Political Research Associates has just released a new report, Globalizing the Culture Wars, on the role of US Christian Right organisations in promoting anti-gay hostility in African churches as part of an exported “culture war”. The report, by a Zambian Anglican priest named Kapya Kaomoa, is timely: as has been widely reported, Uganda is currently considering a bill which would impose draconian penalties on gay people, those who fail to report gay people to the police, and those who speak in advocacy of gay rights. US Christian Right groups and leaders – as well as more ostensibly moderate evangelical figures, such as Rick Warren – have well-known links with conservative African clerics and political leaders, and it is reasonable to enquire as to their role in shaping events in Africa.
According to Evangelical Christianity and Democracy in Africa, by Terence Ranger, African evangelicals’ voting patterns are similar to those of US progressives. Ranger concludes that African evangelicals are likely to align with left-wing political movements. However, the success of US conservatives in depicting mainline churches as decadent has led Africans into siding with conservatives. (23)
But how has alliance been cemented? One notorious suggestion, made last year, was that wealthy US conservatives used “chicken dinners” to win over their African counterparts. That was, of course, a grossly simplistic and condescending suggestion; David Virtue made the obvious rebuttal:
It is the crassest theological idiocy to believe that Africans, most of whom have received their undergraduate, graduate and post-graduate theological training in the West would ever succumb to a theological change of heart for a few lousy chicken dinners and alleged payoffs by certain American Evangelical bishops.
Here are men who have suffered for their faith. Some have lost family members… and friends in tribal wars. Many live on the edge of personal poverty, their congregations own no buildings, their populations are being wiped out by civil and tribal wars and an AIDS pandemic, and they are going to sell their immortal souls for chicken? Judas Iscariot did better with 30 pieces of silver for his betrayal…
However, Kaomoa does highlight evidence that superior Western material resources have been wielded in a way which is rather unsubtle. One has to wince when reading the following quote from a conservative leaflet given to African delegates at the 2008 United Methodist General Conference:
We have purchased cell phones for each of you to use during General Conference. There is no charge to you for the use of the phones.
Please considering voting for the following persons… (11)
We also learn that Ugandan bishops at the GAFCON conference were hazy about who funded their attendance:
All they knew, they told PRA, was that “unnamed friends” of Ugandan Archbishop Orombi funded them. (10)
Particularly belittling is evidence that materials supposedly written by African religious leaders habe been heavily re-edited to include talking-points provided by the Institute on Religion and Democracy; a text by Liberian Methodist superintendent Rev Jerry Kulah was re-written to include screeds against Churches that consider “sociopolitical issues” and against the “Arab-oil funds” being used to promote “the massive silent invasion of Islam”.
This does not mean that clerics have been “bought”, although Kaomoa considers that the nature of the funding process may be corrupting:
Funding from conservatives is highly personal – only bishops with US connections receive it – and unrestricted, unlike that of mainline churches, which demand strict accountability from African church for all the money they receive. Therefore, some African religious leaders…prefer it and view American conservatives as more generous than their progressive counterparts. (10-11)
Kaomoa avoids the trap of simply reducing anti-gay sentiment in African Christianity to an American import, and by describing how the idea of gay rights is seen as a form of neo-colonialism by some Africans he gives a sense of how local agency may serve as a counterbalance to an explanatory model based on conservative American strategies and propaganda (some other writings on the subject have been criticized for concentrating exclusively on the latter). However, I don’t think we get a full account of what motivates a conservative African Anglican cleric – in particular, there is little discussion of theology or Biblical interpretation.
The report also draws attention to some nuances: it is interesting to read that some conservatives – and some IRD activists – are opposed to idea of severing links with mainline churches on issues such as poverty relief, and that declarations by African Anglican church leaders disassociating from the US Episcopal Church are not always clear-cut:
In countries like Uganda and Nigeria, where civil society is weak, the declarations have been implemented. By contrast, in Zambia, Kenya. Botswana, Ghana, and other more democratic countries, their declarations were opposed or simoply taken as the leader’s person opinion. (11)
The whole report can be read here.
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