Exporting culture war and ignoring the consequences

Updated. Here is a recipe for trouble: Go to another country and culture. Take a dreadful and defining historical event grounded in one context, reframe in terms of a battle you are having at home, so you can line them up on your side. Stir up us-versus-them rhetoric, tell people their children are at risk, and then walk away. When the results are volatile and dangerous, resulting in death and threats of death, be shocked but only after a respectful silence. Or just remain silent.

This is what American conservative Evangelicals have done in Uganda and the result is the anti-gay bill in Uganda.

In the churches in North America, the fight over sexuality has meant divided churches and, probably, disaffected members who are tired of churches who do nothing but argue. In Uganda, American culture wars have become a license to kill, including now a proposal to extend state-sanctioned killing to homosexuals and imprisonment towards those who know gays, interact with gays, or assist gays.

Both NPR and Newsweek reflect on what happens when American culture wars are exported to different cultures and political climates.

Lisa Miller writes in Newsweek.com about the limits of "Anglican soulmating". She says that while conservative former-Episcopalians in a rich California suburb may be impressed by the piety and theological purity of their African counterparts, it can be shocking when they see what happens when American culture wars are exported.

American culture wars are kindergarten play compared with those in places like Uganda, where democracy is a sham and tolerance rare. And American conservatives who insist on romanticizing Africans for the purity of their Christian belief must guard against escalating those wars and endangering lives—intentionally or not—by giving support and money to Christian leaders with insufficient regard for human rights. "The culture war which has been fought in the U.S. has been exported to Africa," says Ochoro Otunnu, a Ugandan human-rights lawyer based in New York. But, he adds, there's a big difference. "In America you can have an open debate about homosexuality knowing full well you have an array of legal and constitutional protections. Those protections don't exist in some of the African countries—Uganda being a case in point. When this debate is conducted in public you can actually endanger an entire minority community...."

The anti-homosexuality bill now before the Ugandan parliament is a case in point. NPR's Barbara Bradley Haggerty reports on how American conservative evangelicals encouraged the bills and only half-heartedly back away from its deadlier consequences:

To understand how this bill came to be, one needs to know the story of King Mwanga. In 1886, Uganda's king ordered some two dozen male pages to have sex with him, and when they refused because of their Christian faith, he ordered that they be burned to death. Every year on June 3, Ugandans celebrate a national holiday honoring the Christian martyrs and deploring the pedophile king.

Into this climate stepped Scott Lively, an American evangelical and president of Defend The Family International. In March 2009, Lively traveled to Uganda to speak, along with two other Americans from "ex-gay communities," about the "gay agenda."

"The gay movement is an evil institution," he told Uganda's Family Life Network. "The goal of the gay movement is to defeat the marriage-based society and replace it with a culture of sexual promiscuity."

Then Lively, who has authored a book called The Pink Swastika, played into the fears raised by Uganda's history.

"Male homosexuality has historically been, not adult to adult; it's been adult to teenager," he said. "It's called pederasty — adults sodomizing teenage boys."

Lively went on to talk to the Ugandan parliament, but says he never intended for the bill to include the death penalty, but he admires the line in the sand the Ugandan politicians are drawing. He told NPR: "But the fact that they're willing to stand up and say, 'No, we are not going let you homosexualize our country!' — that is a step in the right direction, and I would hope that it would spread to other countries."

Martin Minns, of CANA whose boss is Nigerian Anglican Archbishop Peter Akinola, calls the lobbying and pressure from the West to stop the legislation "megaphone diplomacy" and he says it doesn't work. He claims that his groups has been working quietly behind the scenes to change the legislation.

"It's hard for any of us who have not lived under colonial rule to realize how offensive it is for people who have won that freedom to now basically be told, 'You're fools. You're ignorant. One day you'll grow up and be like us,' " Minns says. "That comes across in a very patronizing way."

Nigeria had a similar law come before their parliament a few years back, with the open support of Archbishop Akinola. It was withdrawn after a lot of megaphone diplomacy which included consistent international condemnation from governments and foreign ministers.

NPR interviewed Episcopal Cafe's Jim Naughton, who said he doesn't buy the stated shock and dismay of some evangelical leaders about the bill. He says that they should have known that their message, which plays one way in the USA, would play another way in Uganda:

"If you go to countries where there's already a great deal of suspicion and maybe animosity towards homosexuals, and begin to tell people there, 'Well, actually these people are child abusers, they're coming for their children, that they're the scourge that is being deposited on you by the secular West,' you're gonna get a backlash." Naughton says it's like "showing up in rooms filled with gasoline, and throwing lighted matches around and saying, 'Well, I never intended fire .' "

Lisa Miller talked to human rights activists and others who point to this law as the consequence of a policy of exporting American religious and political ideologies to Africa, Latin American and Asia.

Otunnu and other human-rights activists believe the political war against homosexuals in Uganda is a direct result of the legions of evangelists who landed in his country during the Bush administration, determined to fight HIV/AIDS with Christian rhetoric about abstinence and marital fidelity. "Africa, like Latin America and parts of Asia, is culturally very conservative. But within Uganda there has never been an ideology on how to criminalize this act. This is the impact of the evangelical movement."

Listen to the NPR Story here.

Comments (2)

Please don't patronize us Mr. Minns.

Below is what Minns considers a good result of working behind the scenes with Orombi, Archbishop of the Anglican Church of Uganda (the one that conservative former-Episcopalians in a rich California suburb and a well to do DC suburb, and elsewhere are affiliated with). You will notice it does not address the part of the proposed law that would compel priests and family members to turn homosexuals in to the state. And counseling of course is code for the kind practiced by Scott Lively et al. And should we be celebrating that the death penalty and life sentences would be reduced to 20 year sentences?

ITEM 1:
http://wthrockmorton.com/2009/12/19/uganda-national-pastors-task-force-against-homosexuality-demand-apology-from-rick-warren/
...[Throckmorton here is quoting a mid-December letter from Martin Ssempa to
Rick Warren that Christianity Today published Dec 17 -- we may have used it
before, but missed the following]

At a special sitting of the **Uganda Joint Christian Council** a taskforce sat
and reviewed the bill to make comments. We resolved to support the bill with
some amendments which included the following:

a. We suggested reduction of the sentence to 20 years instead of the death
penalty for the offense of aggravated homosexuality.

b. We suggested the inclusion of regulations in the law to govern provision of counseling and rehabilitation to persons experiencing homosexual temptations. The churches are willing to provide the necessary help for those seeking counseling and rehabilitation.

c. Even with the provision for counseling and rehabilitation in the law,
homosexuality should remain a punishable offense to control its spread.
...
===
ITEM 2:
http://www.newvision.co.ug/D/8/13/704671
December 18
..
Orombi also said the Uganda Joint Christian Council was preparing a statement on
the proposed anti homosexuality law.
..
===

Here are the US congregations affiliated with Orombi,
http://anglicanchurch.net/?/main/locator/us

Most especially,
http://www.diohs.org/

"The culture war which has been fought in the U.S. has been exported to Africa," says Ochoro Otunnu, a Ugandan human-rights lawyer based in New York. But, he adds, there's a big difference. "In America you can have an open debate about homosexuality knowing full well you have an array of legal and constitutional protections. Those protections don't exist in some of the African countries—Uganda being a case in point. When this debate is conducted in public you can actually endanger an entire minority community...."

I suppose, per Minns, Mr. Otunnu "comes across in a very patronizing way."

JC Fisher

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