The Connections Between American Fundamentalism and African Homophobia
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 naÃ¯veté 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.”