Investigation exposes influence of Religious Right on homophobia in Africa

By staff writers
November 18, 2009

Sexual minorities in Africa have become 'collateral damage' in church conflicts as US conservative evangelicals and those opposing gay priests, ministers and bishops within mainline Protestant denominations woo Africans, a groundbreaking investigation by Political Research Associates (PRA) has suggested.

Globalising the Culture Wars: US Conservatives, African Churches, and Homophobia, a new report by PRA Project Director Reverend Kapya Kaoma, examines the US Right’s promotion of an agenda in Africa which aims to criminalise homosexuality and infringe upon the human rights of LGBT people while also mobilising African clerics in US 'culture war' battles.

The report comes as Christian church leaders in the UK are also being criticised for not speaking out about a proposed new law in Uganda which would introduce the death penalty for certain homosexual activity between consenting adults.

US social conservatives, who are in the minority in mainline churches, depend on African religious leaders to legitimise their positions as their growing numbers make African Christians more influential globally. The report says these partnerships have succeeded in slowing the mainline Protestant churches’ recognition of the full equality of LGBT people.

In the United States, Kaoma focuses on “renewal” groups in The Episcopal Church, United Methodist Church USA, and Presbyterian Church USA; US conservative evangelicals and the Institute on Religion and Democracy, a neoconservative think tank that has "sought to undermine Protestant denominations’ tradition of progressive social justice work for decades".

In Africa, Kaoma investigates the ties which US conservatives have established with religious leaders in Nigeria, Uganda, and Kenya and the impact of homophobia exported from the United States to these Anglophone countries.

Kaoma argues that the US Right – once isolated in Africa for supporting pro-apartheid, white supremacist regimes – has successfully reinvented itself as the mainstream of US evangelicalism. Through their extensive communications networks in Africa, social welfare projects, Bible schools, and educational materials, US religious conservatives warn of the dangers of homosexuals and present themselves as the true representatives of US evangelicalism, so helping to marginalise Africans’ relationships with mainline Protestant churches.

"We need to stand up against the US Christian Right peddling homophobia in Africa," said Kaoma, who in recent weeks asked the US evangelist, Rick Warren, to denounce the Ugandan 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 criminalising them and threatening them with death. The scapegoating must stop."

The PRA's executive director, Tarso Luís Ramos, writes in the report's foreword: “Just as the United States and other northern societies routinely dump our outlawed or expired chemicals, pharmaceuticals, machinery, and cultural detritus on African and other Third World countries, we now export a political discourse and public policies our own society has discarded as outdated and dangerous.

“Africa’s antigay campaigns are to a substantial degree made in the USA”

Leaders within mainline Protestant denominations have welcomed the report.

"The exploitation of African Christians by right-wing organizations in the United States is reprehensible. Where were these individuals and organisations and their leaders during the struggles against colonialism and apartheid? They certainly were not standing in solidarity with the people of Africa. Today, they use a variety of corrupt practices and methods in a vain attempt to turn back the tide of history. This report reveals the truth about what is going on and should be required reading for American church leaders," said Jim Winkler, the General Secretary of the international public policy and social justice agency of The United Methodist Church.

For his 16-month investigation, Kaoma, an Anglican priest from Zambia, travelled in the United States and Uganda, Kenya, and Nigeria, attended the notorious anti-gay conference of Uganda’s Family Life Network in March and documented concerns among the region’s clergy that US conservatives are contributing to corruption among bishops with their lax requirements for donated funds.

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