by Michael A. Jones
You've probably heard of Oral Roberts University before. The school, located in Oklahoma, was founded and named after one of the 20th century's most prominent evangelical leaders. Back in the day, Oral Roberts was a force to be reckoned with, having been one of the first ministers to make it big using television as a form of evangelism. His success led him to found the university in 1963, and though the school has gone through some major financial scandals in recent years, it still boasts a student population of close to 4,000 students.
Given the political beliefs of Roberts himself, it probably doesn't come as much of a surprise that Oral Roberts University's identity is closely wrapped up in social conservatism. Students are required to attend religious services at least twice a week, and there are chaplains for each floor of on-campus housing. Roberts himself used to say that he was told by God to build the school.
"Raise up your students to hear my voice, to go where my light is seen dim, where my voice is heard small, and my healing power is not known, even to the uttermost bounds of the earth. Their work will exceed yours, and in that I am well pleased," Roberts documented as the message he received from on High.
Of course, one has to wonder if the God that Oral Roberts was speaking to would be pleased today, given that Oral Roberts University champions a minister in Uganda who wants to slaughter LGBT people. That minister? His name is Martin Ssempa, and he's one of the leading pastors in Uganda pushing the country to enact a harsh Anti-Homosexuality Bill that would criminalize homosexuality with life prison sentences, and in many cases, the death penalty.
Oral Roberts University recognizes Pastor Ssempa as a member of the school's Board of Reference. The position seems rather symbolic, but those who are recognized as members of the Board of Reference are considered by Oral Roberts University to be among the most influential and respectable figures in the world. These are folks who help spread word about Oral Roberts University, and according to a school spokesperson, are used "for the purpose of credibility, for reputation, and for influence."
It's kind of odd, to say the least, that Oral Roberts University would want their reputation tied to a man like Martin Ssempa. Here is a person who advocates violence against LGBT people in Uganda. A person who shows pornographic images to families and even children, in order to stir outrage over homosexuality. A person who travels from community to community in Uganda arguing that homosexuality is an import from the west, and that anybody who is gay should be murdered or jailed. And a person who is pastor to the editor of a local paper, Rolling Stone, which continues to publish the names, faces and locations of people they believe are LGBT, with a call for these people to be hung.
Now that's some figure to have on your Board of Reference, Oral Roberts University.
Ssempa's work to demonize LGBT people has been condemned by many religious organizations, including some of his former partners. Pastor Rick Warren has distanced himself from Ssempa for the work Ssempa is doing to harm LGBT people. The Philadelphia Biblical University, which had previously awarded Ssempa an honorary degree, also blasted his anti-gay work as dangerous and harmful. And one Las Vegas megachurch, Canyon Ridge Christian Church, has continued to come under fire for their financial support of Martin Ssempa. Recently, they too have expressed concern about Ssempa's work.
That's a lot of international condemnation for the work of Pastor Ssempa. Yet Oral Roberts University continues to celebrate the guy. Reached earlier this year to comment on why they have someone like Ssempa on their Board of Reference, the university issued nothing but deafening silence.
Let's fix that. Send Oral Roberts University a message that by having someone like Martin Ssempa on a prominent university board, the school is sending a message that it supports his work to criminalize homosexuality in Uganda, and murder and imprison LGBT people. Ssempa has been completely transparent about what he wants to accomplish: he wants to see police round up LGBT people, he wants to see community members report people who are LGBT, and he wants to see straight people who support gay rights punished.
Now let's see if Oral Roberts University can be transparent. Will they condemn the work of Martin Ssempa, and remove him from their Board of Reference? Or will they lend credence, and their name, to the work that Ssempa is doing in Uganda to imprison and/or kill gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people?