(Editor’s note: This is the third part in a series on “Compass to Compassion – Discovering a Common Way to LGBT Global Equality,” a consultation about finding ways to decriminalize homosexuality across the world and to bring equality and dignity to LGBT people. Editor in Chief Ken Williams was on the planning committee headed by the Rev. Canon Albert Ogle of San Diego and was a participant in the consultation, and he is sharing with SDGLN’s readers what he learned during the meetings.)
NEW YORK – Republican presidential candidates Rick Perry and Michelle Bachmann are two prominent American politicians who back Dominionism, a controversial movement whose goal is to turn the United States into a nation governed by conservative Christian law.
Think American Taliban.
Well-known Evangelicals and Fundamentalists from the Religious Right have grown increasingly vocal about their mission to turn America into a Christian state, conveniently ignoring the Founding Fathers and their insistence on separation of church and state.
Last week, during the “Compass to Compassion – Discovering a Common Way to LGBT Global Equality” consultation at Union Theological Seminary, almost 100 prominent leaders representing a wide diversity of faith and secular communities attended a symposium titled “Theological and Human Rights Perspectives on the Impact of Religious Extremism on LGBT People Abroad.”
Participants heard chilling reports on how homophobic the Dominionists are and how they are working diligently to spread their religious extremism abroad, particularly to African nations – many formerly ruled over by the British, who imposed their religious views on the native populations and, in many cases, changed cultural views that were accepting of homosexuality.
Keynote speaker the Rev. Dr. Kapya Kaoma
The Rev. Dr. Kapya Kaoma, project director for Political Research Associates and an Anglican priest from Zambia, gave the keynote speech on “An Overview of the Culture Wars: Beyond East Africa and the Implications of Dominionism for Local and International Issues.”
Kaoma warned that Dominionists believe they have a “God-given mandate to control every issue, not just religion. … every aspect of human life: Arts and entertainment, business, education, family, government, media and religion.” This is part of the Seven Mountains of influence in culture that the movement wants to control.
From 1998 to 2001, Kaoma was dean of St. John’s Cathedral in Mutare, Zimbabwe; from 2001 to 2002, he was academic dean at St. John’s Anglican Seminary in Kitwe, Zambia.
Kaoma noted that Zambia declared itself a Christian nation at the behest of American Evangelicals.
As a progressive faith leader who has served throughout Africa, he sighed when he said that the “entire Christian community of Zimbabwe is antigay.” He blasted American religious and political leaders who publicly condemn the corrupt President Robert Mugabe, who has ruthlessly clung to power since Zimbabwe (then Southern Rhodesia) gained its independence from Britain in 1980, yet they still meet with him behind closed doors.
Kaoma scoffed at the Religious Right’s position of “Love the sinner, hate the sin,” when in fact they are pushing for criminalization of homosexuality, encouraging harsh laws against LGBT people and fostering bias and discrimination in all aspects of gay life in Africa.
He found it ironic that “American conservatives know more about Africa than we do … and that most have never been here!”
“They say homosexuality is a western thing,” Kaoma said. “But homosexuality has been in Africa long before white people set foot on our shores.”
Like Martin Luther King Jr., Kaoma has a dream: A freedom march from Capetown to Cairo. “I can see that day coming,” he said.
The panel discussion
Kapya Kaoma moderated the panel discussion featuring the Rev. Fr. MacDonald Sembereka, national coordinator for Manerela, the Malawi Network of Religious Leaders Living with or Affected by HIV/AIDS; the Rev. Dr. Joseph Palacious, director of Catholics for Equality Foundation and adjunct professor in liberal studies and Latin American studies at Georgetown University; Jessica Stern, director of programs for International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission; and Julie Dorf, senior advisor of Council for Global Equality.
Sembereka talked about the struggles of helping the LGBT community of Malawi, which gained its independence from Britain in 1964. He said President Bingu wa Mutharika is homophobic, and that Parliament passed a bill to criminalize homosexuality.
He said enemies of the LGBT community spread rumors about those who support equality. “They say we are rich from all the money you are sending us, which is false,” he said, adding that the government labeled him a gay activist because he gets funds from the west.
Such labels and lies come with grave consequences.
“About a month ago, my house was torched,” Sembereka said, causing a collective gasp from the audience.
As a pastor, Sembereka said he only has the support of his bishop and that he is banished from serving other bishops throughout Malawi.
“Look BEYOND Uganda,” he urged the media.
Sembereka got a standing ovation from participants for having the courage to come to New York and share his heartfelt story. A day later, conference organizer the Rev. Canon Albert Ogle of San Diego announced that participants raised $1,700 in an offering to reimburse Sembereka’s airfare, the money having been raised from friends.
Palacios focused on the Roman Catholic Church and the theological and political challenges in being part of ecumenical efforts related to issues of global equality.
Unlike some panelist, Palacious said he is not a total pessimist on this issue. He explained the various changes, for good and bad, that have occurred in the Catholic Church over the past 40 years. He said gay marriage is a major dividing point among Catholics in the 21st century.
“We need a cultural shift” in regards to LGBT rights, Palacios said.
Stern, from the IGLHRC, urged attendees and the media to always act with caution. She outlined 10 key points:
1. Don’t act without consulting with people in the country because they know best what the issues are.
2. Don’t assume that the people who call themselves “LGBT activists” have any credibility.
3. Don’t assume that LGBT issues is the ONLY human rights violations.
4. Don’t assume you are the only group working on issues in that country.
5. Don’t do a one-off response. Build long-term relationships.
6. Don’t break the news before the activists.
7. Don’t fundraise in the name of activists elsewhere.
8. Don’t speak to the press without consulting with local activists on the issues.
9. Don’t assume that nation has no voice.
10. Do think before you consult.
Stern said a common tactic by homophobic governments is to blame the west for their problems, stemming from a long history of colonialism and economic disadvantage. She blamed American Evangelicals for much of the homophobia seething throughout Africa.
Dorf, of the Council for Global Equality, spoke on “How does advancing an American foreign policy inclusive of sexual orientation and gender identify work in conjunction with a faith-based strategy?”
She praised the Obama administration for shifting, for the first time in history, American foreign policy to help advance LGBT global rights.
Dorf urged inquiring minds to track the money from anti-gay groups in America to its destinations in Africa. Who is sending the money and who is receiving it?
“We need to expose them and hold those people accountable,” Dorf said.