GOP congressman traveled to Uganda to support anti-LGBTQ death penalty law

Rep. Tim Walberg co-chairs the National Prayer Breakfast — and urged Uganda to "stand firm" on "death to gays" law

Published December 27, 2023 5:25AM (EST)

Rep. Tim Walberg, R-Mich., speaks during the House Republicans' news conference on on the EPA rule on EV production in the Capitol on Wednesday, December 6, 2023. (Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)
Rep. Tim Walberg, R-Mich., speaks during the House Republicans' news conference on on the EPA rule on EV production in the Capitol on Wednesday, December 6, 2023. (Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

This article originally appeared at The Young Turks. Used by permission.

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In a little-noticed October speech in Uganda, Rep. Tim Walberg, R-Mich., urged that nation to stand behind its new Anti-Homosexuality Act, which includes the death penalty.

Walberg’s remarks came at Uganda’s National Prayer Breakfast. His trip to attend the event was paid for by the secretive U.S. group behind the National Prayer Breakfast, congressional filings show.

As the keynote speaker of the Entebbe event, Walberg advised Uganda to “stand firm” on the new law. Walberg can be seen in video of the event listening to, endorsing and associating himself with the remarks of other speakers. Speakers called LGBTQ+ advocates “a force from the bottom of hell” and urged government officials to adopt “Christocracy” over democracy.

Walberg explicitly encouraged Uganda’s leaders to resist opposition to the law from the U.S., the U.N. and other global institutions. His audience included President Yoweri Museveni, who signed the Anti-Homosexuality Act into law in May.

Museveni later said that Walberg’s presence showed his people that there were Americans who “think like us.” Walberg justified his Uganda trip as related to his official duties in part because of his role as co-chair of the Feb. 2 U.S. National Prayer Breakfast.

The Oct. 8 Uganda gathering consisted of international delegations belonging to “the national prayer breakfast movement,” according to Uganda’s prayer breakfast chair, Member of Parliament David Bahati. It was Bahati who began pushing for the bill 15 years ago.

At the time, the U.S. National Prayer Breakfast drew protests for its ties to Bahati and the efforts of his parliamentary prayer network to pass the legislation. The breakfast was run by the Fellowship Foundation, known popularly as The Family, which at the time distanced itself from Bahati and his bill.

Uganda's president, who signed the Anti-Homosexuality Act, said that Rep. Tim Walberg's presence showed his people that there were Americans who “think like us.”

Now, however, the new filing shows that The Family paid for Walberg’s trip. Walberg’s itinerary shows that the trip was planned to include the keynote speech and meetings with multiple supporters of the law, including Bahati. Both men are longtime Family insiders. Walberg’s trip marks the first time a Family leader or any American lawmaker has publicly embraced the legislation.

As TYT has reported, the original U.S. National Prayer Breakfast split in two this year, with a new organization running it, after TYT and others revealed a pattern of Family leaders using the events to bolster political networks fighting LGBTQ+ and reproductive rights around the world.

The new event’s first leader, former Sen. Mark Pryor, a Democrat from Arkansas, was abruptly replaced by an anti-LGBTQ+ crusader, Caroline Aderholt, a trustee at the anti-LGBTQ+ organization Concerned Women for America and a longtime Family leader, as is her husband, Rep. Robert Aderholt, R-Ala.

And last year’s Ugandan National Prayer Breakfast also served as a rally to resist international pressure for LGBTQ+ rights. The latest version of the Anti-Homosexuality bill, commonly known as the “Kill the Gays Bill,” was introduced shortly afterwards.

The law provides penalties of lengthy prison sentences and even execution for “aggravated homosexuality,” including “serial offenses.” Even advocating for LGBTQ+ rights can mean years behind bars under the new law. Just attempting to engage in same-sex conduct can draw a sentence of ten years.

According to Human Rights Watch, Ugandan rights groups have seen a spike in anti-LGBTQ discrimination and persecution since the bill’s introduction. Advocates in Uganda report government crackdowns on rights organizations and, since the law was enacted in May, hundreds of individual acts of violence, discrimination and even evictions.

As recently as Dec. 11, the Biden administration reiterated its demand that Uganda repeal the law and stop its official persecution. The White House cited U.S. visa restrictions and sanctions of Ugandan officials. The U.S. has suggested further economic consequences may follow.

Walberg in his remarks told Museveni and members of the Parliament to stand fast against the U.S. and the international community.

“Though the rest of the world is pushing back on you,” Walberg said, “though there are other major countries that are trying to get into you and ultimately change you, stand firm. Stand firm.”

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Walberg interpreted Biblical parables as exhortations to defy international condemnation of the law. “Worthless is the thought of the world,” he said. Drawing applause, Walberg continued: “[W]orthless, for instance, is the thought of the World Bank, or the World Health Organization, or the United Nations, or, sadly, some in our administration in America who say, ‘You are wrong for standing for values that God created,’ for saying there are male and female and God created them.’”

Referring to himself and the Ugandans there as “we,” Walberg asked, “Whose side do we want to be on? God’s side. Not the World Bank, not the United States of America, necessarily, not the U.N. God’s side.”

With the nation facing consequences that could hurt its economy, Walberg urged Ugandans not to abandon Museveni, saying, “He knows that he has a Parliament, and … even congressmen like me who will say, ‘We stand with you.’”

Museveni underscored the point. “I want to thank the congressman from Michigan, because you have seen that we have got the Western people that we see here. I’m not the only one.”

“Whose side do we want to be on?" Walberg asked. "God’s side. Not the World Bank, not the United States of America ... not the U.N. God’s side.”

Walberg’s support, Museveni said, shows Ugandans that they have allies on the far right’s two hot-button issues. “There are others, also,” Museveni told his people, “who come to tell you about homosexuals, about abortion. You now know that there are other Americans, other Western people, who think like us.”

Walberg’s remarks were first reported by the Take Care Tim blog and others. The Family’s sponsorship of Walberg’s travel has not previously been reported.

The Family has a long history of using prayer breakfasts in the U.S. and elsewhere to bolster political networks actively fighting LGBTQ+ and reproductive rights. Its earlier work in Uganda was chronicled by author Jeff Sharlet in two books — "The Family" and "C Street" — and a Netflix documentary series.

President Barack Obama and then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (a confidant of late Family leader Doug Coe) both chided The Family after Sharlet’s revelations about ties between The Family and Bahati’s legislation. At the time, Family leaders spoke out against the law.

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That has not happened this time. In the intervening years, The Family and its political allies have actively pursued, and in some cases won, right-wing victories around the world.

TYT has reported on how the participation of prominent Democrats enabled The Family and its allies to build right-wing political networks not just in Uganda, but also in Ukraine and Guatemala. Internal prayer breakfast documents obtained by TYT even showed how the event was instrumental in Family insiders radicalizing MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell.

Evangelist and global anti-LGBTQ+ crusader Franklin Graham was revealed by TYT to have been the longtime sole donor to the National Prayer Breakfast. Graham never publicly condemned the Uganda bill after its 2008 introduction.

In light of these and other revelations, leading Democrats had stopped attending the U.S. National Prayer Breakfast. They returned this year to the new event co-chaired by Walberg. Via closed-circuit connection, President Biden even welcomed attendees of The Family's parallel event, apparently unaware that the audience included powerful opponents of LGBTQ+ rights.

One month later, some of the Family guests welcomed by the U.S. president attended Burundi's National Prayer Breakfast. That event, too, served as a rally to resist international defense of LGBTQ+ rights.

At some point, Bahati asked Walberg to keynote Uganda's prayer breakfast. Bahati recalled the conversation in his own remarks at the event. He said he asked Walberg whether he was comfortable being in touch amid controversy over his new law. Walberg responded, “Don’t worry, we are on the right side of God.”

Despite Walberg’s prediction in his keynote speech that his statements “will probably get back to the national media in the United States,” his remarks were not initially picked up by U.S. media. None of the speakers, however, explicitly mentioned the Anti-Homosexuality Act’s death-penalty provisions, even when defending the law as God’s will.

Walberg said, “I expect some pushback, but I’m not gonna give in to them.” Nevertheless, he has not publicly defended the Ugandan law in statements here in the U.S., and did not respond to TYT’s questions and request for comment.

If Walberg is unwilling to say explicitly what he wanted Ugandans to stay firm about, other speakers were more direct.

First Lady Janet Musevni said, “The decision that was made this year to pass the anti-homosexual, homosexuality bill, has secured our place as a chief nation among the nations of the world.” Referring to threats of sanctions and boycotts, she asked God to help Uganda become economically independent, “so that we can never again be held hostage to these evil forces.”

Prior to Walberg’s remarks, he listened as Member of Parliament Cecilia Ogwal called LGBTQ+ people and their advocates a force from hell.

Walberg praised and applauded Ugandan MP Cecilia Ogwal, who said the "forces of LGBTQ" were "coming against Africa, attacking familyhood" and creating "all sorts of evil practices."

“There is a force from the bottom of hell attacking familyhood in our society,” Ogwal said. God, she claimed, “said ‘Go ye and multiply,’ so the moment you attack the very core of creation, you are attacking God. And that is this force which is called LGBTQ, the homosexuality forces.”

To applause and whistles and the smiles of clergy, Ogwal continued, “That is not just the mindset of developed countries against us, that is the force from hell. And the Bible tells us we are not fighting human beings. We are not fighting flesh and blood. We are not fighting Europeans. We are not fighting Americans. We are fighting the forces of hell.”

Walberg and his wife, seated at the head of the gathering, interjected only on personal issues, such as correcting the number of their grandchildren. In fact, Walberg praised Ogwal when he later took the podium.

He referred to meeting Ogwal, along with Bahati, back in 2007, and said, “There’s only one [thing] that doesn’t change and that’s God, right? But Mama Ogwal comes in second.”

Ogwal’s speech earlier in the event included a vow to “destroy” LGBTQ+ forces:

Today the forces of LGBTQ coming against Africa, attacking familyhood and creating things imaginable: The transgender, the gay, lesbians and all sorts of evil practices. Father, today we decree at this national altar that this power will not invade Uganda. We uproot them. We tear them down, and we destroy them in the mighty name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth.

Even a segment dedicated to economic issues touched on the new law. MP Anthony Esenu asked God’s help in the face of economic sanctions. “We ask you, our father,” Esenu prayed, “to give Uganda friends, to give Uganda partners, and give us avenues of accessing resources and capital to help us grow our economy even when we feel these doors are closing because we have stood our ground to obey you on matters of morality.”

The event appears to have been one of the most intensely and openly anti-LGBTQ+ prayer breakfasts in the long history of their use by Family insiders and allies to rally opposition to LGBTQ+ and reproductive rights.

As the Take Care Tim blog previously reported, at Ukraine’s National Prayer Breakfast in 2019, Walberg credited the events and Christian networking for helping to get then-President Donald Trump to back their views on family and abortion.

Walberg’s Uganda itinerary included parliamentary meetings “to discuss the role of faith and stewardship in governance.” There was no mention of LGBTQ+ rights, but the itinerary said that, “Walberg will lead conversations on climate stewardship, commerce and energy.” (Walberg has acknowledged humanity’s role in climate change, but said that “if there’s a real problem, [God] can take care of it.”)

The itinerary said that after the prayer breakfast, Walberg was set to participate in a seminar on “The Leader of Character and Faith.” It said that Walberg would “speak on being a leader with strong convictions.”

Despite his speech urging defiance of official U.S. policy, Walberg’s travel filing says that “Meeting and strengthening relationships with global leaders will improve the United States’ relationships with foreign countries.”

The congressional disclosure form for sponsored travel asks members of Congress to explain how their trip “is connected to …official or representational duties.” Walberg’s office in his filing wrote that the trip was connected to his duties because of his role at the Feb. 2 National Prayer Breakfast attended by Biden and leading congressional Democrats.

“Rep. Walberg was a co-host of the National Prayer Breakfast and a member of the Prayer Caucus,” his form says.

Opening the U.S. National Prayer Breakfast in February, Walberg’s co-chair, Rep. Lucy McBath, D-Ga., stood beside him and said, “I have faith that our unity this morning can extend beyond these doors and shape the work that we have ahead of us.”

Walberg responded, “This is a prayer breakfast that will have impact.”

By Jonathan Larsen

Jonathan Larsen is the creator of The F**king News.

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