This week Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni signed a harsh new anti-gay law codifying prison sentences for those who practice homosexuality or even promote toleration of such practice. In my study of this issue I came across a 35-page study by Dr. Guy Grossman of the University of Pennsylvania (October 31, 2013), The Political Saliency of LGBTs in Sub-Saharan Africa establishing a link between the strength of the evangelical African church and the rise of this issue.
Grossman reports that most sub-Saharan African nations overwhelmingly oppose the practice or visibility of gay and lesbian people. For instance, 96 percent of Ugandans believe that homosexuality is abnormal. Thus Uganda’s anti-gay law met almost no negative repercussions in that nation.
Grossman ties the passage of these African laws with the rise of “evangelical, charismatic and renewalist” churches that emerged when the African nations shrugged off their colonial masters and their colonial churches (Anglican, Catholic, and other mainline denominations.) These highly popular, rapidly growing populist congregations interpret the Bible literally, believe in spiritual warfare, seek and practice the gifts of the Holy Spirit, believe in the literal Rapture, subscribe to the prosperity gospel and align themselves with governing powers that can accomplish their ends through legislation and decree.
Anti-gay laws provide an easy and popular victory for a national leader at a time when a nation’s economy is tanking or that leader’s shaky political base is eroding. Signing this bill into law allowed Museveni to thumb his nose at the morally decadent West and blame outside agitators (always an effective argument) for promoting, supporting and importing Western abominations into Africa.
This fight mirrors – on a different level – the same controversy raging in the Western Church. Are Westerners ruining Africa by our immorality as Museveni and others claim, or are conservative U.S. churches exporting their homosexual opposition and financial support to African churches as others claim? Depending on your viewpoint these African nations and churches are holding the line as one last bastion of morality or should be maligned for being at least 50 years behind a richer understanding of the sacred worth of gay and lesbian people.
ADDITIONAL LOCAL NOTE: You have no interest in what’s happening in Uganda? Then pay attention to what’s happening in Atlanta where four state legislators have introduced in our legislative assembly The Preservation of Religious Freedom Act (HB 1023) that would allow business owners – citing religious justifications - to legally deny employment to gay and lesbian people and evict such persons from hotels or restaurants. A similarly worded bill has just been passed in Arizona where Gov. Brewer must decide whether to antagonize much of the business community by signing it into law. The biographical sketches approved by the four Georgia GOP legislators describes these men as very active in Baptist, Methodist and Presbyterian congregations; one man is a Sunday School teacher and another is pursuing a PhD in ministry from Southern Seminary.