African Antigay Politics in the Global Discourse
By Kapya Kaoma
Kapya Kaoma is a priest in the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts. He is the author of the PRA report, Globalizing the Culture Wars. He received his doctorate from Boston University.
In August 2010, more than 400 African Anglican Bishops gathered in Entebbe, Uganda, for their second All-Africa Bishops Conference, which attracted global media attention because of the debates on LGBT rights. Bishops from Rwanda, Nigeria, Uganda, and Kenya used the conference as an opportunity to speak out in favor of criminalizing homosexuality. Their antigay statements gave new life to Uganda’s notorious Anti-Homosexuality Bill, which would mandate the imprisoning and in some cases the execution of homosexuals. The bill was introduced into the Ugandan Parliament in 2009 after a seminar in March of that year in Kampala called Exposing the Homosexual Agenda, led by U.S. religious conservatives such as Scott Lively, a Holocaust revisionist who argues that LGBT-rights movements are inherently fascistic, and Don Schmierer, the director of the Exodus Institute, which claims to convert lesbians and gay men to heterosexuality. Henry Orombi, a friend of Rick Warren, the well-known pastor of the Saddleback megachurch in Orange County, California, is reported to have told the conference, “Homosexuality is evil, abnormal, and unnatural as per the Bible. It is a culturally unacceptable practice. Although there is a lot of pressure [from the West], we cannot turn our hands to support it.” Nevertheless, two African provinces, or districts, at the conference distanced themselves from such attacks: the Anglican Church of Southern Africa and the Church of the Province of Central Africa. They issued a counterstatement saying, “The majority of the provinces at this conference are being ambushed by an agenda that is contrary to the beliefs and practices of our various provinces.” Downplaying the counterstatement, the Ugandan media, which often presents Africans as united in their denunciation of LGBT people, predicted that the bishops’ voices would help pass the Anti-Homosexuality Bill.
Money from religious conservatives in the U.S. and Europe was fueling the gay war in Uganda.
During the past decade, U.S. religious conservatives have stepped up their work with African religious and political leaders to incite hatred against LGBT people. Right-wing pastors such as Warren have cultivated Ugandan religious and political leaders. Working across denominational boundaries, they have succeeded in impeding the social-justice activism of mainline churches and provided both ideological and financial backing to their African allies, in order to increase their own political power. While promoting their religious values in Africa, they present themselves as defenders of African traditions and liberal religious groups as imposing alien ideas on the continent.
Just as U.S. conservatives sided with oppressive White governments, they are now partnering with African conservatives to promote antigay sentiment and legislation.
U.S. conservative religious leaders such as Lively and Warren have traveled to Africa to spread homophobia, using rhetoric and tactics from this country’s culture wars. In May 2010, Lou Engle, an American evangelical from Kansas City and the founder of The Call Ministries, who terms homosexuality a “spirit of lawlessness,” joined the parade of U.S. conservatives warning Ugandans about the so-called homosexual agenda. According to Josh Kron of the New York Times, Engle praised Uganda’s “courage” and “righteousness” for introducing the Anti-Homosexuality Bill into parliament. Engle told Ugandans, “Today, America is losing its religious freedom. We are trying to restrain an agenda that is sweeping through the education system. Uganda has become ground zero.”