Singer Susan Boyle is set to perform Wednesday at an annual prayer breakfast that is run almost entirely by opponents of LGBTQ+ and reproductive rights.
It’s not clear whether the multi-platinum recording star, who became a sensation after appearing on Britain’s Got Talent, is aware that human rights organizations have flagged European prayer breakfasts as part of a hard-right network that uses them to build alliances opposed to LGBTQ+ and reproductive rights. Boyle’s representatives did not immediately respond to TYT’s requests for comment.
The event is the National Prayer Breakfast for Scotland (NPBS). One speaker at the NPBS on Wednesday is the Rev. Nicky Gumbel. An Anglican who led the widely popular Alpha Course, Gumbel typically steers clear of controversial politics but reportedly considers same-sex relations a sin and has said, “We do believe in the value of every human life from the moment of conception."
The NPBS has no formal connection to the controversial U.S. National Prayer Breakfast (NPB), the organizers of which have bolstered anti-LGBTQ+ networks around the world, but there are ties between the two events.
TYT has obtained documents of the Fellowship Foundation – also known as The Family – which runs the U.S. prayer breakfast, showing that a U.S. member of Congress active with The Family invited a trustee of the Scottish event to the 2016 U.S. NPB.
Three years later, Rep. John Moolenaar (R-MI) spoke at the 2019 Scottish prayer breakfast. Moolenaar has served as an emissary of The Family, leading one anti-LGBTQ+ leader to invite Moolenaar to Ukraine’s 2017 National Prayer Breakfast because of Moolenaar’s “conservative stance on issues such as marriage, family, and Christian values.”
Also addressing the 2019 NPBS was then-Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-NY), who has co-chaired the U.S. NPB. Like the few Democratic members of Congress still active with The Family, Suozzi’s record was largely in favor of LGBTQ+ and reproductive rights, which seldom figure explicitly into the main event of the NPB.
Both the Scottish and U.S. breakfasts present an ecumenical face. But away from the podium for the main events, the underlying politics emerge.
The Family has been tied to anti-LGBTQ+ political movements in Guatemala, Ukraine, and Uganda. Allies of The Family’s Ugandan point man successfully pushed through an anti-LGBTQ+ death penalty earlier this year.
In Scotland, at a 2018 prayer breakfast event organized by the NPBS trustees, Scottish National Party (SNP) megadonor Brian Souter – who previously funded an anti-LGBTQ+ referendum – delivered a keynote address. He was followed by Scottish Member of Parliament Kate Forbes, who used the platform to pray that “politicians recognise that the way we treat the most vulnerable – whether the unborn or the terminally ill – is a measure of true progress.”
In 2016, one of the Scottish NPB trustees, Andy Witty, was a guest at the U.S. prayer breakfast courtesy of an invitation from Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-AL), documents obtained by TYT show. Aderholt is one of The Family’s staunchest congressional allies, and, like Moolenaar, has helped stand up NPB spinoffs internationally. The two are also vocal opponents of LGBTQ+ and reproductive rights.
Another internal Family document lists Aderholt as The Family’s primary point person for the U.K. invitations for the 2016 U.S. prayer breakfast. Lord Michael Hastings is listed as also working on U.K invitations, and in 2019 invited a minister connected to Witty’s church to the U.S. breakfast, the documents show.
Witty is one of ten trustees at the NPBS. According to social-media posts and previous reporting by other news outlets, most of the trustees oppose LGBTQ+ or reproductive rights or are affiliated with organizations that do.
According to the Scottish newspaper The Herald, another NPBS trustee is John Deighan, chief executive of the Scottish arm of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children. Fellow trustee Gordon Macdonald called abortion the “most prolific human rights abuse in the world today.”
The chair of the Scottish prayer breakfast is Murdo Fraser, a Scottish Conservative Party member of Parliament who opposes marriage equality and challenged the use of puberty blockers, saying, “children’s lives are being ruined because a political ideology has been put before good science and medicine.” (Multiple medical organizations have endorsed supervised use of puberty blockers for transitioning minors.)
As a young man, Fraser stole a plaque in Aberdeen honoring anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela. He also chaired the Scottish Young Conservatives, a group known for wearing t-shirts reading, “Hang Mandela.”
Other NPBS trustees include Ruth Donaldson of Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Neil Innes – a fan of Franklin Graham (longtime backer of the NPB) and the Durham Report but not gay weddings – and Scottish Evangelical Theological Society Chair Fergus Macdonald.
One trustee, the Rev. Angus Morrison, is pastor at a church that in 2019 adopted a formal position paper on homosexuality. The position paper said “we repudiate all attitudes and actions which victimise or diminish people whose affections are directed towards people of the same sex.”
However, that didn’t prevent the church from asserting in the next paragraph that:
“...marriage is an institution created by God in which one man and one woman enter into an exclusive relationship for life. Marriage is the only form of partnership approved by God for sexual relations and homoerotic sexual practice is incompatible with His will as revealed in Scripture. We do not accept that holding these theological and ethical views on biblical grounds is in itself homophobic.”
Another trustee, Louise Purvis, has espoused theocratic views of government and is the widow of John Purvis, the late Conservative Party member of the European Parliament and a co-founder of the European Parliament Fellowship, which gave rise to both the NPBS and the European Prayer Breakfast.
The one NPBS trustee publicly associated with the left is Labour Party member Catherine Stihler, also the CEO of Creative Commons.
As for Boyle, she has not been a vocal advocate on political issues. She has spoken approvingly of her devout Catholic mother rejecting medical advice to abort her, telling the Guardian, “I’m only here today because she kept her faith.”
Exactly how Boyle applies her own faith to the issues of reproductive and LGBTQ+ rights is unclear.
An email to Simon Cowell’s company Syco Entertainment was not returned. Another company that represents Boyle, Marshall Arts, referred questions to a manager at Susan Boyle Music, who did not immediately respond to TYT’s email seeking comment.
Jonathan Larsen is TYT’s managing editor. You can find him on Twitter @JTLarsen.