Secretive religious group “The Family” tied to anti-LGBTQ+ death penalty bill — again

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.

When Pres. Joe Biden greeted his virtual guests at this year’s National Prayer Breakfast – and told them, “I’m grateful you’re able to be joining us in prayer this morning and lift up one another” – the people he was welcoming included government officials from a country now poised to enact the death penalty for some LGBTQ people.

Although he was speaking on Capitol Hill, he also addressed, remotely, the NPB Gathering a few miles away at the Hilton. Both of the Feb. 2 events were being run by insiders at The Family (a secretive Christian group formally known as the Fellowship Foundation), including some who were around in 2009, the first time Uganda pursued what came to be known as “Kill the Gays” legislation.

This time, after Uganda’s parliament last month passed what’s officially called the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, there is much less global uproar.

Family insiders, however, are still involved with and supporting the Ugandans behind the bill, TYT has learned. And this time, Family leaders have yet to publicly condemn the legislation or those behind it.

Instead, The Family invited Uganda’s first lady, a friend of The Family’s point man in Uganda, to the NPB Gathering that Biden greeted on video. The Family also invited a Ugandan member of Parliament who appears not to have taken a public position on the bill, which is almost universally supported by Ugandans; only two members of Parliament voted against it.

And the Family’s Ugandan point man, Tim Kreutter, is still a key player in the Ugandan National Prayer Breakfast, which is chaired by the bill’s original father and has been a central rallying event for Ugandan anti-LGBTQ sentiment. Kreutter has also stayed involved with the Ugandan parliamentary prayer group, some members of which have led the push for the bill.

Its provisions include the death penalty for “aggravated homosexuality,” including not just criminal sex acts against minors but also “serial offenders.” The law also criminalizes “promotion” of homosexuality.

Reporting out of Uganda has obscured the bill’s provenance. Media accounts identified the bill’s sponsor as a Muslim member of the opposition party, but parliamentary records show that the bill actually originated with a ruling-party Christian clergyman backed by at least one leader of the Family’s Ugandan offshoot, who was instrumental in pushing the 2009 bill.

See: The Genesis of Uganda’s “Kill the Gays” Bill

There’s no indication that any Family insiders support the bill now, but neither have any leaders of The Family’s U.S. breakfasts publicly condemned the bill this time around. The Family this year split the U.S. National Prayer Breakfast into two events – including a new one on Capitol Hill ostensibly just for Congress, the president, and top government officials – but both events are controlled by longtime Family insiders with a history of involvement in the U.S. breakfast and, in some cases, its Ugandan relationships. (Former Sen. Mark Pryor (D-AR) has suggested to TYT that he hopes to include new blood on the board of the Capitol Hill prayer breakfast.)

Family insiders who did not respond to TYT’s requests for comment include spokesman Larry Ross; former Rep. Zach Wamp (R-TN), who’s involved in both of The Family’s breakfast events; and Grace Nelson, wife of NASA Administrator and former Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL).

The first time Uganda’s David Bahati, then a member of Parliament, introduced an anti-LGBTQ+ death-penalty bill, it sparked global outrage and protests – leading both Pres. Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to raise the issue at the 2010 U.S. National Prayer Breakfast (which they nevertheless attended despite the pleas of LGBTQ protesters).

See: The Family’s Secret History in Uganda

At the time, Family leaders said they told Bahati they opposed the bill. Bahati insisted otherwise. The truth may be something in between – that The Family relayed its sentiments by relaying the widespread criticism, which Bahati may have interpreted as The Family explaining that it was politically constrained against supporting the bill.

“They Provided the Gun”

The quandary for The Family: It exalts Biblical inerrancy, but insiders privately suggest that powerful LGBTQ+ forces will punish you for saying so – and that makes it hard to convince allies abroad of genuine opposition to Biblical legislation. Especially when you’ve spent decades creating networks that support such laws.

In other words, The Family in Uganda – as it has in UkraineGuatemala, and elsewhere – stood up a theocratic political machinery engineered not just to weave individual religious beliefs into government, but to prioritize religion above governance.

As journalist Jeff Sharlet put it in his book, “C Street,” assessing culpability for Bahati’s 2009 bill, “The Family didn’t pull the trigger; they provided the gun.” The predictable outcome is one America’s founders sought to avoid by barring Congress from embracing religion and one The Family has seen for itself over and over as a result of its covert efforts around the world: Division, despite The Family’s unshakeable faith in the unifying power of prayer.

Whatever the truth about the 2009 bill, Bahati continued his crusade, getting Pres. Yoweri Museveni to sign the bill several years later. When a court killed it soon after, Uganda’s LGBTQ+ population breathed a sigh of relief, and advocates may have thought the fight was over.

But that law was killed on a technicality, lack of quorum, not on the substance. And in the intervening years, Uganda’s religious and political leaders, as well as Ugandan media, maintained a drumbeat of anti-LGBTQ+ narratives: Grooming; recruitment; child molestation; the canard that homosexuality is instilled via indoctrination.

When Member of Parliament Fox Odoi-Oywelowo, one of only two MPs to vote against the bill last month, spoke publicly about its origins, he told openDemocracy, “radical Pentecostal communities from the US were sponsoring the introduction of anti-LGBTQ laws throughout Africa.” Odoi-Oywelowo continued:

There are still a few US pastors – I call them hate-mongers because that’s all they excel in – vending hatred in Uganda. Their initial point of entry was the [Ugandan] National Prayer Breakfast, a collection of religious and radical people here who introduced that ideology of hate. They sit over breakfast and pray and make radical hate speeches. They also introduced some money.

Speaking with TYT, Odoi-Oywelowo went further, naming individual Ugandan politicians who support the bill and are currently embedded in The Family’s Ugandan offshoot and the parliamentary prayer groups.

And Kreutter, The Family’s point man in Uganda who Sharlet said never explicitly condemned the bill, appears never to have left Bahati’s side despite his crusade.

In the past, Kreutter’s operations in Uganda were subsidized by The Family, millionaire Republican donors, or both. Whether that continues today is unknown, as The Family’s tax returns no longer identify individual recipients.

Kreutter’s work has been backed by retired Republican businessman Michael Timmis. It was Timmis who provided the seed money when his son teamed with Kreutter and a friend three decades ago to start a Ugandan school known as Cornerstone, which teaches even Muslim children to put the teachings of Jesus Christ into practice, and set out to forge a new generation of Christian leaders to transform the nation.

They’ve succeeded. Cornerstone grads and officials went on to hold office in Uganda and, with prayer breakfast invitations from The Family, got to network with like-minded potential allies from the U.S. and elsewhere.

In his recent book, Timmis credits another longtime Family leader, GOP mega-donor Ronnie Cameron as a “dear friend” and “probably the most generous man I have ever met.” Cameron has given millions to The Family and, according to Timmis, has funded some African operations, though Timmis identified only Rwanda and Tanzania specifically.

Timmis’s son returned to the U.S. years ago, but Kreutter, whose family has generations of history in Africa, remained in Uganda and continued working with Bahati.

At the 2020 Ugandan National Prayer Breakfast, Bahati, the chair, said, “Tim Kreutter works with us, works with the Cornerstone movement of the National Prayer Breakfast.”

Bahati explained that, “This [Ugandan] National Prayer Breakfast was started by his excellency the president when he first attended the Washington National Prayer Breakfast and since then it has been growing.” Addressing Museveni directly, Bahati added, “So, Excellency, we want to thank you that the mustard seed you planted with the National Prayer Breakfast is growing.”

Museveni told the assemblage, “As you preach the word of God, I think it’s important for people to know that the wages of sin is death and the wages of righteousness is being blessed.”

Kreutter, one of the only white people in an audience drastically reduced in number due to COVID, listened silently.

Later that day, Kreutter posted online about the event. “I have been involved in supporting this annual event for the past 20 years,” Kreutter wrote. “I also help to host and facilitate Ugandan leaders who travel to the US National Prayer Breakfast every year in Washington DC. As a dual citizen of both Uganda and the US -I felt honoured to serve this vision.”

This vision, Kreutter wrote, “remind[s] national leaders… We can find common ground for shared values… [and] Despite our racial, religious, or political differences – we are brothers and sisters.” Kreutter did not include differences of sexuality or gender.

Then, in September of last year, the possibility of another “Kill the Gays Bill” resurfaced. And the following month, as TYT reported, the 2022 Ugandan NPB served as a rally against western pressure for LGBTQ+ tolerance. Kreutter can be seen in cutaway shots of the audience.

Museveni told the gathered worshipers, “We have been having pressures from some of these groups who say that there are two ways of life…the normal way and the parallel way of the homosexuals… But this is not our interpretation.”

He also cited earlier remarks at the breakfast by Prof. Christiaan Alting, who said, “[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.”

A Ugandan MP Blames the Prayer Breakfast

Just days after the bill passed last month, openDemocracy published an interview with Odoi-Oywelowo. “There are still a few US pastors – I call them hate-mongers because that’s all they excel in, vending hatred in Uganda. Their initial point of entry was the [Ugandan] National Prayer Breakfast, a collection of religious and radical people here who introduced that ideology of hate,” Odoi-Oywelowo said.

Speaking with TYT over the weekend, Odoi-Oywelowo said, “We all know that the Bahati bill was crafted, sponsored, drafted by the radical Pentecostal movement,” and identified Bahati as Pentecostal. “We know one of the vehicles that they use for preaching their radical agenda is the National Prayer Breakfast in Uganda.”

And, according to Odoi-Oywelowo, the true genesis of the Bahati bill has been obscured. While the sponsor has been identified by international media – including even the Associated Press – as Member of Parliament Asuman Basalirwa, a Muslim in the opposition party, Odoi-Oywelowo says they’ve got it wrong. And parliamentary transcripts back him up.

“The motion seeking leave to introduce that Private Member’s Bill was sponsored by the Reverend Father [Charles] Onen, a Catholic priest, a member of parliament,” Odoi-Oywelowo told TYT. “So Father Onen was the principal sponsor.”

A copy of the motion to introduce the bill confirms Odoi-Oywelowo’s account, listing only Onen as moving the bill, and Basalirwa as just one of multiple seconders. In fact, Onen rose to object when Uganda’s speaker successfully downplayed the central role that Onen, a member of the ruling party, had played.

According to the transcript, after the speaker called on Basalirwa to introduce the bill on Feb. 28, but Onen tried to reclaim sponsorship. The speaker shot him down:

Onen: “…uploaded there on the computer, it shows that I am the mover of this motion. But my fear -” Speaker: “It does not matter. It is not a computer that is chairing the House. Are you seconding or are you -?” Onen: “Yes, I am here to second.” Speaker: “If you want to speak about moving the motion, then first sit down.”

But the speaker herself, Anita Among, introduced Bahati, as the “original mover of the motion” when she introduced him to address Parliament, even though he’s no longer a member.

Rising, Bahati shared the credit. “The work which was started in 2009 has been completed and completed well.” Bahati, too, put Basalirwa, the Muslim MP, at center stage in the new effort. “I remember the biblical work of Moses was completed by Joshua, who now is Honorable Asuman.”

But Asuman Basalirwa wasn’t the bill’s only Joshua. Others hailed from Bahati’s prayer groups and the breakfast movement.

One of Bahati’s Joshuas was identified by Sharlet as chair of the weekly Family meeting in Parliament back when it took up the 2009 bill. “Both the disease – homosexuality, that is – and its diagnosis had been exported from the West, said Dr. James Nsaba Buturo, Uganda’s minister of ethics and integrity,” Sharlet wrote. “But the solution, [Buturo] added proudly, was Ugandan, an idea that came from the people.”

Today, Buturo is a member of Parliament. And Odoi-Oywelowo told TYT, “Nsaba Buturo was a seconder [of the current bill]. He and Bahati, they’re the driving brain.”

Buturo himself told Sharlet that the bill began in the parliamentary Fellowship group.

And when asked about Buturo’s and Bahati’s ties to the Ugandan National Prayer Breakfast, Odoi-Oywelowo says, “They’re not even gold card members … they’re higher.” Sharlet wrote that the two men, Anglicans both, shared a pastor, Archbishop Luke Orombi, whose church opposed the death penalty, but who also reportedly rejected homosexuality as “a human right.”

Another MP who publicly backed Bahati’s bill (reading it into the record in Parliament) was Robina Rwakoojo, chair of the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee. She, too, Odoi-Oywelowo says, is part of Bahati’s Thursday parliamentary prayer group, modeled on the weekly prayer breakfasts in the U.S. Congress.

In fact, Odoi-Oywelowo says, “She’s been encouraging the members of the committee to attend the Thursday meeting of the [Ugandan Parliamentary] Fellowship. She keeps on telling us, ‘First of all, you will grow with Christ; secondly, we plan to travel to Israel. Last year they were in Israel, that group of the prayer breakfast.”

According to Odoi-Oywelowo, “The Thursday morning meeting is run by the [Ugandan] National Prayer Breakfast. I have attended one such meeting… When I walked in they were having those prayers and… I remember Bahati making comments that the lord Jesus had dragged me to salvation.

That same group, Odoi-Oywelowo says, “also came to the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee headed by the chaplain and made representations. They quoted Leviticus that the Bible commands to stone to death all homosexuals.”

Parliamentary records show that Pastor Martin Ssempa, a key player in the 2009 “Kill-the-Gays Bill,” was also in the public gallery for the March 21 vote.

Asked about Americans connected to the parliamentary prayer group, Odoi-Oywelowo says he saw one white man there but couldn’t say whether it was Kreutter. “I cannot name one by one the Americans that are involved with sponsoring that bill,” Odoi-Oywelowo says. “I know – and have confirmed this from Bahati – that this is a battle sponsored by the Pentecostal community from the U.S.”

As a Catholic, Onen attends a different parliamentary prayer group, Odoi-Oywelowo says. Bahati’s group is Pentecostal.

“That is the connection with the radical Pentecostal groups,” Odoi-Oywelowo says. “Father Onen approached the speaker in 2022 in September, seeking leave to introduce that bill. So they have been working on it from the time we defeated them in court in 2016. They have never given up.”

Odoi-Oywelowo also blames his country’s religious institutions. “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,” he says.

As to whether Museveni will do so now, Odoi-Oywelowo says that the president and the ruling party have never officially supported the current bill. Members of both parties, he says, were voting as individuals.

Odoi-Oywelowo also draws a distinction between Museveni and the first lady. “The first lady’s a Pentecostal,” Odoi-Oywelowo says. “You can say the president is religious but not fundamentalist. He’s very pragmatic.”

According to Sharlet’s 2010 book, “[Kreutter] counted the dictator Museveni, and especially his wife, Janet, as personal friends.”

The Musevenis have also been connected to Timmis, Kreutter’s conservative patron.

Several right-wing Christian members of Congress have also been engaged with The Family’s Uganda efforts.

Speaking with Sharlet after introducing the original bill, Bahati said, “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.” Bahati added, “They wish that homosexuality was confronted and fought severely in America.”

Bahati refused to name them. But Sharlet did identify some of the American Christian politicians with whom Bahati was involved.

Nelson, the wife of NASA’s administrator, now sits on the board of the new National Prayer Breakfast Foundation that hosted Biden in February, and she was on the board of The Family from 2001 through 2003, during which Family funding for Cornerstone, Kreutter’s Ugandan schools, ran into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The Family stopped disclosing its Ugandan beneficiaries, but its tax filings indicate that millions of dollars have gone to a school or schools in Uganda in the years since. While some reporting has implied that The Family’s funding is directly backing anti-LGBTQ+ activism in the country, there’s no evidence of that.

Instead, the funding appears to have paid for nurturing and educating thousands of young Ugandans – while simultaneously instilling The Family’s views of Jesus and creating the network now doing what the Bible commands; Leviticus, specifically. The Family also subsidized Kreutter’s life in Uganda as a crucial go-between, elevating like-minded Ugandans, including Cornerstone alumni, by connecting them with U.S. politicians.

For instance, internal Family documents obtained by TYT show that Kreutter was able to bring to the U.S. National Prayer Breakfast a number of Ugandans connected to Cornerstone and other affiliated organizations, including the Africa Youth Leadership Forum, which Kreutter cofounded and which Bahati reportedly ran.

A group called Youth Corps, another Cornerstone offshoot, is listed in Family documents obtained by TYT as submitting guest names for NPB attendance, as well.

In 2015, The Family’s DC prayer breakfast guest list included six Ugandans. One was Pastor Christine Ondoa, reportedly part of a ministry the leader of which once said LGBTQ people “should be killed.” The Family documents don’t reveal who invited the 2015 guests, but indicate that Ondoa shared a table with Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT), an opponent of LGBTQ+ rights. A Cornerstone guest was seated with Rep. Ken Buck (R-CO), an active player in The Family’s efforts to aid anti-LGBTQ+ Guatemalan Pres. Jimmy Morales.

The following year, Kreutter and Youth Corps invited several Ugandans who ended up not attending. They included a member of the U.S.-based Pentecostal group, Full Gospel Businessman’s Fellowship International; someone from Cornerstone; and Museveni advisor Tim Lwanga. The Kreutter/Youth Corps invitees who did attend included another Cornerstone guest along with Kreutter himself and his wife.

In 2018, Kreutter invited then-Member of Parliament Alex Mungoma Burundo, of Uganda’s ruling party; and MP Apollo Ofwono, who at the time already had a record of falsely claiming a stolen election and refusing to pay a court-ordered fine for the lie. Ofwono was seated with Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) (another Guatemala player); and an advisor to Burundi’s president, who one month later used his own country’s prayer breakfast to attack LGBTQ+ people.

Ofwono, along with Kreutter’s third MP guest, Anne Mary Tumwine, were present for last month’s vote, the roll call shows, indicating that they voted for the Anti-Homosexuality Bill.

Another 2018 guest, from the Africa Youth Leadership Forum, was invited by Youth Corps, the Cornerstone offshoot.

Nelson, now helping run the Capitol Hill prayer breakfast, invited two guests for 2018 (the last year for which TYT has obtained Family records). One was Sister Rosemary Nyirumbe, a globally acclaimed leader of efforts to help victims of Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army. Nyirumbe’s sister, another member of Parliament, was also invited by Nelson.

That was MP Catherine Mavenjina. Last month’s roll call doesn’t indicate that Mavenjina, who is elderly, was there for the vote. But Odoi-Oywelowo told TYT she was. “She was in the house that day and she voted yes,” Odoi-Oywelowo said.

“The Ugandan parliament is 520 voting members,” he said. “You have only two people who are not homophobic or who can stand up and oppose that bill.”

Odoi-Oywelowo also told TYT, as did another source, that Mavenjina was at this year’s NPB Gathering – the Family event that Biden greeted by video. “[Mavenjina] attended the last National Prayer Breakfast held in the U.S.,” Odoi-Oywelowo said. “On the day they were returning, I was at the airport seeing off my son.”

Who invited her this year, along with Uganda’s first lady, The Family won’t say.

Museveni has until April 20 to veto the Anti-Homosexuality Bill or recommend revisions. Otherwise it will become law.

With additional research by TYT Interns Nathan Galang and Madison Shaw.


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