Uganda’s new anti-homosexuality law currently on the table,
before Parliament, is an especially vicious piece of legislation that seeks to
impose life imprisonment and the death penalty upon those who are involved
in “homosexual crimes.”. In this
era of growing rights, in the United States, for LGBT individuals, one may be
excused for thinking that laws like the one in Uganda are completely unrelated
to the Christian, religious right in the U.S., responsible in large part for the
onslaught of attacks against LGBT equal rights in this country. However,
according to “Globalizing the Culture
Wars”, a new report produced by Political Research Associates and released
today, laws like the one in Uganda can be seen as the direct result of a campaign by United States neoconservative
religious groups to use Africa as another player in the culture wars they have
fomented on American soil for many years.
After a rigorous 16-month research and on-the-ground
investigative period, Zambian Anglican priest Kapya Kaoma, author of the PRA
report, found that U.S. conservatives are working in collusion with African
clerics (specifically, the report focuses on Uganda, Nigeria and Kenya.), in
three denominations (The Episcopal Church, The United Methodist Church and The
Presbyterian Church), to counter any progress mainline U.S. churches are
working towards, around LGBT issues, as well as to stir increased homophobia in Africa.
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What “LGBT issues” are we talking about?
According to the report, American conservatives, by
involving African clerics in these three countries, have managed to almost
completely halt recognition by these churches of the full equality of LGBT
individuals in the U.S. including the ordination of LGBT clergy. But, of course,
this crusade by U.S. conservatives is having even more dire consequences on
African soil, leading to a growing and increasingly violent homophobia
throughout Uganda, Nigeria and Kenya; violence that is typified in the Ugandan
bill before Parliament.
The campaign uses many tactics to engage African clerics to
help carry out their anti-gay agenda including presenting churches’ commitments
to human rights as “imperialistic” and reminiscent of colonialism, ie,
homosexuality is purely a Western-imposed phenomenon. One of the leaders in
this fight is the arch-conservative Institute for Religion and Democracy (IRD).
The IRD, maybe unsurprisingly, opposed African liberation struggles, says the
report, and works ceaselessly against
civil rights for LGBT individuals in the United States. They, along with
other U.S. based religious institutions, have provided financial incentives to
African clergy in return for strong support of their anti-gay agenda.
Of course, the IRD is by far the only player in these global
culture wars. From the report:
Conservative U.S. evangelicals play a strong role in
promoting homophobia in Africa by spreading their views and underwriting the
widespread conservative educational, social service, and financial
infrastructure. Right-wing groups have enticed African religious leaders to
reject funding from mainline denominations – which require documentation of how
the money is spent – and instead to accept funds form conservatives. This money
usually goes to individual bishops without accountability or oversight for how
it is used.
The truth is that Conservative leaders in this country, like
Pastor Rick Warren, have put tremendous effort into cultivating relationships
with African clerics who can help further their strong anti-gay agenda, while
simultaneously contributing to the vicious homophobia in African nations.
Pastor Warren has strong ties to Pastor Martin Ssempa, a conservative, religious
leader in Uganda who has been the recipient of PEPFAR funds (the U.S. AIDS plan
which distributes funding for HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment) and is
extremely vocal and active about his homophobic beliefs. There are many
churches in Uganda, and other African nations, that are the direct recipients
of U.S. federal funding via PEPFAR, used to implement clear religious agendas
(vocally supported by Pastor Warren) such as requirements for spending a share of funding on
According to the blog Box Car Bulletin, Pastor Ssempa
played a “prominent role” in the (false) accusations that a Ugandan megachurch
pastor named Robert Kayanja was gay. These accusations led to the kidnap and
torture of one of Kayanja’s personal aides.
In Jeff Sharlet’s book, “The
Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power” (named for a clandestine organization of hard-core U.S.
fundamentalist leaders Sharlet uncovers and infiltrates), this highly secretive
organization calls Ugandan President Museveni, the man under whose watch the
insidious, horrific anti-gay Ugandan legislation has been offered, “their man in Uganda” and “a good
friend” of The Family.
The blog Truth Wins Out reports
that, “In March [of 2009], American anti-gay activists traveled to Uganda for a
conference that pledged to “wipe out” homosexuality. Seven months later, a draconian bill has
been introduced that pledges to make good on this threat.”
Kaoma implores readers to take action knowing now the clear
connection between American religious leaders and the hateful on-the-ground
results in Africa:
We need to stand up against the U.S. Christian Right
peddling homophobia in Africa," said Kaoma, who in recent weeks asked U.S.
evangelist Rick Warren to denounce the bill and distance himself from its
supporters. "I heard church people in Uganda say they would go door to
door to root out LGBT people and now our brothers and sisters are being
further targeted by proposed legislation criminalizing them and threatening
them with death. The scapegoating must stop.
There is a web of entanglement between U.S. evangelicals,
fundamentalists, conservatives and African clergy that exists to maintain a
power structure and a severe homophobic agenda that serves these hard-core
religious groups. The report ends with a list of recommendations that includes
exposing and confronting U.S. religious conservatives (like Pastor Rick Warren)
who foment homophobia in Africa, exposing the financial ties between African
conservatives and various American institutions (like our very own federal
government), and maybe most importantly supporting African activists and
scholars to lead the struggle for LGBT rights and the study of sexuality in
The U.S. neo-conservative movement is working tirelessly to
push a religious agenda in Africa that serves their own purposes. As we
continue the fight for LGBT rights in our own country, the report reminds us
that it is critical we use our peripheral vision to see the bigger picture if
we are to truly win the war against religious evangelicalism’s homophobia, and
not just individual battles.