The ties of hatred that bind

The connection between North American Evangelism and homophobia in Uganda

Hatred for LGBT* people is spreading like wildfire in Uganda, but many of the arsonists are from North America. 

It may seem like a stretch to blame North American evangelism for the crescendo of homophobia in Uganda, but there is strong evidence to suggest there is a powerful and influential link.

The blind hatred towards homosexuals among evangelicals is a phenomenon that has persisted for decades, and has become a populist sentiment and political tool among its organizations in North America.

One of the organizations in America that is at the forefront of this movement is The Call, founded by extremist-evangelist Lou Engle.

During a rally for Proposition Eight in California, Engle called for martyrdom among Christians in order to eliminate homosexuals.

He preaches medieval, religious dogma that argues homosexuals are possessed by demons and that they embody evil; he therefore advocates that society must “cleanse” itself of homosexuals. 

Although lacking any sort of contemporary rationale, it nonetheless seems to be a convincing argument among people who choose to look for easy answers. 

Polls, referendums and the outcome of the U.S. midterm elections all suggest that there are a growing number of people that agree (to some degree) with people like Engle, and they come from a variety of ethnic groups (they don’t all epitomize Ned Flanders from The Simpsons). 

Engle has expanded his organization to different countries, including Uganda. The Call Uganda has 10 Pentecostal pastors working for it, and is headed full-time by American evangelist JoAnna Watson of the group Touching Hearts International.

The goal of the group is to “awaken and revive the young and the old, men and women, church and family, government and the public to fight vices eating away at our society.” The worst of these vices, in their opinion, is homosexuality.

North American evangelists have been invited by these groups to speak to Ugandans about how to “cure” gay people.

Organizations like these have become so powerful and influential in Uganda that the media has caught on too. The Ugandan tabloid Rolling Stone, not to be confused with the American pop culture magazine, recently published the names, addresses and pictures of over 100 individuals believed to be homosexual.

North American Evangelists have been invited by these groups to speak to Ugandans about how to “cure” gay people

The information was printed along with a caption that read, “Hang them.” Pointing out their sexual “crimes,” it blatantly encouraged their removal from Ugandan civil society. 

Although this particular case was deemed illegal by a Ugandan judge, there are no laws in place to prevent other members of the media from doing the same. 

Recently, the Ugandan parliament approved a bill that criminalizes homosexuality, with sentence lengths varying depending on the act committed.

Currently, a bill that would allow for the execution of homosexuals is on hold, but some political analysts in Uganda are saying support for it is so strong that it could be passed as early as next year.

Unfortunately for Uganda’s sexual minorities, the U.S. government’s former attempts to deter Uganda from such measures are currently on hold.

The Republicans just won an overwhelming majority in congress, relying heavily on Tea Party support. The Tea Party’s base is overwhelmingly evangelical and many of their rallies have demonstrated anti-homosexual sentiments.

As a result, it will be very difficult, if not impossible, for Democrats to generate enough support for intervention in Uganda. 

But there is still hope that Uganda could change course. It will require a realization among progressives that addressing anti-homosexuality in Uganda means taking on the anti-homosexuality movement in North America as well. 

Progressive transnational social movements have been successful with a variety of matters before, and it can be effective in this case too.

Matt Austman is a politics student at the University of Winnipeg.

Published in Volume 65, Number 11 of The Uniter (November 11, 2010)

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