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From Oregon to Uganda: A “Lively” Legal Debate on Gays, Sex, and Christianity

Joseph Hellweg
By Joseph Hellweg

Joseph Hellweg is a cultural anthropologist teaching in the Department of Religion at Florida State University in Florida's capital, Tallahassee. He is author of Hunting the Ethical State: The Benkadi Movement of Côte d'Ivoire (2011, University of Chicago Press) and Anthropologie, les premiers pas: Introduction à la modélisation et aux méthodes de recherche qualitative en sciences sociales (2011, L'Harmattan, Paris). He has conducted research sponsored by the Fulbright Foundation in Côte d'Ivoire, Guinea, and Mali. In 2008-2009, he taught as a Fulbright Fellow at the University of Kankan, where he learned to savor ndapa with lakudu sauce at Mme. Kourouma's restaurant in the Marché Diaka.

Posted on Monday, 19 March 2012 12:09

Most people have never heard of Scott Lively, an evangelical pastor living in the United States. But in Uganda he has developed quite a following—whether his followers know his name or not.

As the founder of Abiding Truth Ministries, he has played a leading role in furthering the so-called “anti-homosexuality bill” in the Ugandan parliament. First introduced in 2009 and subsequently revised, the bill would punish by fines and imprisonment anyone engaging in various forms of same-gendered sexual activity as well with those who shield such persons from the punishments the bill would impose.

Opposing the bill is Frank Mugisha, who heads Sexual Minorities Uganda, an advocacy group for lesbian, gay, and transgendered Ugandans. Mugisha accuses Scott Lively and other evangelical leaders from the U.S.—one might add Caleb Lee Brundidge and Don Schmierer to the list—of having helped draft Uganda’s anti-gay legislation. Mugisha has since secured the help of the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights to file a law suit on March 14, 2012 against Lively in a U.S. federal court in Springfield, Massachusetts. The suit charges that Lively has conspired to violate the human rights of lesbian and gay people in Uganda.

The legal action comes thanks to a Massachusetts statute that enables non-U.S. citizens to take legal action against U.S. citizens who have potentially violated international law. According to an article in the Washington Post on March 15, Lively “was among [the] U.S. evangelicals who visited Uganda in 2009, after which debate began about the [anti-homosexuality] bill.” The suit also “seeks monetary damages” for Lively’s anti-gay activities.

Lively claims that he suggested only therapy for lesbian and gay people, not legal sanctions. But he is no stranger either to controversy or violent inclinations. According to an article published by the Portland Mercury on October 5, 2000, Lively threw documentary film maker Catherine Stauffer against the wall of a church in Portland, Oregon before dragging her across the floor during her attempt to film efforts by the Oregon Citizens Alliance to promote anti-homosexuality legislation in the state. Lively’s dubious commitment to Christian values has earned him a place on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s list of hate groups.

To add insult to idiocy, Liberia has been considering, since late February, a bill that would similarly punish same-gendered sexual activity through imprisonment. The bill was introduced by former first lady Jewel Howard Taylor, ex-wife of Charles Taylor, currently on trial at the International Criminal Court at The Hague for crimes against humanity. On Thursday, February 23, 2012, following the start of discussions on the Liberian bill, The New Dawn reported that “a pro-gay activist escaped [an] angry mob that had gathered outside a radio station to lynch him while he was on the station’s breakfast show defending same sex marriage.”

The event was eerily reminiscent of the death of Ugandan gay rights activist, David Kato (may he rest in peace), mortally beaten with a hammer on Wednesday, January 25. According to the New York Times, Kato’s death followed the publication of his picture and whereabouts—along with those of several other Ugandan lesbian and gay activists—in the pages of a Ugandan newspaper, Rolling Stone. Libellous accusations that lesbians and gays recruit children to homosexuality accompanied the photos and information, hateful incitements to violence if there ever were any.

But if I characterize as injurious and idiotic those efforts underway in Liberia and Uganda to criminalize same-gendered sexual activity, it is only because they mirror the stupidity of Americans like Scott Lively who profess Christianity while preaching hate.

On the contrary, it is not homosexuality that represents a foreign intrusion into and subsequent undermining of African societies, but homophobia. My Ghanaian colleague Ayité Okyne made the point more eloquently than I in a 2009 column for

“Christianity itself is a Western import . . . Africa was colonized with Christianity! Besides, where did the myth that homosexuality was exogenous to African culture come from? Research shows that homosexuality and bisexuality have been present in every culture and in every generation. The native conceptions and practices of . . . homosexuality in many societies across every region in Africa have been documented in Murray and Roscoe’s Boy-Wives and Female Husbands. Indeed, it was Christianity that introduced homophobia to Africa.”

In other words, with Christians like Scot Lively, who needs colonialism?

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