Bloody-Handed Evangelicals

In the U.S., the cause of gay and lesbian rights has made major advances in the last few decades. Anti-discrimination laws are in wide effect, including a recently passed federal hate-crime law; marriage equality is already an established reality in several states; and despite setbacks, the now overwhelming tolerance and acceptance of gays and lesbians among younger generations heralds further progress in the future.

But in spite of these hopeful signs, the hatemongers and bigots of the religious right aren’t giving up. As their cause slowly, but inexorably dries up at home, they’re spreading their poisonous seed to foreign countries where it takes root in more welcoming soil.

Such is the state of affairs in the country of Uganda, where American evangelicals have long enjoyed a disproportionate degree of influence over the government. Homosexuality was already illegal in Uganda and has been for a long time, but Ugandan religious conservatives have learned from their American counterparts that even an oppressed and politically powerless group can easily be depicted as a menacing enemy in propaganda campaigns intended to stir up fear and hate among their followers. Just such a campaign has led to a proposed “Anti-Homosexuality Bill“, which threatens to open the floodgates for the state-sanctioned mass murder of gay and lesbian people.

As previously discussed on Daylight Atheism, this bill would imprison homosexuals for life, and in some cases, would establish a crime of “aggravated homosexuality”, which is punishable by death. But what I haven’t discussed as much is the shockingly large role that American evangelicals played, both in the propaganda campaign that led up to it, as well as in the actual drafting of the bill itself. An article from the New York Times from earlier this month has the details, including the names of several key figures:

Scott Lively, a missionary who has written several books against homosexuality, including “7 Steps to Recruit-Proof Your Child”; Caleb Lee Brundidge, a self-described former gay man who leads “healing seminars”; and Don Schmierer, a board member of Exodus International, whose mission is “mobilizing the body of Christ to minister grace and truth to a world impacted by homosexuality”…

As the article explains, these missionaries visited Uganda in March 2009, giving a series of talks about how “the gay movement is an evil institution” which seeks to prey on boys, eliminate marriage and replace it with “a culture of sexual promiscuity”. And just a month later, a Ugandan politician introduced the bill, which threatens to punish gays and lesbians with death.

Naturally, these American evangelicals claim they never wanted this outcome and profess shock that anyone could have misconstrued them in this way. But before Western media picked up on it, they were far less reticent:

But the Ugandan organizers of the conference admit helping draft the bill, and Mr. Lively has acknowledged meeting with Ugandan lawmakers to discuss it. He even wrote on his blog in March that someone had likened their campaign to “a nuclear bomb against the gay agenda in Uganda.”

Whether Lively and the others knew specifically about the death penalty provision is uncertain – but to claim that they were entirely ignorant of what the government was planning is a claim that strains credulity.

In the face of Western threats to withdraw millions of foreign aid, the Ugandan government has backed down slightly – offering to change the death penalty provision to life imprisonment, as if that was an improvement – but whether the bill will pass, and what its final form will be, are still very much open questions. A hint of the attitude that still prevails comes from the Ugandan minister of ethics and integrity, who recently said, “Homosexuals can forget about human rights.”

If this bill passes, the evangelicals who played a role in its creation will have bloody hands. All their pious pleas of naivete and innocence cannot change what their actions have wrought. They chose to travel to an extremely anti-gay country and try to whip the populace up into a frenzy of hatred and fear. And they profess shock at the outcome, but they shouldn’t be surprised: all that’s happened is that the Ugandan government has taken them at their word and proposed a policy that’s the logical conclusion of their starting premises.

How else did they expect the government to react to claims, like these ones made by Lively, that the gay movement is raping and preying on children, that they’re recruiting and bribing young boys to engage in sexual relationships with older men, that they’re importing pornography “to weaken the moral fiber of the people”, that they want to abolish marriage and replace it with a culture that embraces “sexual anarchy”? They’ve systematically portrayed gays and lesbians as evil deviants defying the law and engaging in a malevolent conspiracy to destroy Ugandan society. Did they really think the Ugandan government would do nothing more than build some Christian therapy centers?

To be absolutely fair, I don’t doubt that Lively and the others are sincere when they claim they weren’t seeking the execution of homosexuals. It’s just that their brand of shrill, hysterical rhetoric is what they’re accustomed to using; in America, it often gets them their way. But in America, this intemperate language is counterbalanced by a strong feminist movement and an effective system of constitutional rights. In Uganda, neither of those things exist; and again, the Ugandan government didn’t treat their speeches as rally-the-troops political posturing, as American politicians and media usually do. Instead, they treated them as literal truth and acted accordingly. This potential theocratic horror is the result.

But this outcome was completely predictable, which is why the American evangelicals will have bloody hands if this bill does pass. If they haven’t acted with malice aforethought, they’ve shown reckless indifference at the very least. Like the right-wing pundits whose deranged rhetoric pushes some of their more unstable followers over the edge, they will bear moral responsibility for whatever may result. (A little more credit, but only a very little, goes to Rick Warren, who after weeks of silence and an onslaught of bad press was finally shamed into offering a grudging condemnation of the bill.)

So, the next time the gay-bashing evangelicals claim to know what’s best – the next time they claim to have moral authority over the rest of us – remember this moment. Remember their bloody hands. Remember their guilt and their responsibility. They’d clearly love for this whole sordid story to be forgotten. That’s an opportunity we should be certain to deny them.

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About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Arc of Fire, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.


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