BY Jeff Sharlet
August 23 2010 5:00 AM ET
Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill, which legislators declared in its first draft to be a model for other nations, is a witch hunt on multiple fronts. In addition to the draconian provisions for gay people, the legislation requires every Ugandan to report any homosexual activity they’re aware of within 24 hours or face three years in prison themselves. “Promotion,” meanwhile, can get you seven. What’s “promotion”? According to Bahati, when his law passes I could be arrested just for asking that question. “Promotion” includes everything from advocacy for basic human rights to merely acknowledging homosexuality’s existence.
And that, in a sense, is what’s really at stake in the story of the American export of homophobia to Africa. It’s not that homophobia didn’t exist on the continent before American evangelicals began exporting culture war; it’s that it’s now taken on life-or-death proportions for many Africans on all sides. According to James Nsaba Buturo, Uganda’s minister of ethics and integrity — and the chairman of a weekly meeting of Ugandan politicians involved with the Family — it’s “the gays” who are attempting genocide. “They are a threat to our existence,” he told me.
Buturo sees his relationship with American evangelicals (his parliamentary prayer group has been visited by pastor Rick Warren, Senator Inhofe, and former attorney general John Ashcroft) as a two-way street. The fact is, he said, America is in worse shape than Africa. “[Homosexuality] is everywhere. It controls governments and commercial institutions.” Since Warren, under international pressure, offered a tepid denunciation of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill in December, Buturo and other Africans who once admired him suggest that even the antigay pastor (“I’m no homophobic guy,” Warren has said, even as he equates homosexuality to pedophilia) may now be under the control of “the gays.”
“America, she is great today because of her spiritual background,” Buturo said. “That is what has made America a superpower.” But he sees the empire crumbling at the edges — and waiting for Africa to save it. “God,” he explained, “has a way of using the weak.”
Or, rather, American fundamentalists do. It’s a tradition, in fact — the practice of exporting a religious battle you’re losing somewhere far out on the edges and then declaring victory there as a precedent for revival back home. It’s as old as evangelicalism, dating back to the origins of the term itself in the first Great Awakening of American religion during the 18th century, when revival caught fire not in the trading centers of the colonies but deep in the hinterlands. The faith of rural folk somehow was seen as more authentic, more inspiring as it was trumpeted right back to the cities, to Boston, New York, and London. And when that revival faltered, the missionaries ventured farther out, focusing their hearts and minds and Bibles on the savages, the Indians, and always dreaming of their own return, the day they would declare, again, in Boston, New York, London: See? The savages have accepted God. Can civilized men do any less?
For the Moral Majority, then the Christian Coalition, then Focus on the Family, and now the more chaotic Christian nationalism of the Tea Party (“a new Great Awakening,” crows South Carolina’s DeMint), it’s not so much a question as it is a warning.
“We warn everybody that the future king is coming,” said David Coe, a leader of the Family. “Not just of this country or that, but of the world.”