The Connections Between American Fundamentalism and African Homophobia

Jim Burroway

August 24th, 2010

For the past year and a half, we have been carefully documenting the link between American anti-gay fundamentalism and evangelicalism and the wave of anti-gay hatred that has been sweeping across the African continent, particularly in Uganda. Jeff Sharlet, author of The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power, has a new book coming out in late September, C Street: The Fundamentalist Threat to American Democracy, in which he details the extensive network operating between American fundamentalists and Ugandan politicians. Excerpts from that forthcoming book are the basis for two articles out in September. The first one is available on newsstands now. It’s “Straight man’s burden: The American roots of Uganda’s anti-gay persecutions,” which is in the September issue of Harper’s Magazine. The second article is in next month’s The Advocate, and it is available online:

“Spiritual war” is a theological term, but in Uganda — ground zero for an explosion in violent homophobia across Africa — it’s taking increasingly concrete form. For the Ugandan government, that’s a pragmatic strategy as much as a spiritual one. Since 1986, Uganda has been ruled by an autocrat, Yoweri Museveni, who correctly guessed that American evangelicals eager to do good works and to save the heathen could be a big source of income for his regime.

“We have a primary, a secondary, and a high school,” Tommy said of Faithful Servants International Ministries. “Four hundred and fifty children, two meals a day, and we go into two hospitals and three prisons. We can’t do all that ourselves of course, so we have nine ministers. And our own seminary!”

Sharlet asked them what they thought of the proposed Anti-Homosexuality Bill, which would add the death sentence for those convicted of homosexuality under certain circumstances, would outlaw all advocacy on behalf of LGBT people, would make criminals of anyone who tried to offer services for or rent housing to gay people, and would penalize teachers and family members who failed to report gay people to police. Tommy replied:

“Well, I’m totally against killing them. Because some of them can be saved, and changed. But the thing is, you can’t force them to stop. It’s been tried! But it don’t work.” He shook his head over the problem on all sides — the homosexuals, themselves, and his Ugandan friends, so on fire for the gospel that they’d gone too far in an antigay crusade. That’s how it is with Ugandans, he explained. They’re a bighearted people, but they get ahead of themselves sometimes. That’s where Americans could help.

“What they need,” Tommy proposed, “is a special place, like, for people doing homosexual things to learn different. A camp, like.”

“Keep them all in one place?” I asked.

“Yes. I think that’s what we have to try,” he said. “Because the thing is, the Bible says we can’t kill them. And we can’t put them in prison because that’d be like putting a normal fella in a whorehouse!” Teresa chuckled with her husband. A camp in which to concentrate the offenders — that was the compassionate solution.

MP David Bahati, sponsor of the odious legislation, told Jeff Sharlet that based on his Bible, he is willing to kill every gay person in Africa. Sharlet’s article weaves together all the major players that we’ve been covering piecemeal, post by post, (David Bahati, Julius Oyet , James Nsaba Buturo, Lou Engle, Scott Lively and others) and synthesizes it all together with lots of added information drawn from his travels in Uganda and meeting with the major movers and shakers behind the bill.

But, he writes, “it’s American evangelicals, through naïveté in some cases and hate in others, who have done the most damage.” And he makes a very strong case for it, observing that now that American evangelicals are losing the anti-gay battle here at home, they have established a new tradition, “the practice of exporting a religious battle you’re losing somewhere far out on the edges and then declaring victory there as a precedent for revival back home.”


August 24th, 2010

I don’t think it’s US Fundamentalists that have done the real damage. It’s a bit Colonialist to suggest that the US is exporting these rabidly homophobic views to a place that would be innocent of them otherwise. Africa, like any other region of the world is perfectly capable of creating it’s own monsters. Scapegoating one group of people to increase your own group’s power has long been a major part of politics everywhere. Differences between tribes, different religions, now homophobia, it’s just a long list of people being isolated and demonised to increase the power of one group at the expense of another.

That US Fundamentalists are bankrolling it to some extent and even giving ammunition via patently made up science and propaganda is evil though. But without it it would still be going on, as it is in every part of the world. At least in the US you can now point to these rabid Fundamentalists and show that they’re willing to get into bed with other monsters. Even going as far as to support concentration camps and the death penalty for being different.

Don’t blame it all on the US fundamentalists though. There are evil people willing to do evil things everywhere.

Wherever people don’t have a decent standard of living and the support that a good job and a good welfare system provide, those people will be amenable to accepting scapegoats to blame for their poor condition. If you want to blame people for intolerance and frankly evil points of view, blame the powerful all over the world that keep people in poverty rather than working to make things better. They rarely do want to make things better though because if they did they’d be doing themselves out of an easy way to that power.

The only way to get rid of homophobia and intolerance is to take away it’s support structure by giving people a decent standard of living.


August 24th, 2010

I totally agree with Akheloios on this subject.

Priya Lynn

August 24th, 2010

Akheloios is overblowing the connection between homophobia and poverty. There’s lots of homophobia in the relatively wealthy U.S. and many, many of the worst homophobes are very wealthy. Getting rid of poverty won’t eradicate homophobia.

As to this not being the fault of U.S. evangelicals, that’s hard to buy given that the kill the gays bill was introduced shortly after the anti-gay efforts of Lively and his crew in Uganda.


August 24th, 2010

I’m not sure the argument of whose “fault” the damage is, is really the important question … I also don’t see that drawing a connection between American evangelicals and the Ugandan anti-gay crusade is necessarily a claim of Colonialism, or a removal of the burden of guilt from the homophobes in Uganda.

Regardless of whether they triggered the current chain of events with their visits over the past few years or merely contributed to them, that doesn’t absolve them from their shared responsibility for the damage that’s being done. American evangelicals have given the Ugandan homophobes spiritual weapons, and have lent them a false air of respectability and authority; they’ve injected themselves into this war and now share the blame for whatever evil happens as a result.

Leonardo Ricardo

August 24th, 2010

As recent as a few hours ago Archbishop Henry Orombi of Uganda (who is ¨sort-of-hosting-without-paying-for¨ the African Anglican Bishops Conference in Entebbe, Uganda…funded by a grant from Trinity Church/Wall Street) fired another round of anti-lgbt shotgun debris over the head of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams…another schismatic warning shot from Bishop Henry who has already recognized the ¨schismatic¨ anti-gay crusaders in North America.

It seems to me that Orombi will defend his religiously patrolled outcasting of LGBT Anglicans/others no matter what…afterall, Orombi still has two State Supreme Court APPEALS pending (Georgia and California) in the United States after being denied his right to thieve/poach on Episcopal Church Property…yes, stubborn to the end (one could hope his House of Bishops may sometime revolt because of his revolting/ego-driven behavior and throw the bigoted bum out).

Leonardo Ricardo

August 24th, 2010

Sorry, the ¨gunshot debris fired¨ was of the VERBAL nature…not guns, no weapons other than Bishop Orombis smoking mouth.


August 24th, 2010

There’s lots of homophobia in the relatively wealthy U.S. and many, many of the worst homophobes are very wealthy

I’m certainly not going to argue that with you, there’s a lot of homophobia everywhere, as well as racism, sexism, intolerance for other religions etc.

But you only get large scale movements to demonise sections of society where people want to accept that their lives are threatened directly by these other groups.

There are always going to be unpleasant people, especially when those people are powerful and surrounded with yes men types who don’t threaten their world view with such unpleasant things as facts.

But to get a real pogrom, you need powerful unpleasant people cynically tapping into wellsprings of ignorance and anger.

You can attempt to prevent the rich and powerful from leading pogroms, but by definition they’re rich and powerful. To have any real chance to stop them, you have to deal with the people who are so ready to follow them. The best way to do that, as has been shown in recent research into racism in the UK, is to integrate the threatened minority into local communities to show that people are people no matter what their sexual preference, religion or race is, and to raise standards of living so that people don’t feel directly threatened by someone easily identified as a minority.

The research in question showed that the support for the racist and homophobic neo-Nazi BNP party in the UK was lowest in integrated communities where lots of different minorities lived together, and highest in communities that didn’t have have a mix of different minorities and had a large number of low paid/out of work white people who felt directly threatened by the risk of ‘minorities’ taking their jobs.

That’s why Pride events and other forms of outreach, as well as strong welfare and education systems, are so important. As you’ll notice it’s usually the homophobes/racists who are the most in favour of dismantling the welfare and education systems in most countries.

Eric in Oakland

August 24th, 2010

Akheloios: “That’s why Pride events and other forms of outreach, as well as strong welfare and education systems, are so important. As you’ll notice it’s usually the homophobes/racists who are the most in favour of dismantling the welfare and education systems in most countries.”

Those who are in favor of dismantling welfare and education systems are probably not people who are directly benefiting from those programs, or they would not advocate dismantling them. That should demonstrate that those particular homophobes and racists are not likely to be welfare beneficiaries.


August 24th, 2010

@ Eric

But the people who push most for their dismantling are the ones most threatened by their success. A good education positively correlates with liberal attitudes, a good job positvely correlates with liberal attitudes, a good welfare system positively correlates with a lack of Fundamentalism.

Get rid of education, job security and welfare, and you see a rise in extremist views.

Improve them and you see a reduction in extremist views.

So if you’re a politician or religious leader who hopes to gain power via the mob, you attack programs that make the mob less likely. If that’s too cynical a view, then you can say that politicians that actively dismantle such programs innocently because of economic ideology get support from the mob and the mobs grows because of the lack of such programs, increasing their ability to attack the programs yet again through positive feedback.

Whether it’s conscious evil or just a vicious circle via ideology and ignorance, the outcome is the same. The only way out of it is to end the cycle and improve standards of living.

Priya Lynn

August 24th, 2010

Akheloios said “I’m certainly not going to argue that with you, there’s a lot of homophobia everywhere, as well as racism, sexism, intolerance for other religions etc.

But you only get large scale movements to demonise sections of society where people want to accept that their lives are threatened directly by these other groups….”

In that comment of yours you went into a discussion of the roots of homophobia and its cures that had nothing to with poverty. You did a great jof of making my point that poverty is not the primary “support structure” of homophobia. I have nothing to add.

Priya Lynn

August 24th, 2010

Akheloios said “a good job positvely correlates with liberal attitudes”.

There is no correlation between good jobs and political affiliation:


August 24th, 2010


You’re partially correct. Economic desperation tends to create a breeding ground for bigotry. That has been demonstrated throughout history, and it explains a lot of what’s going on in Uganda now.

But it’s U.S. evangelicals who deserve the blame for helping to channel that bigotry toward GLBT people and amplifying it with anti-gay conferences and prayer revivals and distribution of disinformation, working off of homophobic ground laid by the Christian missionaries who accompanied European colonizers in earlier times.

I’m not against education and poverty relief, of course, but I’m not sure how much it would help the GLBT people there, at least not within the next several decades. After all, Botswana is a middle-income country, and it still has sodomy laws on the books; Singapore is one of the richest countries in the world, and homophobia is still a big issue there and a major reason why it hasn’t repealed the old British sodomy law.


August 24th, 2010

Exploring the Roots of BNP Support

It’s not the immigrant’s fault that BNP voters are badly educated

As far as the UK goes, the BNP is linked explicitly with the white working class people with low paid/part-time/contractual work who believe they are threatened by immigration, who have had poor education and live in areas with low integration. This is the largest extremist Party in the UK with well documented homophobic and racist views.

Priya Lynn

August 24th, 2010

Uh-huh. And what evidence do you have that the situation in the UK is applicable to the rest of the world?


August 24th, 2010


I can accept that places like Singapore and the US have high GDP and yet have high levels of homophobia, but they are also countries with high levels of income disparity. Poverty can be considered relative when considered by a country by country basis.

Rich countries with a low GINI co-efficient tend to be more liberal and less homophobic. Where Rich countries with a higher co-efficient can be as extremist as countries with a low GDP.

As GDP goes go up, along with equalising measures such as education, welfare and the chances of having a good job, which increase the standard of living, the country tends to be more liberal.


August 24th, 2010

And what evidence, pray tell, do you have that the situation in the US is applicable to the rest of the world?

Priya Lynn

August 24th, 2010

None, but I’m not the one claiming there is a correlation between political affiliation and good jobs. The onus is on the person (you) making the claim to prove it, not on me to disprove it.

Priya Lynn

August 24th, 2010

And I should add that even if there was correlation, correlation does not equal causation.


August 24th, 2010

My primary point was that ignorance and fear are the primary causatives of intolerance, and that a good education, a good welfare system and a good job are ameliorators of ignorance and fear.

I’ve provided ample evidence of that.

Eric in Oakland

August 25th, 2010

@ Akheloios

“So if you’re a politician or religious leader who hopes to gain power via the mob, you attack programs that make the mob less likely. If that’s too cynical a view, then you can say that politicians that actively dismantle such programs innocently because of economic ideology get support from the mob and the mobs grows because of the lack of such programs, increasing their ability to attack the programs yet again through positive feedback.”

But the mobs you speak of don’t want welfare and education dismantled because they benefit from them. What these mobs want is a scapegoat for their problems that the leaders cannot quickly fix. Furthermore, this does not properly address the motives of the politicians and religious leaders who promote racism and homophobia. That is not an economic ideology but a religious and sectarian one. The countries that you note are more liberal and economically adjusted have one other thing in common (something the United States does not share). They are much more secular.


August 25th, 2010


You’re quite right, I’ve spent a day looking at the evidence and I can’t support the link I suggested between poverty and homophobia.

@ Eric

Yeah, that’s what I’ve been seeing today. It’s the end of church dominated politics that’s the kicker. That there’s a link between better welfare provision and the diminishing power of the church due to people not having to rely on the church for support has been well documented.

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