The September 2010 issue of Harper’s features a chapter-length excerpt from Jeff Sharlet’s upcoming book, C Street: The Fundamentalist Threat to American Democracy. A subscription or newsstand purchase required to read the full article, which is a must-read; what follows is an overview. C Street will be released on September 27.
For more than a year, Sharlet has warned of a secretive Christian fundamentalist group known as “The Family” or “The Fellowship,” which includes several U.S. and African lawmakers and Washington policymakers. Sharlet’s 2009 bestseller The Family detailed the Family’s 70-year history, its membership’s undemocratic Christianist values, and their cozy relationships with key Washington insiders including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Expanding upon his earlier work, C Street now explores the motives and tactics employed by The Fellowship to turn the nation of Uganda into a test case and beachhead for authoritarian fundamentalist rule that — they hope — can be replicated across Africa and returned to the United States through influential African Anglican and evangelical megachurches.
Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill (or AHB) — still under consideration by Ugandan officials who are Fellowship leaders — calls for up to three years in prison for failure of family member, pastor, doctor, or other peer to report a homosexual; seven years for “promotion” of tolerance; life imprisonment for a single homosexual act; and for same-gender sex while HIV positive, same-gender sex with a disabled person, or, if you’re a recidivist, gay sex with anyone — marking the criminal as a “serial offender” — death.
The bill was launched after Exodus International board member Don Schmierer, U.S. ex-gay activist Scott Lively, and former PFOX president Richard Cohen’s protégé Caleb Lee Brundidge keynoted a March 2009 conference which collectively declared gay people to be pedophiles responsible for some of history’s great holocausts. The speakers agreed that Uganda (which already subjected LGBT people to life imprisonment) was too permissive and that tougher action was needed. Lively, in particular, was enthusiastic about the opportunity to force Ugandans into ex-gay brainwashing programs as the only alternative to execution.
The conference and the ensuing actions by Ugandan Fellowship leaders reflected a shift in tactics. Previously, African evangelicals collected millions of dollars from the U.S. State Department in supposed HIV/AIDS-prevention funds and then spent that taxpayer money on efforts to cut off Ugandans’ access to condoms, promote abstinence outside of marriage, and exclude sexual and religious minorities from Christian-run outreach programs.
Now, through the AHB, these political and religious leaders would use ongoing U.S. aid to openly foment ethnic cleansing. The United States would cooperate. Why? Because America has long needed Uganda as a base from which to secure American industrial interests, fight terror groups across the African continent, stabilize the oil- and mineral-rich territories of central Africa, and win African popular support through food, ecomomic, and cultural aid.
U.S. evangelicals have understood and exploited the importance of U.S.-Uganda ties for decades. As Sharlet notes:
The Family has poured millions into “leadership development” there, more than it has invested in any other foreign country, and billions in U.S. foreign aid have flowed into Ugandan coffers since a Family leader turned on the tap twenty-four years ago for President Yoweri Museveni, a dictator hailed by the West for his democratic rhetoric and by Christian conservatives for the evangelical zeal of his regime. …
Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, former attorney general John Ashcroft—both longtime Family men and outspoken antigay activists—and Pastor Rick Warren, are a frequent attraction at the Ugandan Fellowship’s weekly meetings. “He said homosexuality is a sin and that we should fight it,” Bahati recalled of Warren’s visits.
Inhofe and Warren, like most American fundamentalists, came out in muted opposition to Uganda’s gay death penalty, but they didn’t dispute the motive behind it: the eradication of homosexuality.
They may disagree on the means, favoring a “cure” rather than killing, but not the ends.
Decades of cultural and religious exchange have corrupted Uganda’s Christian churches, turning them into outposts of American fundamentalism.
Ugandan evangelicals sing American songs and listen to sermons about American problems, often from American preachers. Ugandan politicians attend prayer breakfasts in America and cut deals with evangelical American businessmen. American evangelicals, in turn, hold up Ugandan congregations as role models for their own, and point to Ugandan AIDS policy—from which American evangelicals nearly stripped condom distribution altogether—as proof that public health problems can be solved by moral remedies. It is a classic fundamentalist maneuver: move a fight you can’t win in the center to the margins, then broadcast the results back home.
The Fellowship may have overplayed its genocidal intentions — because of overwhelming international protest, the Anti-Homosexuality Bill is on hold. Some influential Ugandan leaders oppose the bill — but for the wrong reasons.
The closet, former ethics minister Miria Matembe believed, was a fine African tradition. That made her a liberal; she didn’t want to kill gays.
Her real problem with the bill, she said, “is it makes us all potential criminals.” She’d have twenty-four hours to report me or face a prison sentence of up to three years.
This, she thought, was unfair. To her.
“The Prayer Breakfast continues, but I no longer go to it. They were corrupted. It is the Americans! Confused as usual, exploiting.”
Sanctified brutality is difficult for ex-gay activists in the United States to perpetrate. But the African continent’s counterparts to Exodus International roam free: Corrective rape remains common. After a conservative Christian pastor and congregation correctively raped Victor Juliet Mukasa to make this transgender man “female,” the police blamed Mukasa. He and friend Yvonne Oyoo successfully defended themselves against police violation of due process — so Ugandan fundamentalists sought to change Uganda’s laws so that there would be no due process. They invited Scott Lively to numerous conferences, and drafted the AHB with the colonial concerns of their U.S. fundamentalist allies in mind. The language of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill declared itself a model not just for Ugandans, but also for other nations.
Sharlet explores certain disagreements within Uganda’s antigay movement.
One camp within the antigay movement, led by Pentecostal Pastor Michael Kyazze, argues that Ugandans must admit that homosexuality is an internal Ugandan problem. Martin Ssempa, Kyazze’s friend, had a different perspective, that U.S. and Europe are under the control of the homosexual. Ssempa had received $90K in U.S. PEPFAR aid and was guest of honor at Saddleback Church in 2005 and 2006.
According to Kyazze, homosexual predators recruit Ugandans through the use of iPods, laptops, cell phones — and UNICEF. His supposed proof: a 2002 UNICEF pamphlet, “the Teenagers Toolkit,” which referred to homosexuality as natural. Kyazze says the AHB is too lenient because it protects victims of same-sex rape from media exposure. But his objections may rest more upon religious favoritism than stereotypes about rape: While Kyazze is a pentecostal, his rivals MP David Bahati and ethics minister James Buturo are Anglican.
Ssempa has initiated antigay pogroms more than once. And before Ssempa, Ugandan dictator Idi Amin murdered hundreds of thousands of his countrymen in the 1970s.
In the 1980s, a war between dictator Milton Obote and [current president Yoweri] Museveni’s bush army killed hundreds of thousands more. Museveni, once in power, was different. He disposed of his enemies through “accidents” and frame-ups, not massacres. He wasn’t a kleptocrat, but he surrounded himself with thieves—on the theory, apparently, that rich men are peaceful men. Still, he is a dictator, and dictators need enemies. For years, the enemy was a vicious rebel group called the Lord’s Resistance Army, but the LRA has been reduced to a few hundred child fi ghters. Enter the homosexual: singular, an archetype—a bogeyman.
The nation, it seems, has not yet purged itself of barbaric tendencies.
David Bahati’s training in U.S.-style theocracy, political campaigning, and ethnic cleansing began in 2004 at The Leadership Institute in Arlington, Va., where he was invited to the Family’s headquarters and coached to seek out the Ugandan branch of The Fellowship when he returned to Uganda.
To him, homosexuality is only a symptom of what he learned from the Family to be a greater plague: government by people, not by God. The burden is on you, David, his American friends told him. Inhofe’s staff had sent word, he said, and there were others— about half a dozen American leaders who supported his cause. …
There was still hope for Africa. God would use the weak to teach the strong, a Bahati to send a message to America.
Like its siblings among the Christian Right, the Family coaches its members to be spiritual egotists on a messianic mission to impose their will upon ex-democracies, using selective words from the Bible.
Five words, actually, Isaiah 6:8, illuminated for Bahati by Jesus: “Here am I; send me.”
Smartly divorced, that is, from what follows, just two verses later:
Then said I, Lord, how long? And he answered, / Until the cities be wasted without inhabitant, / And the houses without man, / And the land be utterly desolate, / And the lord have removed men far away, / And there be a great forsaking in the midst of the land.
Sharlet quotes Bahati and a pastor ally saying that Fellowship groups in the governments of countries across the continent — Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania, Zambia, Congo — have requested copies of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill.