A year after participating in a conference that has been linked to spawning the latest wave of anti-gay hostility in Uganda, Exodus International released a statement this week denouncing the country's Anti-Homosexuality Bill.
"Exodus International believes that every human life, regardless of an individual's sexual behavior, is of inestimable worth to God and that defending this principle is foundational in offering a Christian response to any issue," reads a statement issued by the Board of Directors of Exodus International and its North American membership. "Exodus International has not and will not support any legislation that deprives others of life and dignity including, but not limited to, Uganda's Anti-Homosexuality Bill of 2009."
The legislation was proposed last October, months after Uganda hosted a conference featuring three American speakers. They spoke on "Exposing the Truth behind Homosexuality and the Homosexual Agenda."
Among the speakers was Exodus board member Don Schmierer.
The conference drew criticism for its support of the criminalization of homosexuality and enforced therapy for gays. Homosexuality is already illegal in Uganda and can come with the penalty of life imprisonment but the proposed bill strengthens the law and also introduces the death penalty for those convicted of "aggravated homosexuality."
Alan Chambers, president of Exodus International, recently expressed regret for participating in the conference and hoped to clarify the organization's position through ABC News, which produced an investigative piece on the issue earlier this month.
"I am disappointed that Exodus won't be heard in this piece," Chambers wrote on the blog of Warren Throckmorton, who started a grassroots movement to oppose the bill. "Sadly, Don Schmierer declined the interview and our request to go on record with ABC was denied. I would have loved nothing better than to share our disdain for this bill and apologize for going anywhere near such a horrible conference."
Leaders at Exodus International – which claims to be the world's largest Christian referral and information network dealing with homosexual issues – sent a letter in November to Ugandan President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni and First Lady Musenevi expressing concerns regarding the bill. But this week's statement is considered to be Exodus' first official one.
Schmierer was among the signatories.
"We believe that sexual crimes against children, whether committed by someone of the same or opposite sex, are the most serious of offenses and should be punished; we consider same-sex behavior in consensual adult relationships another matter," reads the statement, released Monday on the organization's blog.
Exodus board members and other ministry leaders affirm that homosexual behavior was not part of God's creative intent for human sexual expression, but they state that the Christian church must remain a safe, compassionate and confidential place.
"The Christian church must be permitted to extend the love and compassion of Christ to all, regardless of an individual's adherence to scripture," they say in the statement. "We believe that such legislation would make this mission a difficult, if not impossible, task to carry out."
They also note that "government coercion" is not the answer.
As some of the signatories, including Chambers, previously struggled with same-sex attractions, they stressed, "[I]t wasn't through coercion that Christ set us free, but through the gracious invitation He extended to us for relationship and the freedom He gave us to choose our own path."