Local Motion and Inertia Regarding the Crusade against Uganda’s Gays & Lesbians
Part 2 in Lavender‘s Uganda series
Wingspan Ministry of St. Paul-Reformation Church has endeavored to make the public aware of the mass hysteria fomented against gays and lesbians in Uganda in recent years. (See Lavender article An Overview, Issue 430.) Their Global Bridging Initiative hosted Bishop Christopher Senyonjo and his wife Mary, two years ago. For being an ally of gays and lesbians in a nation where the “Kill the Gays” bill almost passed this year, the Bishop, sometimes referred to as the “Bishop Tutu of Uganda,” has had his pension taken away by his church and has been routinely ignored for events he would normally have been a part of. Worse yet, his own children have had to change their surnames and to forego interaction with him for fear of violence against them. Though the death penalty aspect of Uganda’s antihomosexuality bill (aka “Kill The Gays” bill) was defeated this year, its other ruthlessly draconian aspects could still be voted on and implemented.
Wingspan’s Uganda Team Chair Leo Treadway points out, “When a person is identified, or suspected, of being homosexual they are dismissed from their family and their clan – if not attacked or murdered. There is not even a hint of a social service safety net to assist such individuals – certainly not what has developed for GLBT people in the US. Bishop Christopher is attempting to correct the situation, and among the various programs he is attempting to implement, it was the ‘Safe House Project’ which most caught the eye of Wingspan Ministry of St. Paul-Reformation Lutheran Church. This program became the focal point of our fundraising.”
When Ugandan gay rights activist David Kato was brutally murdered this year, in the wake of homophobic hysteria sweeping Uganda, President Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and the Minneapolis City Council all formally condemned it, making the point that antigay persecution is not to be tolerated. As did Congresswoman (4th Dist.) Betty McCollum.
In response to the Ugandan Parliament considering legislation that would criminalize homosexuality and legalize execution a possible punishment for this crime, McCollum stated this: “The legally sanctioned persecution of a minority group is unacceptable, and this hateful measure is no exception. On January 21, 2011, I joined dozens of my House colleagues in sending a letter urging President Obama to use his diplomatic weight to oppose this legislation and to call for the decriminalization of homosexuality worldwide. In the last Congress, I co-sponsored H. Res 1064, which expressed Congress’ unequivocal opposition to the Ugandan legislation. This resolution was referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, but unfortunately was not considered before the end of the session.”
Democrat McCollum continues, “Be assured that I will closely monitor the situation. As a longstanding supporter of the LGBT community, I will continue working with my colleagues in Congress to champion human rights both at home and abroad.”
A spokesperson for Democratic Congressman (5th Dist.) Keith Ellison’s office said “Congressman Ellison firmly opposes all persecution and discrimination, and that includes the persecution of and discrimination against GLBT people.”
I submitted the following questions to the Communications Directors of metro area Republican Congressmembers Michele Bachmann (6th Dist.), John Kline (2nd Dist.), and Eric Paulsen (3rd Dist.):
1. Is the Representative’s office tracking the widespread abuse of lesbians and gays in Uganda?
2. Does the Representative have any thoughts or opinions about the tax-exempt American religious institutions that have been fueling this abuse?
3. Does the Representative suppport the practice in Uganda of so-called ‘corrective’ rape to supposedly ‘cure’ lesbianism?
4. Republicans and some conservative Democrats want strings attached to foreign aid so that no abortions can be performed. So why shouldn’t there then be strings attached to foreign aid when women and girls are systematically raped to serve the barbaric superstition that that will stop them from being lesbians?
5. It appears that American evangelicals and Ugandan politicians have received US tax dollars, some of which came from PEPFAR (President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief), in the first George W. Bush administration. There has been little transparency about this steady stream of US tax dollars to Uganda and how they have been spent. Yet the Representative and her/his fellow Republican Congress members, while continuously railing against deficit spending in recent years, have not given the American public a full report on the billions it has spent on expensive foreign endeavors, including the billions spent in Uganda.
I got no responses for any of these questions or comment.
One irony in reading these various congressional responses and non-responses is that Ellison, who is a Muslim, is quite clear about his opposition to persecution of gays and lesbians. All of the others are Christian, the religion of Jesus’s love and forgiveness, and of those four, only McCollum makes it absolutely clear she is fully against persecution of gays and lesbians. And to her great credit, she is quite adamant.
For those who choose to look, there is a abundant evidence of horrendous homophobic violence and sexism in the Muslim Middle-East and Africa. Therefore, Ellison takes a profound risk in the liberal stands he takes for women and GLBT people. Yet neocon and evangelical media sources often promote the idea that Islam is backward because, unlike Christianity, it never underwent a reformation. Yet, what we see in Uganda is something that compares to pre-Reformation Christianity such as the Inquisition. It is also just as bad or worse than the post-Reformation Christian group, the Ku Klux Klan or witch burnings in colonial Puritan New England. One wonders, as white American evangelicals have exported their Culture Wars to Africa, have they essentially set Christianity back half a millennia with a bit of Salem and the post-Civil War south thrown in for good measure? Therefore, should Christians still be pointing fingers at Muslims for not ever having had what they call a reformation?
In light of Bachmann’s personal pastor joining her presidential campaign as an advisor I asked her office the following: To what degree has the Congresswoman’s relationship with Pastor Mac Hammond, who hosts ministry in Uganda, played into her congressional view of the Uganda situation?
I got no answer.
I contacted Bachmann’s husband, Marcus’s office at Bachmann & Associates Christian Counseling with locations in Lake Elmo and Burnsville. Bachmann holds the controversial view that gay people can turn straight. I asked the following:
Your wife has been criticized for having benefitted from hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal farm subsidies while fervently espousing massive government budget cuts other than military. This raises ethical questions for you:
1. Have you accepted federal funds for your ‘reparative’ approaches that claim gay males can become straight males?
2. Have boys and youths under age 18 been a part of this sort of treatment? What about the age range of females who may be under such ‘reparation’?
3.Have you offered your ‘reparative’ services for any Uganda mission trips, and if so, did you receive any PEPFAR or other US federal funds for that?
4. Do you support the practice of corrective ‘rape’ used by some Ugandan evangelical Christians to turn lesbians or women or girls suspected of being lesbians into heterosexual women?
Of course, I asked Mac Hammond of the tax-exempt Living Word Ministry, what his view on all this has been, but he never replied after three requests. Hammond is famous for his ‘prosperity gospel’ and his conflicts with the IRS. I asked what follows:
Your ministry hosts missionary trips to Uganda. It most recently charged guests $2,900 for a 10-12 day mission trip to Uganda in November 2011. Can you give me a breakdown of how that money is spent? And how much money you have taken in over the years for such Uganda trips? And have you accepted PEPFAR funds?
Trip leader for Living Word’s Missions Outreach to Uganda is Pastor Kent Otey. I asked him the following:
1.Where have you and your outreach stood regarding the mass hysteria that has swept over gay and lesbian Ugandans in recent years?
2. Were you supportive of recent Ugandan legislative efforts that called for the death penalty against gays and lesbians?
3. What have you told the people you took on your November 2011 missions trip to Uganda about the government’s crusade against gays and lesbians there and American evangelicals’ complicity with that?
4. Have you received any funding from PEPFAR?
I got no answers.
The Uganda mission where Otey takes his travelers is called Prepare the Way, which also has roots in Lee’s Summit, MO. I asked that mission’s leaders, Pastor Bill and Linda Campbell the following:
1. Did you support the death penalty for gays and lesbians bill or did you speak out against it?
2. Have you accepted PEPFAR funds?
3. How does your ministry approach Ugandan gays, lesbians, and their right to pursue happiness? Or do you not support their right to happiness?
I got no response from the Campbells.
Minnesota Atheists President August Berkshire states, “The Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam rely on the belief of an unseen, unprovable god. Among people who are insecure in their faith, an Emperor’s New Clothes mentality can set in, where they feel the need to increase the size of the crowd agreeing with them that their invisible being actually exists. Unfortunately, certain interpretations of these religions can lead to discrimination and violence towards people of differing religions and atheists, women, children, and the GLBT community. It does only marginal good to encourage milder versions of these religions because violence is inherent in the Bible and the Koran; and because it is the elevation of faith above reason, and god-belief over humanism, that is at the heart of the problem.”
Berkshire concludes, “We see the dangers of this primitive mythology in America in the bullying of GLBT people and in our denial of equal civil marriage rights to gays and lesbians. This agenda has been carried by American Christian fundamentalists to Africa, where it has been joined with Islam, and is expressed even more harshly, in the forms of beatings, and the threat of passage of laws in Uganda that would imprison and execute gays and lesbians. Religions represent another form of tribalism, which serves to divide people. Without religion and its mythology, humans would have one less thing to fight about and persecute people with.”
Theologian David Weiss (author To the Tune of a Welcoming God) reflects, “The faith that Jesus preached–and practiced–declared the universal dignity of human beings, not as some humanistic philosophy but as his conviction about the abundant goodness of the God in whose image we live. Jesus imagined a world–he referred to it as ‘the reign of God’–where mutuality and unconditional kinship mattered more than wealth or status. His parables, teaching, healings, and table fellowship went so far as to actively subvert the status quo of power, privilege, and their accompanying prejudice. It was the defining feature of his ministry and he was eventually killed because of it.”
Weiss continues, “But by the time that European nations were sending out missionaries the faith of Jesus had become the faith about Jesus. It was about getting to the next life rather than living with compassion in this life. And while getting to that next life was linked to making a profession of faith in Jesus, beneath that thin doctrinal veneer was a whole system of obedience that now aimed to undergird European notions of patriarchy, power, privilege, and morality.”
Weiss adds, “The faith the missionaries carried with them, with very rare exceptions, was entirely entangled in the European economic, political, and cultural project of domination. It imposed a dualistic world view, which required–almost as the very price of cultural ethnic survival–that colonized peoples learn to mimic the anti-body morality of their oppressors. Ultimately they mimicked it so well and so long that they internalized it, with a fury. And today that fury is unleashed against the LGBT community in Uganda.”