A view inside the Ugandan anti-gay campaign of Martin Ssempa
Since October of last year, Uganda has been the focus of international attention due to a proposal in their Parliament which would ban homosexual behavior of any kind via the death penalty for HIV people who engage in homosexual behavior and life in prison for others who attempt such behavior. One of the chief supporters of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill has been Martin Ssempa, a pastor in Uganda's capital city of Kampala and well-known among Western evangelicals. Rev. Ssempa this week has called for a "million man march" which he hopes will bring large crowds out to support the harsh legislation. In addition, Ssempa has organized several news conferences in order to rally support among Ugandans for the bill. On such conference was reported in Uganda's Daily Monitor. Reporter Rodney Muhumuza described the scene.
Pastor Martin Ssempa on Tuesday plumbed the depths of notoriety when he offered graphic images of gay sex as proof of the need for tough penalties against homosexuals.
The images were disturbing enough that an American college group visiting in Kampala, left in the middle of his presentation.
But midway through his presentation, saved on a computer, most of his audience walked out, some visibly disturbed, leaving him to wonder if he had done anything wrong. The cleric seemed genuinely rattled when he asked: "Why should I be traumatised?"
One man, who was part of a group of American students invited to the press conference by Rubaga North MP Beti Kamya, was seen crying, his colleagues consoling him as the group left the National Theatre.
The college group was from Pacific Lutheran University studying in Kampala. One student, Kelsey Hartsell, was in the presentation and gave me a brief description of the slide show.
Pastor Ssempa also crossed a line when he decided to display pornographic pictures of two white men from about the 70's doing what he considered to be dangerous acts in the bedroom as to why homosexuality is dangerous.
In other presentations like this, Ssempa has shown pornographic images of men engaged in various sadomasochistic activities, while alleging that all gays do the activities depicted. He also accused gays of raping boys in order to turn them into homosexuals. Ms. Hartsell continued:
Pastor Ssempa's main argument was that homosexual cults were kidnapping children and raping them and drugging them to brainwash them and turn them gay. He also used the words sodomy and rape as if they were equal. He accused same sex boarding schools and promoting homosexuality. As far as I know the cults have never been found or proven to exist.
I have asked Hon. Bahati and Pastor Ssempa for evidence of these allegations but nothing has materialized. Even if they were true, the gay advocacy groups agree with all others everywhere that any such cults or activities should be aggressively prosecuted. Ssempa's rhetoric had a very negative effect on Ms. Hartsell and her classmates. She said,
I can't speak for everyone, except that everyone was upset and for all different reasons. Regardless of my position on homosexuality and/or the [Anti-Homosexuality] bill I can tell you what upset me was that ‘Pastor' Ssempa was preaching against people encouraging hate and intolerance. He shamed himself as a pastor by disregarding what he thought of as sin as an action, and turned the people doing what he calls the sin into something less than human. From where I stand a pastor should be teaching forgiveness because no person as the right to judge another so even if he disagreed with their actions that doesn't disqualify them from humanity.
Rev. Ssempa did not reply to my inquiries about the news conference. When the Anti-Homosexuality Bill was first introduced, he told me,
I am in total support of the bill and would be most grateful if it did pass.
It is very clear that Pastor Ssempa endorses the harsh tenets of Ugandan proposal. What is not clear is how it furthers the Gospel for ministers to demonize homosexuals. Such stereotypes are rarely ever correct, and are harmful because they hinder an engagement of others as humans bearing the image of God. To at least one American student, Pastor Ssempa's campaign backfired.
Here is another eyewitness account from a student on the PLU trip.