happened. Speaker Anita Among removed him as principal sponsor, replacing him with a Muslim member of the minority party.
Asked why, Odoi-Oywelowo, who was there when this happened, responds, “The best answer I can give you is I don’t know.”
He’s not the only one confused. Everyone’s political calculations are at the mercy of uncertainty about where Museveni himself stands.
In 2019, Reuters reported that Museveni backed the resurrected “Kill the Gays Bill.” One of his ministers told the news service, “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.”
But Odoi-Oywelowo calls it “a misconception” to say that Museveni’s on board. “The Museveni government has never introduced the anti-homosexuality bill.”
And as parliamentary transcripts reveal, that’s only heightened the confusion. During the March 21 introduction of the bill, the transcript includes one member’s remarkable comments about the government’s failure so far to take a stand:
I notice that the Prime Minister, with three deputies and the Vice-President who is a member of this Parliament and many other ministers are taking cover –(Laughter)– they are hiding.
In a later exchange, the same member floated the possibility that Museveni was a shadow proxy for the government, on a secret mission to sabotage the bill. “I will bring evidence,” the member said, that someone in the Museveni administration was dispatching Odoi-Oywelowo. “That is why last time I asked whether the Government was supportive,” the member said.
“Those people will and do accuse me of everything under the sun,” Odoi-Oywelowo told TYT. “It is just part of the harassment.”
He’s not exaggerating. In the same session, another member suggested “we have a very capable doctor here at Parliament to go and examine Hon. Fox Odoi-Oywelowo- whether he is bisexual, so that we discuss knowing the agenda of Hon. Fox Odoi-Oywelowo… because he said that the police sometimes arrest people because of appearance. Hon. Fox Odoi-Oywelowo might be having a beard, but when he is a woman or bisexual.”
Starting with the March 21 vote, Museveni has 30 days to veto the bill or recommend revisions. Otherwise, it takes effect automatically.
Throckmorton, who covered this the first time around, sees a stark contrast in the global reaction today.
“When Ugandans in 2009 said they were gonna kill all the gays, the world went crazy,” unlike what he calls the “different American reaction this time around.”
The day after the vote, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre began her briefing with this:
I want to say one thing at the top. We have grave concerns with the passage of the Anti-Homosexuality Act — AHA — by the Parliament of Uganda yesterday and increasing violence targeting LGBTQI+ persons. … The bill is one of the most extreme anti-LGBTQI+ laws in the world.
But the White House did not respond to a request for comment about the causal relationship between the bill it opposes and Pres. Joe Biden’s support for the religious network behind it.
Biden isn't alone in his silence on the bill's religious DNA. As Throckmorton noted, “Before, when this came up, the American evangelicals were incredibly horrified by the fact that the Ugandans relied on Jesus for this, for their impetus,” Throckmortan said, citing petitions and comments by Rick Warren. “Now, I’d say a goodly number of evangelicals will be cheering them on. We’re in a different world now… It’s a striking indication of how the evangelical church has moved to the right.”
Odoi-Oywelowo makes a similar point. “The world has been focusing on Islamic fundamentalism and its inherent threats to world peace, to democracies, to human rights [but]... the world for the longest period has not sufficiently studied and focused on Christian fundamentalism.”
He says, “It’s my conclusion that they, these fellows, impose a grave danger to world peace, to human rights, and to democracies.”
It’s not clear why the global volume is lower this time against a bill to kill LGBTQ+ people, but one possibility is that international pressure didn’t work last time. And domestic politics often trump diplomatic influence.
The relative silence may even give Museveni a path out, space to navigate both his domestic politics and international red lines.
Over the weekend, Museveni reportedly praised Parliament for passing the new bill and said, “Africa should provide the lead to save the world from this degeneration and decadence which is really very dangerous for humanity.” But he also said “homosexuality is reversible and curable.”
That framing, while it flies in the face of a mountain of scientific evidence, could indicate a shift from treating LGBTQ+ people like criminals to, however wrongly, people who need help. And that shift, however false the new position, would support arguments against the death penalty and even prison sentences.
Whether Museveni really is shifting – in response to quiet diplomacy or his own reluctance – will likely be revealed in the next two weeks. By Ugandan law he has until April 20 to veto or seek revisions of the bill, or it takes effect automatically.
With additional research by TYT Intern Madison Shaw.
Jonathan Larsen is TYT’s managing editor. You can find him on Twitter @JTLarsen_.