One of the founders of HTC is being criticized for her alleged ties to anti-LGBTQ religious groups on the eve of Taiwan’s historic marriage equality vote.
A pair of nonprofits run by Cher Wang, president and CEO of the well-known tech company, allegedly backed U.S.-based hate groups organizing in Taiwan ahead of a Saturday referendum on same-sex marriage. According to a report in Hong Kong’s Apple Daily, Wang’s VIA Technologies Faith Hope and Love Foundation and The Chinese Faith Hope and Love Foundation (known collectively as “Two Organizations”) have invited representatives from the International House of Prayer (IHOP) to the island “every year for the past five years.”
As early as 2013, Two Foundations reportedly sponsored a four-day summit at IHOP’s branch in the Zhongli District of Taoyuan City. That event allegedly included an address from David Sliker, a Kansas City-based missionary and author who believes same-sex marriage “doesn’t exist.”
“Marriage is not a man-made institution; thus man has no right to define, redefine, or transform what God has ordained and established sovereignly,” Sliker continued. “Marriage is from God, belongs to God, and is a prophetic declaration that He wants to make to the human race about His relationship with us.”
Founded in 1999, IHOP—which bears no relation to the famous pancake house—has sometimes been compared to Westboro Baptist Church. IHOP and its co-founder, Lou Engle, were heavily featured in God Loves Uganda, a documentary exploring the role evangelical activists played in passing the African country’s now-defunct “Kill the Gays” bill. During one scene, Engle praised the Anti-Homosexuality Act as a demonstration of God’s “righteousness.”
Engle was also active in the Prop. 8 campaign to overturn same-sex marriage in California. He referred to marriage equality as a form of “sexual insanity,” calling it “more demonic than Islam.”
But following backlash to the screening, IHOP released a statement on its website saying that it never supported the Uganda bill. The “charismatic Christian” sect also claimed it does not engage in political activity: “Our primary mandate as an organization is prayer and humanitarian action; it is not political. We are not involved in U.S. politics, let alone politics in another nation.”
The watchdog organization Right Wing Watch called the assertion that IHOP is strictly apolitical “laughable.”
In 2012, IHOP lent its weight to Rick Perry’s failed presidential campaign. Three years earlier Engle asked Rep. Michele Bachmann to lead a group prayer during a Family Research Council event taking aim at the Affordable Care Act. He requested that she pray for “forgiveness of governmental leaders where they have not looked to God.”
Pastor Joseph Chang, a leading voice in Taiwan’s pro-equality movement, told INTO that any possible ties between IHOP and Wang’s nonprofits is extremely troubling.
“[Two Foundations] should use the money to support people who are underprivileged or people who need financial support or to raise social awareness, social welfare, and social justice,” Chang claimed in a Facebook Video interview. “But they used the money to oppress LGBTQ people and to invite anti-gay Christian groups from the United States.”
IHOP is just one of a myriad number of American religious groups said to be active in Taiwan’s marriage equality debate. In September, Brian Brown of the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) recorded a YouTube video in which he proclaims that it’s a “blessing to be here in Taipei joining friends in Taiwan who are standing up for marriage as the union of a man and a woman.”
MassResistance has also gotten in on the action. When Taiwanese lawmaker Jason Hsu urged the Legislative Yuan to pass a same-sex marriage bill in December 2016, the California-based “pro-family activism” group claimed it was “working tirelessly with Taiwanese activists” to keep the legislation from moving forward.
Locally, the anti-LGBTQ campaign has been spearheaded by the Happiness for the Next Generation Alliance.
Despite the fact that Christian groups represent a small fraction of the island’s population of 25 million, lawmaker Mei-Nu Yu told INTO that the influx of donations and foreign advocacy has bought religious conservatives outsize influence in Taiwan.
“Even though religious groups are not the majority, they are very powerful because have institutions and money,” Yu said through the use of a translator.
“Take for example, Cher Wang,” the longtime LGBTQ advocate continued. “Every year she donates several hundred million dollars to these religious groups, so they have institutions and money, and are a very loud voice. They are very aggressive, so they are able to influence public opinion.”
Although Hsu did not comment on Wang’s alleged donations, he told INTO that the anti-LGBTQ campaign is “unparalleled,” extending from ubiquitous bus ads and billboards across Taipei to YouTube ads before children’s videos.
“Somehow they dominated all channels of opinion—including mainstream media and other corners of society,” he told INTO.
According to Apple Daily, it’s not known exactly how much Wang’s “Two Foundations” organization may have donated to anti-LGBTQ groups like IHOP. Over the past five years, its total expenditures have topped $388 million.
In a rally last week, the LGBTQ advocacy group Freedom to Marry claimed equality opponents spent at least $33 million on the referendum campaign.
This isn’t the first time that the corporate leader once known as Taiwan’s richest woman has been criticized for her seemingly cozy relationship with organizations opposed to marriage equality. Two years ago the website Shanghaiist claimed Wang was “bankrolling the Bread of Life Church, a leading Taiwanese megachurch with billions of New Taiwan Dollars.”
According to Shanghaiist, the influential congregation had recently commenced its campaign “to oppose same-sex marriage on the island.”
Wang has refrained from publicly commenting on allegations about her anti-LGBTQ activism—or commenting much on anything. Notoriously private, the born-again Christian gave a rare interview to the New York Times in 2008, in which she commented on how faith motivates her work. The 60-year-old told the Grey Lady that Jesus Christ “tells us you have to work hard, not be sluggish.”
Ironically enough, her tech company has experienced sluggish sales in the years since her alleged politicking first began. HTC was once responsible for the production of 10 percent of the world’s smartphones during its peak but has recently pivoted to virtual reality after being eclipsed by Apple and Samsung.
As HTC’s stock prices plummeted 90 percent over a five-year span, Wang’s fortunes went with it. Once a member of Taiwan’s wealthiest couple, she and husband Wen-Chi Chen dropped to 37th in Forbes’ list by 2015.
It remains to be seen if Wang’s dwindling influence, though, can buy anti-LGBTQ groups a win in this weekend’s national vote. If the majority of Taiwanese citizens come out in support of same-sex marriage, it stands to be the largest municipality in Asia to legalize the freedom to marry. Otherwise it would be the first to publicly vote against marriage equality.
Although previous surveys have shown that more than 71 percent of residents support same-sex marriage, sources have been more bullish. As INTO elsewhere reported, LGBTQ organizers claim the odds are likely 50-50.
Note: This story has been updated from a previous version.
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