Who else feels bad for Scott Lively (pictured), Caleb Lee Brundidge, and Don Schmierer? We sure do! After all, these three American men traveled to Uganda with the noble purpose of spreading the anti-gay gospel, and all they got was a lousy reputation of instigating the country’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill. Schmierer, a board member at Exodus International, which advocates conversion therapy says he’s been “duped” by Uganda’s faith-based power players, who, though no fault of these Americans, took their homophobic messages and turned them into a push to to legally execute gays. But don’t bother with the New York Times archaically late news report about these three men who are now on the defensive, claiming their good intentions have been misappropriated in a foreign land.
Because Kapya Kaoma, an Anglican priest for Zambia, and author of the Political Research Associates’ October report “Globalizing the Culture Wars: U.S. Conservatives, African Churches and Homophobia,” has a much more concrete analysis about how these American hate leaders helped lead Uganda’s own gay witch hunt. And how, really, Uganda’s situation isn’t all that unique.
If they had faced strong opposition, U.S. conservatives might not have been so successful in promoting their homophobic politics. Traditionally, evangelical African churches have been biblically and doctrinally orthodox but socially progressive on such issues as national liberation and poverty, making them natural partners of the politically liberal western churches. But their religious orthodoxy also provides the U.S. Right with an opportunity. Africans resonate with the denunciation of homosexuality as a postcolonial plot; their homophobia is as much an expression of resistance to the West as it is a statement about human sexuality. Similarly campaigns for “family values” in Africa rest on rich indigenous notions of the importance of family and procreation. In Africa, “family” expresses the idea that to be human is to be embedded in community, a concept called ubuntu. African traditional values also value procreation, making those hindering this virtue an enemy of life (see box 2).
Although Rick Warren’s involvement in Africa is the most celebrated, and Lively’s perhaps the most notorious, they are not the first U.S. conservative evangelicals to influence African policies. Pat Robertson’s television show The 700 Club is watched across sub-Saharan Africa. Yet most Africans are not aware that Robertson supported the civil war in Angola and the oppressive White governments of Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and South Africa. He was one of many U.S. conservative evangelicals, some of whom came to Africa as missionaries in the 1980s, who sided with those White minority governments in their effort to stop the spread of liberation theology. Allied with them was – and is – the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD), a U.S. neoconservative group that also supported the White regimes and challenged the National Council of Churches as a group of dangerous Marxists supporting subversion. The group formed in 1981 with the goal of weakening and splitting U.S. mainline denominations in order to block their powerful progressive social witness promoting social and economic justice.
[…] The torrential flow of conservative Christian resources to Africa helps wash away the memory of their alliances with White regimes. Through their extensive communication networks in Africa, social welfare projects, Bible schools, and educational materials, U.S. religious conservatives warn of the dangers of homosexuals and present themselves as the true representatives of U.S. evangelicalism, effectively marginalizing mainline U.S. churches that once had strong relationships on the continent. 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 from conservatives, further empowering the U.S. evangelical viewpoint while giving local bishops the opportunity to line their pockets.
To reach Africans, U.S. evangelicals now broadcast their Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) and Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN) throughout sub-Saharan Africa. Although generally disinterested in helping poor Blacks in their own backyard, in Africa U.S. White conservatives driven to convert the continent dominate social services, run orphanages, schools and universities, and provide loans. These conservatives and evangelical charities like World Vision, Solar Light for Africa, and the IRD-founded Five Talents use their presence in Africa to address the question of homosexuality from a conservative albeit misleading position. In this way, almost all U.S. conservative Christians working in Africa are responsible for exporting homophobia to Africa.
Indeed, Africans do not distinguish between moderate evangelicals in World Vision and Hard Right figures like Scott Lively. For them, the term “evangelical” conveys the notion of Protestant Christianity as a whole, without the substantive distinctions made by U.S. religious groups. And U.S. conservative evangelicals support diverse Anglican, Presbyterian and Pentecostal church leadership in Africa with which they share no denominational tie. For instance, the Providence Christian Reformed Church in Holland, Michigan is not an Episcopal congregation yet it provides funding to the Anglican Church of Uganda. Some U.S. support goes directly to salaries, and has since 1998, as Reverend Aaron Mwesigyi of the Ugandan archibishop’s office explained.
The evidence is damning. This is about the globalization of irrational fears and hatred, and to believe the phenomenon, and danger, is limited to Uganda is to sell U.S. conservatives short. These are brilliant, brilliant people. Continues Kaoma:
Despite historical evidence of homosexuality in Africa long before the Europeans arrived, most conservative African religious and political leaders now view homosexuality as a Western export, and a form of imperialism and neocolonialism. And of course, U.S. conservatives exploit and encourage this belief.
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, whose wife is a close ally of Rick Warren, warned, “It is a danger not only to the believers but to the whole of Africa. It is bad if our children become complacent and think that people who are not in order are alright… These foreigners should go and practice their nonsense elsewhere.”
Because Africans are sensitive to neocolonialism, the conservative claim that homosexuality is part of a “Western agenda” gives African church leaders ammunition to demand greater influence and power in the affairs of the church. Denouncing homosexuality is Africa’s way of claiming power over the western world. In this regard, when Africans claim that homosexuality is un-African, they are pointing to a politics of postcolonial identity.
This history gives the struggle greater depth and tenacity, and for that reason, African involvement in U.S. church issues will continue. Moreover, rejecting what is claimed to be an imposition from the West gives them power both within the African context and with American conservatives of all persuasions.
Ironically enough, although American conservatives repeatedly accuse progressives of being imperialist, it is their dealings with Africa that are extremely imperialistic. Their flow of funds creates a form of clientelism, with the expectation that the recipients toe an ideological line. They put words into the mouths of their African church allies, even writing or rewriting their anticolonial statements to reflect U.S. conservative concerns.
Go read the whole thing.