A rising tide of homophobic aggression in Uganda has divided religious leaders. At the root of the problem, Western missionaries have been spreading anti-gay sentiment and dividing the community.
Homosexuality has been illegal in Uganda since British colonisation in the late 19th century. However, many Ugandans trace the current crisis to March 5, 2009, when right-wing evangelical missionaries from the US held a three-day conference at the Triangle Hotel in Kampala.
According to the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, the 50 participants included counsellors, social workers, church leaders and representatives of non-government organsiations.
Speakers, including Caleb Lee Brundidge of Extreme Prophetic Ministry in Phoenix, Arizona, and Scott Lively of Abiding Truth Ministries and Defend the Family International, claimed gay and lesbian people were “recruiting” young people.
The title of the conference was “The gay agenda — that whole hidden and dark agenda — and the threat homosexuals posed to Bible-based values and the traditional African family”.
Reverend Mark Kiyimba, a Unitarian Minister in Kampala, told Religion Dispatches on November 21: “There is no doubt whatsoever, American evangelicals have a very big hand in creating this atmosphere that is out of hand.”
In October 2009, the Anti-Homosexuality Bill was presented to parliament, aiming to increase the punishment for homosexuality from 14 years imprisonment to life imprisonment, with the death penalty for repeat offenders, HIV positive people and people engaging in sex with minors.
Reverend Martin Ssempa, pastor and founder of the Makerere Community Church has been a leading proponent of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. He has used drama to promote the message of abstinence as a means of preventing AIDS, and popularised the slogan “Kick sodomy out of Uganda”.
Ssempa came under considerable criticism when, at a church service, he “educated” his congregation about homosexual practices by showing porn, which he used to associate homosexuals with coprophilia (an obsession with faeces).
Under the headline “Hang Them: They’re After Our Kids”, an article in the October 2 Ugandan newspaper Rolling Stone (not related to the US magazine) publicly outed 100 known or alleged gays and lesbians, and called for their deaths. Other Ugandan tabloids have published similar lists and the Rolling Stone has since published others.
One of the people named in the article was a heterosexual, married, 78-year-old Anglican bishop, Christopher Senyonjo. Right Reverend Senyonjo was called a homosexual because of his work with Integrity Uganda, which advocates sexual pluralism and provides support and pastoral care to sexual minorities in Uganda.
Senyonjo was stripped of his credentials and his pension by the Church of Uganda for his work with gays and lesbians, Religion Dispatches reported on November 21.
“I feel I have to do my work whatever is said by people against me”, Senyonjo said. “My conviction is that I have to bring good news to people who are marginalised.”
He expressed concern that anti-gay media like Rolling Stone were reviving the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, which had been on the legislative backburner since March. “They were saying that they have a lot of money behind them; they were saying … that the bill could resurface. If the bill is passed, I would definitely be in trouble.”
The global outcry against the Anti-Homosexuality Bill and the Rolling Stone’s homophobic campaigning has caused some US evangelical groups to publicly distance themselves from their Ugandan proteges.
Canyon Ridge Christian Church, a megachurch in Las Vegas, has financially supported Ssempa’s ministry but an October 25 statement on their website said they are reconsidering because of his extreme statements.
Alarmingly, on November 16, the UN voted to remove sexual orientation from its Resolution Condemning Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions, effectively permitting laws like the Anti-Homosexuality Bill under international human rights law.
Homophobia is growing in Africa. The Third World is becoming a dumping ground not just for toxic waste from the West, but also for toxic ideas.
[Pastor Karl Hand is an ordained minister in the Metropolitan Community Church, and currently pastors CRAVE MCC.]