A few years ago, I travelled Africa on the back of a big Bedford truck. One of my most wonderful memories was of a particular afternoon driving through Uganda towards the capital, Kampala. Every person we drove past waved at us, calling out an excited hello as we waved back. Children ran after us, laughing, pretending they could catch up. One car even drove alongside us so they could pass bananas to us in the back – a gift from an incredibly giving people.
Today I’m faced with a people immeasurably twisted by the interference of evangelical American churches. Within the space of a very short time, Uganda has brought to bear laws that further punish homosexuality (it’s already illegal under the current penal code) punishable by life in prison or death. Huge rallies fill the streets as ordinary people carry banners decrying sodomy and calling down biblical wrath on the sick behaviour of gays.
Martin Sempa, the most famous and popular preacher in Uganda, preaches on the grounds of the university in Kampala. He tells his congregation, “Those who promote homosexuality say that it’s nobody’s business what goes on in the bedroom. But do you know what they’re doing in their bedrooms?” As though he wouldn’t mind so much if these acts didn’t disgust him so.
But where does this hatred of homosexuality come from? In recent years, missionaries from evangelical churches in the US have made many trips to Uganda, and an audience largely ignorant of science and open debate. Once such missionary is Scott Lively, who proudly admits he has preached his lecture of hate in 40 countries. A month after he delivered his speech in Kampala, this new legislation was brought to parliament.
As the founder of Abiding Truth Ministries, Scott Lively is a passionate warrior against what he terms as the homosexual agenda. Lively is a conservative christian, who’s convinced that, bascially, all the evils of the world can be laid at the foot of the ‘pink swastika’, and has written a book to that effect.
But why has he bothered to go all the way to Uganda, of all places, to preach? Is it because he’s always had a deep and abiding concern for the souls of those poor Africans? Has he spent years raising funds to pay for schools and doctors? Has he travelled his own country raising awareness of the basic needs of ordinary Ugandans?
I had a friend once, an American girl trained as an ocean biologist, smart, intelligent and largely non-religious. Apart from a rather alarming lack of knowledge about the history of Europe (once, as we were walking through a WWI graveyard in France, she asked me who had fought in that war) this girl was, on every level, a good human being. We kept in touch as eventually our travels separated us. She ended up in South Africa, teaching at a school for AIDS orphans. She would write me long letters about how happy she was to have finally found a place in life. I wrote back how delighted I was for her. Right up until she described a weekend off she’d had, where she and her colleagues at the school, had driven into neighbouring Botswana and preached the gospel to local villages they’d passed through. She expressed her disappointment that they didn’t want to listen, and her hope that one day, if they took some gifts with them, that the people would accept Jesus into their hearts.
I confess, I was horrified at what she was doing. After much thought, I wrote back to her asking, very nicely, why she thought she had a right to interfere with the religious practices of ordinary Africans. Why did she think her religion was so much better and who did she think she was.
She never replied to my letter and I never heard from her again. I was forced to conclude that she didn’t answer my questions because she couldn’t.
And now the actions of Scott Lively and others like him force me to ask the same questions once more. What is he really doing in Uganda? Is he there to save the souls of those who practice homosexual sex? He doesn’t make any reference to saving souls at all. And he clearly doesn’t care a whit about the damage he causes to the people, the culture or the individuals concerned.
His interest is entirely self-serving. He’s doing it so he can earn a place in heaven. He does it because it’s good for him. He does it because he is convinced that he’s right and everybody else is completely wrong. Scott Lively is the epitome of the evangelical missionary, spreading his own message for his own reasons.
Unlike every other country in Africa, Uganda was never colonised. Instead, it carved its own existence out of a rough and bloody history. But it appears that, despite it’s hard-won independence, ‘western colonialism’ will triumph after all.
It’s enough to make me want to start up my own mission, so I can go out and preach against evangelical missionaries. But the truth is, I don’t have that much hatred in my heart. Alas, men like Scott Lively don’t seem to have that problem at all.