Let’s don’t now argue over whether Christianity is, on balance, good or bad for human societies. I can come up with pretty good arguments for both sides of such a debate.
And let’s don’t argue whether or not earnest followers of Jesus, especially those who energetically attempt to convince people that their version of Christianity is the Truth, mean to do good, to improve society, to make the world a better place. Let’s assume at this point that they have the best of intentions.
But let us take a sober look at one case in the world where we know, we absolutely know, that Christianity, in its American evangelical form, has done, and is still doing, a lot of harm.
Let’s look at Uganda.
You probably remember that in February of this year, Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni signed “The Anti Homosexuality Bill” (that’s actually the title of the legislation) into law, which would criminalize “any form of sexual relations between person of the same sex” and would criminalize “the promotion or recognition of such sexual relations.” So, if you do it or get close to doing it, you’re in trouble. And even if you don’t do it but promote it or recognize it you still have a big problem.
I will spare you the definitional details written into the law about what constitutes sexual activity, but you should know that anyone who so much as “touches another person with the intention of committing the act of homosexuality” can be convicted and thrown in prison, where we know, of course, there is no homosexuality going on. Serial offenders can get life sentences (that is an improvement over the original draft that called for the death penalty, which is why people like Rachel Maddow were calling it the Kill The Gays bill.)
And the crime called “promotion of homosexuality,” which includes anyone who “acts as an accomplice or attempts to promote or in any way abets homosexuality and related practices,” can also get you some time in the slammer.
Oh, I almost forgot. The authors of this totalitarian piece of legislation thought of everything. Don’t imagine you are safe if you are a Ugandan who has gay sex or promotes homosexuality outside of Uganda. The government may attempt to get you extradited so you can face justice at home.
Now, there is a long tradition of such anti-gay laws in most of the West. Ecclesiastical courts in Europe once handled such matters, since they were considered offenses against God. But starting with the “Buggery Act 1533,” passed by the English parliament during Henry VIII’s time on the throne, sodomy became a civil offense. And up until 1861 the punishment was death. These days most Western countries have done away with such laws in one form or another (the U.S. Supreme Court officially invalidated sodomy laws in 2003), but in some parts of the world, including in the former British colony Uganda, there is still fierce opposition to homosexuality.
According to the research firm Consultancy Africa Intelligence,
The majority of countries around the world that still criminalise homosexuality are former British colonies or territories. Sodomy laws are a common feature in 16 of the 18 African Commonwealth nations.
Make no mistake about it, in Western societies and in the colonies and territories they used to control, the opposition to homosexuality was (and is) largely based on biblical literalism, the kind that has pretty much gone out of fashion for all but conservative brands of Christianity. And those particular expressions of conservative Christianity are motivated by the Great Commission, in which Jesus commanded true believers to,
Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost…Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you…
If that sounds like a form of Christian colonizing to you, you are not alone. Reverend Kapya Kaoma, an Anglican priest and human rights activist from Zambia who has documented the attempt by American evangelicals to portray homosexuality as “evil,” has claimed that what American conservative Christians are doing in Africa is essentially “colonizing African values.” He writes:
Over the decades, the U.S. Christian Right has invested vast resources in promoting their ideologies across sub-Saharan Africa through schools, universities, and perhaps most visibly, in the television empires of Christian Broadcasting Network and Trinity Broadcasting Network.
Kaoma notes that we first saw the extent of such influence during the initial controversy, beginning in 2009, over the anti-homosexuality bill that Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni signed into law this year. Despite worldwide denunciation of the disturbing legislation, conservative Christians were successful in “painting LGBT-rights campaigners as neocolonialist intruders,” and eventually “anti-gay protests, policies, and violence increased.” Kaoma says,
Homophobia proved a powerful rallying point for many established leaders on the continent…These leaders found they could earn easy support from religious factions, while winning nationalist votes for denouncing the West as neocolonial.
You have to admit that the whole thing is pretty slick. The evangelicals are really trying to colonize African spirituality and morality by attacking homosexuality, but they are doing so by calling the defenders of human rights the real neocolonialists. And they are largely able to do all of this these days because of a coincidental relationship between African spirituality and American Pentecostal (called “charismatic” in many places) Christianity, which have in common the idea that religion is central to everything in life and that there are unseen forces at work around us at all times. When I was a Bible-believing Christian, I was part of the Pentecostal-charismatic-prosperity gospel movement and I understand what Kaoma means when he writes:
In Africa, Pentecostalism resonates with indigenous African religions and African-initiated churches holding strong belief in spirits and exorcism, speaking in tongues, prophecy, and convulsions when demons are cast out of people.
That explains why American Christians, especially those who believe that demon possession is real, are so popular in Africa and why their proposals to criminalize homosexuality and abortion, demonic to the core, are so popular. A Pew poll found that in Uganda, nearly half of the country has “experienced or witnessed the devil or evil spirits being driven out of a person.” Exploiting this ignorance, and then tying it to homosexuality (and abortion), is why that same Pew poll found that nearly 80% of Ugandans, for instance, think “homosexual behavior” is “morally wrong” (98% of Kenyans so think).
And that is why when the Ugandan president signed that notorious anti-gay bill this year, the Associated Press published the following photo of “Ugandan pupils from different schools” who were taking part “in an event organised by born-again Christians to celebrate the signing of a new anti-gay bill that sets harsh penalties for homosexual sex”:
This sad picture, this sad picture that shows kids, African kids who have been brainwashed by American theological colonizers, celebrating a form of hatred is why we here in America must be diligent to, at every turn possible, aggressively challenge the kind of religious zeal and bigotry that leads to such misguided celebrations and such hatred.
In an article posted today at Vox (“The story behind how American Evangelicals exported homophobia to Uganda”), we learn more about one guy who is trying to make evangelical zealots uncomfortable. Roger Ross Williams, a filmmaker who has won an Academy Award, made a movie last year called “God Loves Uganda,” which Vox says,
tells the story of how Americans — both abrasive political leaders and fresh-faced kids from the Midwest — exported their anti-gay culture wars to Ugandan soil.
Those fresh-faced kids from the Midwest are affiliated with an evangelical Pentecostal-charismatic organization—headquartered here in Missouri—called the International House of Prayer, whose founder allegedly heard a voice that told him to “raise up a work that will touch the ends of the earth” and who has had Apostle Paul-like experiences of visiting “the throne-room of God.” These are the kinds of people doing such disturbing things in Africa and elsewhere.
Roger Ross Williams says the anti-gay law in Uganda,
is incredibly popular because the Ugandan public has been mislead to believe homosexuals and homosexuality are a threat to their life. But actually, homophobia is the real western import starting with the first missionary and sodomy laws.
He was asked, “Do you really think the average American evangelical is a party to state-sponsored homophobia in Uganda? He responded:
An American Christian does not want to condone violence or hatred, no matter if they believe something is sin or not. But we need to keep hate out of the collection plate, and challenge pastors: you might think you’re giving money to orphans, but make sure it’s not funding homophobia! Religion is the biggest business in Africa. It’s about exposing this to Americans so they can stop the flow of money to big, massive homophobic churches that throw hate rallies. This is the reality this is what it’s like over there.
I hope Williams is right about American Christians, that if they know what is really going on in Africa that they will “stop the flow of money” behind the homophobic hysteria and direct it toward more worthy efforts. But judging by the evangelicals I have known in my life, it will have to be the younger generation of Bible believers who put a stop to it.