The Duck of Minerva

The Duck Quacks at Twilight

The sources of Uganda’s anti-gay bias

January 5, 2010


The NY Times ran a story this morning on how three American evangelical Christians influenced the gay death penalty bill now pending in Uganda.

While the emphasis in the story is on the influence of the American evangelical Christians, there is a line in the NYTimes article that deserves more attention:

Many Africans view homosexuality as an immoral Western import, and the continent is full of harsh homophobic laws. In northern Nigeria, gay men can face death by stoning. (my emphasis)

Likewise, Andrew Sullivan picks up the story and blasts the Americans. But he too has a line that is added without comment:

…in Africa, the public consensus is so anti-gay already that the consequences of this demonization are felt much more immediately and brutally.

This begs the question: Where do all these laws and the anti-gay public consensus in Africa come from?

In his 2002 book titled The Next Christendom: the coming of global Christianity, Philip Jenkins from Penn State University noted that nearly one third of the planet (just over 2 billion people) are Christians with the most rapid growth in past several decades coming in Latin America, Africa, and Asia. He notes that by 2025, both Africa and Latin America likely will have more Christians than Europe and all three continents will far outpace North America.

Because of the degree of poverty in the global south, for the past several decades many American commentators have simply assumed that the religion of the developing world would move toward a more fervent liberation theology with a focus on global redistribution of wealth.

Yet, Jenkins finds a different trend:

At present, the most immediately apparent difference between the older and new churches is that South Christians are far more conservative in terms of both beliefs and moral teaching. The denominations that are triumphing all across the global South are stalwartly traditional or even reactionary by the standards of the economically advanced nations. The churches that have made most dramatic progress in the global South have been either Roman Catholic, of a traditionalist and fideistic kind, or radical Protestant sects, evangelical or Pentecostal….

…These newer churches preach deep personal faith and communal orthodoxy, mysticism and Puritanism, all founded on clear scriptural authority. They preach messages that, to a Westerner, appear simplistically charismatic, visionary, and apocalyptic…..On present evidence, a Southernized Christian future should be distinctly conservative.

While we may be able to trace the specific influence of this pending legislation to the visit of three American evangelical Christians, the broader trend of anti-gay bias throughout the continent is almost certainly rooted in the rise of more traditionalist, conservative theology. And, if Jenkins’ demographic projections are correct, the rise of this traditionalist theology throughout the global South will have much broader socio-political effects throughout the world in the years to come….

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Jon Western has spent the last fifteen years teaching IR in liberal arts colleges at Mount Holyoke College and the Five Colleges in western Massachusetts. He has an eclectic range of intellectual interests but often writes on international security, U.S. foreign policy, military intervention, and human rights. He occasionally shares his thoughts about professional life in liberal arts colleges. In his spare time he coaches middle school soccer, mentors the local high school robotics team, skis, and sails.