Yesterday, Bondings 2.0 reported about church officials in Cameroon who claimed gay priests murdered a bishop who had been found dead in a river near his home. The officials’ strikingly harsh statements about lesbian and gay people both reflect and fuel wider societal views which stigmatize and criminalize homosexuality.
Such views did not develop in a vacuum, and Western Christians have poured money and many other resources into expanding the hardships of lesbian and gay people in Africa. Documentaries like “God Loves Uganda” have exposed Evangelical efforts to further criminalize homosexuality. Local African church leaders, including Catholics, have participated heavily in this anti-gay movement, as well.
One Catholic group based in the U.S., the Center for Family and Human Rights (C-FAM), has played a particular role in trying to LGBT equality in Africa and internationally. C-FAM is listed as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Austin Ruse, a C-FAM leader, has supported the anti-LGBT work of nations like Russia, Sudan, and Saudi Arabia. Unfortunately, C-FAM has been given greater prominence after the Trump administration appointed it an official member of the U.S. delegation to the United Nation’s Commission on the Status of Women this year. LGBT human rights advocate Jessica Sterns criticized C-FAM’s appointment, saying the organization had a “violent mentality.”
Through on-the-ground organizing and international advocacy, Christian groups have sought to frame homosexuality as a Western import. The language of “ideological colonization” is increasingly popular for Catholic bishops, and even Pope Francis, who suggest LGBT equality is a forcible Western imposition. (For further analysis of this concept, read Dr. Cristina Traina’s commentary here.)
The voices of LGBT-negative church leaders and hate groups like C-FAM are not the only Catholic voices speaking about LGBT equality in Africa. Dr. Frank Mugisha of Sexual Minorities Uganda, who is Catholic, refutes anti-LGBT beliefs. Back in 2011, he wrote in The New York Times:
“Many Africans believe that homosexuality is an import from the West, and ironically they invoke religious beliefs and colonial-era laws that are foreign to our continent to persecute us.
“The way I see it, homophobia — not homosexuality — is the toxic import. Thanks to the absurd ideas peddled by American fundamentalists, we are constantly forced to respond to the myth — debunked long ago by scientists — that homosexuality leads to pedophilia.”
New Ways Ministry launched the #PopeSpeakOut campaign for Catholics and others to ask Pope Francis to condemn criminalization laws and call for respect towards LGBT people. The campaign was particularly active leading up to his 2015 Apostolic Voyage to Kenya, Uganda, and Central African Republic.
While Mugisha and other Catholics are correct about the importation of homophobia to Africa and the need for the church to be a defender of human rights, Christian efforts to encourage the criminalization of homosexuality and further stigmatize lesbian and gay people have sadly been successful.
For instance, African bishops were staunch opponents of more compassionate pastoral care for LGBT people and their families during the Synod on the Family. At the synod’s 2015 meeting, Cardinal Robert Sarah of the African nation of Guinea even compared homosexuality to “Nazi-fascism and communism.” The Cameroonian bishops’ past and recent remarks are another example of this warped belief system. Such dangerous rhetoric puts LGBT people’s lives in a perilous position.
This is why it is so important for Pope Francis and other church leaders to echo the words Frank Mugisha told attendees at New Ways Ministry’s Symposium this past spring:
“I encourage you to think of any way you can support an LGBT person. Take it personally. Stand up. Speak out.”
Now is the time for Catholics to push back harder against homophobic bishops and groups like C-FAM with powerful words that are followed by concrete actions.
Join #PopeSpeakOut! Add your voice to the growing number of Catholics who are Pope Francis to speak out against the criminalization of LGBT people. To send the pope an email or a tweet, click here.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, August 14, 2017