U.S. Christian Money Funds African Homophobia

Photo by Diana Vargas

Daniel Volman concludes his excellent recent article for CounterPunch, “Why African Homophobia is Still the Real Western Import,” with these words:

African homophobes say they are standing up to the West and saving the continent and the world from homosexuality, but they are just serving their own selfish interests and the interests of right-wing Christian nationalists in the West.

Few Americans are aware just how significant is the role of “right-wing Christian nationalists” in promoting and sustaining the reactionary sexual politics prevalent within many African countries. It is estimated that more than 20 U.S. Christian groups are actively subsidizing campaigns against LGBT people as well as opposing access to safe abortions, contraceptives and comprehensive sexuality education.

The British-based openDemocracy estimates that these groups have spent at least $54 million in their campaigns in Africa since 2007.  It notes, “Between 2008 and 2018, this group sent more than $20m to Uganda alone.”

OpenDemocracy singles out the Fellowship Foundation as the U.S.’s big spender at $34.5 million.  It dubs the organization “a secretive US religious group” whose associate, David Bahati, wrote Uganda’s “Kill the Gays” bill.  It was founded in 1942 and, until 2023, hosted Washington’s annual National Prayer Breakfast at which every president since Dwight Eisenhower attended.  For the last 25 years, the Fellowship hosted Uganda’s National Prayer Breakfast and, in 2022, Pres. Yoweri Museveni spoke.

Among the leading U.S. organizations that have funded anti-gay and other conservative campaigns in Africa include:

+ Billy Graham Evangelistic Association = $7.6 million.

+ Human Life International = $4.1 million.

+ Bethany Christian Services = $3.3 million.

+ Focus on the Family = $1.9 million.

+ Intervarsity Christian Fellowship = $1.1 million.

Exodus International (aka Exodus Global Alliance) was founded in 1976 as a proponent of what was dubbed “ex-gay” conversion movement.  It argued that conversion therapy programs, based on religious and counseling methods, could make gay individuals straight.  The strategy was embraced by leading anti-gay spokesmen, including Archbishop Henry Orombi, chair of the Africa Host Committee of the 2010 Lausanne Congress; pastor Martin Ssempa; and David Bahati, the sponsor of Uganda’s “Kill the Gays” bill.

Often forgotten, before the current Speaker of the House, Mike Johnson (R-LA), launched his political career, he was a lawyer advising Exodus International.  According to CNN, he “partnered with the groups to put on an annual anti-gay event aimed at teens.”

in 2013, Alan Chambers, the president of Exodus, posted a public apology for the “pain and hurt” his organization caused by promoting conversion therapy. He shut the organization down, accepting the fact that “conversion therapy” did not work and had been condemned by leading medical groups.  As he admitted, “I am sorry for the pain and hurt many of you have experienced.”  He added:

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.

After Exodus formally ending, many within the organization regrouped as the Restored Hope Ministry.  (Pray Away, a 2021 documentary by Kristine Stolakis, examines Exodus.)

Bethany Christian Services was founded in 1944 and is one of the U.S.’s largest Protestant adoption and foster care agencies. It operates in Ethiopia, Addis Ababa, Ghana and South Africa. It long opposed placing children with LGBT adoptive parents but, in 2021, announced that it would begin providing services to same-sex parents.

According to one source, Bethany has close ties to the family of former Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.  Between 2001 and 2015, the Dick and Betsy DeVos Foundation, run by DeVos and her husband, gave $343,000 to Bethany.  In addition, between 2012 and 2015, the Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation, run by the Sec. DeVos’s father-in-law, the billionaire founder of Amway Richard DeVos, and his wife Helen, gave Bethany $750,000.

Family Watch International was founded in 1999 as Global Helping to Advance Women (Global HAWC) by longtime anti-LGBT and anti-choice activist Sharon Slater, a Mormon.  It has close ties with anti-LGBT movements in Uganda and Nigeria. According to The Guardian, it backed Uganda’s anti-gay laws. However, on its website it declared, “Family Watch has never supported any efforts in Africa to promote anti-homosexual bills.”  It has been a strong supporter of conversion therapy and opposes “Comprehensive Sexual Education,” age-appropriate and medically accurate information on topics related to sexuality.

But, as Emerson Hodges, research analyst with the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), points out, “Family Watch International’s plays downs its role in the anti-gay legislation, including the death penalty for someone revealed to have had homosexual relations.” He stresses: There’s a hypocritical, a sort of “cognitive dissonance,” that’s like: These groups want to be proud for what they are doing, they want to be named and recognized for what they are doing by powerful figures in these foreign countries, but don’t really want the backlash for being the reason why people are being violently attacked.

Looking deeper, he notes, “If you look at the groups that are doing this anti-LBGTQ work in African, you’re looking at “old-guard” groups – Focus on the Family, Alliance Defending Freedom, Family Research Council, World Congress of Families.”  He added, “They’re very much old guard, they were part of an extensive battle to keep sodomy laws in the U.S. and prevent gay marriage. If you look at the old-guard groups, there are clearly using old-school rhetoric.”

Hodges singles out Scott Lively as the most prominent of the “old-guard.”  Lively is an attorney, author (e.g., The Pink Swastika: Homosexuality in the Nazi Party), a rightwing Christian activist and a long-term anti-LGBTQ+ crusader.  In the 1990s, he was the assistant director of the Oregon Citizens Alliance (OCA), a branch of Pat Robertson’s Christian Coalition.  In 1997, he founded the Abiding Truth Ministries (ATM) that promoted campaigns like “Take Back The Schools Campaign” that sought to “eject the ‘gay’ movement from California schools.”

Lively went to Uganda in 2002 to speak out against pornography, denouncing what he called “the globalists who use the sexual revolution and the Planned Parenthood Federation and the global homosexual movement” to accumulate power and control population. Going further, he insisted that these forces were backed by the financier George Soros and were “infiltrating” Uganda, including “introducing pornography” to the country.

In 2007, Lively declared:

… homosexuality is destructive to individuals and to society and it should never publicly promoted. The easiest way to discourage gay pride parades and other homosexual advocacy is to make such activity illegal in the interest of public health and morality.

In March 2009, Lively joined Caleb Lee Brundidge and Don Schmierer as speakers at a Kampala anti-LGBT conference organized by the Family Life Network, “Exposing the Truth behind Homosexuality and the Homosexual Agenda.” Brundidge was a self-described former gay man who led “healing seminars”; and Schmierer was a board member of Exodus International whose mission was “mobilizing the body of Christ to minister grace and truth to a world impacted by homosexuality.”

Lively gave a five-hour presentation that was broadcast on local television.  In it, he claimed that homosexuals were aggressively recruiting Uganda’s children and argued that human rights protections shouldn’t be extended to these “predatory’ figures.”  He denounced gay men in no uncertain terms:

They’re sociopaths. There’s no mercy at all. There’s no nurturing. There’s no caring about anybody else. This is the kind of person that it takes to run a gas chamber. Or to do a mass murder. The Rwandan stuff probably involved these guys.

Lively got even more extreme in his denunciations of “gay” people in a 2017 post: “Ultimately, the ‘gay’ agenda is simply a sub-plot of the larger Satanic agenda and now that LGBTQ goals appear nearly fully realized, the hidden hands behind them (both human and demonic) are coming into view.”  Going further, he added:

We are witnessing the end-game before our very eyes but few recognize what they are seeing. What is next in the LGBTQ agenda is transhumanism, the redefinition of humanness and emergence of human/animal/machine chimeral forms.

He concluded, noting “Satan is fashioning a final comprehensive counterfeit alternative to the creation over which Man finally assumes that he has accessed the Tree of Life and is persuaded that he is God, destroying himself and ‘goodness” itself in the process.”

David Rosen is the author of Sex, Sin & Subversion:  The Transformation of 1950s New York’s Forbidden into America’s New Normal (Skyhorse, 2015).  He can be reached at drosennyc@verizon.net; check out www.DavidRosenWrites.com.