Everywhere I go
I get slandered, libeled
I hear words I never heard in the Bible …
– Simon & Garfunkel: Keep the Customer Satisfied.
FOR WEEKS now, my fingers have been hovering over the keyboard, poised to tap out a groveling apology for my role in buggering up business at the Christian Cornerstone Café in St Neots, Cambridgeshire.
Early in January, I blogged a piece about café owner Paul Shinners based on a report that he joined a clot of Christian pastors in Uganda who used New Year’s eve, 2012, to urge the Government to get their finger out and pass what has become known as the Kill the Gays bill.
The Uganda Monitor reported:
The remarks by pastors came amidst controversies and media reports of increasing promotion of homosexuality. Rev Paul Schinners (sic) from the United Kingdom commended Uganda for the Bill, saying it was a clear stand for God. ‘There is no other nation world over that has such a plan and through this, Uganda is going to be blessed’, Rev Schinners said.
With additional input from Melanie Nathan, San Francisco-based human rights commissioner, the story took on a life of its own, and the local newspaper carried two pieces in which Shinners denied uttering those words, claimed he was not a homophobe, and – despite being a frequent flyer to Uganda to spread the “Word of God” – knew nothing of the bill.
In the latter report, Shinners said the contents of our blogs were “defamatory”, came “as a bolt from the blue” and that he:
Has written to Mr Duke and Ms Nathan demanding an apology, saying that the story was wrong and that they should have checked it with him first. From our side, the one thing we are asking for is an apology. It is the least they should be able to do. We want to be able to move on.
The accusations, said Shinners, hit Cornerstone Café hard, with staff having to shut the shop in Cambridge Street on two consecutive Saturdays because they were being subjected to abuse from people who had seen the blogs.
Some have even left permanently because of the abuse, he added, including a special needs volunteer group who ‘saw the stories and didn’t think it was the right environment’ for them.
Shinners, whose Passion for Souls group frequently travels to Rwanda, Kenya and Uganda to provide help to people in those countries, told the paper he was:
Unsure whether he will be able to return to Uganda if people interpret his actions as being supportive of anti-gay legislation.
It was bizarre and a bit like a dream. It was incredible to think that a small café in St Neots got caught up in issues in Uganda.
In a court of law, you are innocent until proven guilty. On the internet, it seems that you are guilty unless you can prove you are innocent.
Well, for starters, I have NEVER received a demand for an apology, but I did receive a call from Andrew Papworth, of the Hunts Post, asking whether I would issue a public apology.
“Sure,” I replied, and added:
The moment I receive satisfactory proof that he was misquoted and unjustly maligned, I’d be more than happy to say sorry, and retract the reports.
But, as Nathan reported yesterday:
To date Shinners has not refuted the statement and nor has he explained it, save to say he has asserted in an email statement to me and others that he is “not homophobic” and that he does not support legislation that denigrates homosexuality.
And here’s a thing: Shinners, now engaging (sort of) with local UK blogger, Daniel Law, claimed:
Finally, It is such a shame that you did not consult with us first to help make sure the legislation is not passed in Uganda. We too are against the bill and could have used our influence to help stop it if we had known earlier.
Law has tried, unsuccessfully, to meet up with Shinners, who promised to set the record straight in a statement. As of yesterday, no such statement had been issued. After the preacher cancelled the latest scheduled meeting with Law, an exasperated Law wrote to him again, asking Shinners whether, in the absence of the promised statement, he would be prepared to answer the following “yes or no” questions:
1. Do you believe the bible is the word of God?
2. Do you believe the practice of homosexuality a sin in the eyes of God?
3. Do you believe homosexuality a choice?
4. In your opinion should homosexual couples be able to marry and adopt?
5. Have you ever heard of or met Pastor Martin Ssempa?
6. Was your salary approximately £39,000 last year?
7. Was your trip to Uganda funded by your charity?
8. Before contacting the local UK newspapers to protect your reputation, did you give ANY thought to the people IN Uganda who have seen your statements supporting the bill and make any attempt to contact THEM before or after the UK papers?
Law is still is still waiting for a reply.
Meanwhile, it is reported here that a man who is a favourite be the next Pope – Ghanaian Cardinal Peter Turkson – is an ardent supporter of anti-gay legislation in African countries.
Now that news is assuredly not “a bolt out the blue”!