Culture Wars Around the World: Evangelism’s Impact in Uganda on LGBT Rights

There is no one collective Hindu view of most things, but I think many of us agree on the challenges caused to the pluralistic Hindu worldview by predatory proselytization.  Be it in America, India or elsewhere, my colleagues at the Hindu American Foundation and I don’t hesitate to speak out about human rights violations caused when there is an abuse of power. Below, Harsh Voruganti, Associate Director of Public Policy, gives voice to our concern about the anti-gay laws passed recently in Uganda and the impact of such laws on the LGBT community everywhere. Prior to joining HAF, he was a fellow at the Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief at the American Civil Liberties Union and now works in our DC office, where he focuses on the Foundation’s domestic policy priorities.


by Harsh Voruganti, Esq. 

In March 2009, a team of Christian evangelicals met in Kampala, the capital of Uganda.  The topic of choice: how to fight the “gay agenda.”  A leading participant of that discussion was Exodus International, a ministry that claims to “cure” gays and lesbians.  Today, five years after that conference, Exodus International is shutting down.  Its President, Alan Chambers, issued a deeply contrite statement to the LGBT community. The statement was surprising in its candid recognition of the pain and suffering that “gay conversion” has caused.  Chambers wrote:

I am sorry that some of you spent years working through the shame and guilt you felt when your attractions didn’t change. I am sorry we promoted sexual orientation change efforts and reparative theories about sexual orientation that stigmatized parents. I am sorry that there were times I didn’t stand up to people publicly “on my side” who called you names like sodomite—or worse. I am sorry that I, knowing some of you so well, failed to share publicly that the gay and lesbian people I know were every bit as capable of being amazing parents as the straight people that I know. I am sorry that when I celebrated a person coming to Christ and surrendering their sexuality to Him that I callously celebrated the end of relationships that broke your heart. I am sorry that I have communicated that you and your families are less than me and mine.

Chambers’ denunciation of converting gays, and the shuttering of Exodus International leaves anti-gay evangelicals to face a sobering reality – they are losing their fight.

To be fair, the anti-gay movement still has power and influence.  A perfect example is the Uganda Anti-Homosexuality Act, passed with open support provided by Western evangelicals, who seek to win in Africa what they have lost at home.  The Ugandan legislation is built around the widely debunked claims that homosexuality is changeable, made by conversion therapists such as Richard Cohen and Paul Cameron.  Many evangelists, such as Scott Lively, openly supported the Act, meeting with Ugandan legislators, and warning them of the legions of Western homosexuals who are descending on Uganda to abuse boys on the street.  While some Christian groups also spoke out against the bill, including the Catholic Archbishop of Kampala, the Act’s evangelical authors won out, with its passage into law last month.

Similar efforts are also underway in other African countries.  As Rev. Dr. Kapya Kaoma, an ordained Anglican priest from Zambia noted, “The Christian right has been involved in legislative or constitutional efforts to crack down on the LGBT populations of Kenya, Liberia, Namibia, Nigeria, Malawi, Rwanda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe as well.  Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill has become a kind of template for other countries, including Nigeria and Liberia, where similar laws have been proposed.”

However, for every battle that they win overseas, evangelicals are steadily losing the fight against LGBT rights at home.  The bans erected against state recognition of same-sex marriage are falling state by state, while public attitudes continue to shift towards acceptance.  Furthermore, their efforts to meddle in Africa have provoked a ferocious backlash, with figures from President Obama to Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana (an aspirant to the papal seat himself) condemning the effort.

Ultimately, however, the unforeseen tragedy of the anti-gay movement is the steady move by the youngest generation away from organized religion.  As a religious person, I have plenty of anecdotal evidence to support this trend. I have seen many of my gay friends struggle with their faith.  Many of them have had tough relations with their own devout families.  Some see all religion as the enemy, having seen repeated condemnations of homosexuality by Christian, Muslim, and Hindu leaders.  Religious voices speaking out for greater LGBT rights, such as the Hindu American Foundation, for whom I work, are dismissed as aberrations.  For every individual who draws strength from his religious faith, there are dozens of others who see religion (somewhat justifiably) as a tool for oppression and marginalization.  When taking an honest look at their efforts, evangelicals must consider the fact that in their crusade against homosexuality, they have made religion a wound rather than a salve.

As evangelicals look to a world that is increasingly accepting of same-sex relationships, they must decide whether to step away from the aggressive tactics they have pursued in their fight, or to risk losing their moral imperative.  If they choose to continue down this path, they may win the occasional battle (such as Uganda), but the victories will be pyrrhic.  The anti-gay evangelical movement will lose this war.

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About Padma Kuppa

Padma Kuppa is a Hindu American and community activist working for social justice and understanding. She is a co-founder of both the Troy-area Interfaith Group and the Bharatiya Temple of Metropolitan Detroit's Outreach Committee, and as a Board member of the Michigan Roundtable for Diversity and Inclusion. Padma focuses on inter-religious cooperation as a Board member of the Hindu American Foundation. Views expressed here are those of Padma Kuppa and do not necessarily represent those of any organization of which she is a part.