Christian fundamentalists in the United States are under fire for their role in helping pass a harsh law in Uganda that targets gay people.
After much debate and several failed attempts since 2009, Uganda’s president, Yoweri Museveni, in February approved a law that makes homosexuality a crime punishable by a maximum sentence of life in prison. Under the law’s original wording, gays could have been sentenced to death.
Several U.S. evangelists have visited Uganda and spread misinformation and inflammatory stories about LGBT people. Many analysts believe these evangelists whipped up hysteria and made passage of the law possible.
Now that the measure is law, some Religious Right figures are claiming they never backed this draconian approach, even though many have been harshly critical of gay rights.
Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said he does not know of any evangelical Christians who supported Uganda’s law.
“We always must balance a fear of Western cultural imperialism with a responsibility to speak to global human rights around the world,” Moore told the Religion News Service. “Those of us who hold to a Christian sexual ethic don’t want to see those who disagree with us jailed; we want to see them reconciled to God through the gospel.”
Pastor Rick Warren, head of the Religious Right-affiliated Saddleback Church in Lake Forrest, Calif., also claimed not to support Uganda’s homophobic law – even though he has previously denounced homosexuality.
“Last week, the nation of Uganda passed a bad law, which I have publicly opposed for nearly 5 years,” Warren wrote on his Facebook page. “I still oppose it, but rumors persist because lies and errors are never removed from the internet.”
But observers say those comments sidestep an important fact: Evangelicals from the United States may have been behind the push to ban homosexuality in Uganda all along. According to Mother Jones, American pastor Scott Lively specializes in stirring up homophobia worldwide. In 2002, he visited Uganda and formed ties with various leaders there. In 2009, as Uganda was considering passage of the anti-gay bill for the first time, Lively was there to build support for it. To make his case for the law, he tied homosexuality to pedophilia – even though there is no actual connection.
“[Gays] are looking for other people to be able to prey upon,” Lively said, according to Mother Jones. “When they see a child that’s from a broken home it’s like they have a flashing neon sign over their head.”
Lively, who heads Abiding Truth Ministries, has been notorious for his anti-gay comments. In 2012, a group called Sexual Minorities Uganda filed a lawsuit against Lively in a U.S. court, asserting that his activities in the country amount to persecution.
But Lively wasn’t some lone evangelical wolf. Multiple Religious Right leaders have praised Uganda’s legalized homophobia.
“Let Freedom Ring!” Liberty Counsel’s Matt Barber tweeted when the bill passed Uganda’s parliament.
Family Research Council President Tony Perkins expressed support for the law previously, calling it an attempt to “uphold moral conduct.”
Bryan Fischer, director of issues analysis for the American Family Association, also said earlier that he supported the measure. In 2012, he mistakenly tweeted: “Homosexuality now against the law in Uganda, just as it was for 200 years in the US. It can be done.” (The bill hadn’t passed at the time, but Fischer thought it had.)
Shortly after the law passed, a Ugandan tabloid called Red Pepper published the names of 200 people it said were gay. This led to a round of attacks on LGBT residents, with at least one reported killed.
U.S. officials and other Western nations are considering sanctions and other forms of punishments against Uganda, and gay activists in the country are challenging the law in court.