Pawns of the Pentecostalists? Global Homophobia on the rise

Are we all becoming pawns of a Pentecostalist anti-LGBT crusade being conducted worldwide?

AP Kenya Gay and Out
Binyavanga Wainana. Photo: Ben Curtis, AP

I finally got around to watching Kenyan writer Binyavanga Wainana’s Hard Talk interview with Stephen Sackur of the BBC  just a few days ago. The interview was instigated by Binyavanga’s hugely hyped ‘coming out’ a few weeks earlier. In response to the recent  wave of homophobic legislation in Nigeria and Uganda Wainana released a short story titled I Am a Homosexual, Mum. In the BBC interview Binyavanga was on form as usual and made a lot of sense but Sackur took me by surprise when he seemed to reject out of hand the Kenyan writer’s assertion that the Pentecostal movement with its fire and brimstone preachers were very much to blame for the recent escalation in homophobia on the African continent.

This sounded perfectly plausible to me, especially since I’ve heard local gay activists say the same thing in the context of Jamaica, that American Pentecostalist preachers come to the Caribbean and rave and rant against homosexuals with an incendiary intensity that simply wouldn’t be allowed in the United States with its hate speech laws. All of a sudden something I’ve been puzzled by for a long time–the mystery of why homophobia manifests itself so virulently both in the Caribbean (with Jamaica taking the cake for over the top intolerance) and on the African continent–seemed to have a simple explanation. The same set of American Pentecostalists have mounted concerted campaigns against what they call ‘the homosexual agenda’ in both locations, and I don’t know about African countries but you will have noticed if you’re from here that the use of the term ‘homosexual agenda’ has seen an exponential rise in the last 5 years. Just to test my hypothesis I decided to look at another recent site of anti-gay rhetoric and action–Russia. It was instructive. An American evangelist named Scott Lively had been at work there just as he had in Uganda, which he first visited in 2002. According to a Washington Post article:

Scott Lively is an obsessively anti-gay American evangelical minister. He is, according to National Journal, “perhaps the most extreme” of a network of U.S. evangelicals who, having failed in their crusade against all things gay at home, travel abroad to connect with anti-gay activists and arm them with arguments that, for example, homosexuals will seduce their children, corrupt all of society, and eventually take over the country. You don’t need to take my word for it; read Lively’s manifesto here. It’s a 2007 missive to Russians suggesting they “criminalize the public advocacy of homosexuality,” i.e., use state power to force gay people into the closet. This is something Russia actually did last year (rather indirectly, but quite effectively).

Meanwhile the Southern Poverty Law Centre details Lively’s pernicious activities in Uganda:

In early March 2009, he went to Uganda to deliver what would become known as his infamous talk at the Triangle Hotel in Kampala at an anti-LGBT conference organized by Family Life Network leader Stephen Langa. The conference, titled “Exposing the Truth behind Homosexuality and the Homosexual Agenda,” also included Don Schmierer, a board member of the ex-gay therapy group Exodus International, and Caleb Brundidge Jr., a self-professed ex-gay man with ties to the ex-gay therapy group Healing Touch. Thousands of Ugandans attended the conference, including law enforcement, religious leaders, and government officials. They were treated to a litany of anti-LGBT propaganda, including the false claims that being molested as a child causes homosexuality, that LGBT people are sexual predators trying to turn children gay by molesting them, and that gay rights activists want to replace marriage with a culture of sexual promiscuity. Lively met with Ugandan lawmakers during the conference, and in a blog post later he likened his campaign against LGBT people to a “nuclear bomb” against the “gay agenda” that had gone off in Uganda. A month later, the Ugandan parliament was considering legislation that included the death penalty for LGBT people in some instances and life imprisonment for others. According to Rev. Kapya Kaoma, an Episcopal priest from Zambia (now in Boston) who went to the conference under cover, Lively’s talking points were included in the bill’s preamble

According to Right Wing Watch:

While Lively lashes out at Republicans in the U.S. for helping “hand over the military to the Sodomites,” he praises anti-gay measures in India, Russia and Jamaica, and argues that the reason Ukraine’s president pulled out of an agreement with the European Union was “the Ukrainian disdain for the sexual perversion agenda of the EU.”
In Lively’s own words:
Those of us who still hold a Biblical worldview have been heartened by recent global events affirming normalcy. The Australian high court struck down “gay marriage” as unconstitutional, the Indian high court re-criminalized sodomy, and Russian President Putin declared his nation to be the new moral compass of the world for championing family values. Although Ukraine’s highly controversial decision to postpone (or cancel) a step into the fold of the European Union has been framed in economic terms, there is little doubt that the Ukrainian disdain for the sexual perversion agenda of the EU has played a major role. And in tiny Jamaica, a push to decriminalize sodomy (driven in large part by the U.S. State Department), has run into so much opposition that the pro-family Jamaicans just might win that battle.

To see Lively in action watch this UK Guardian video released today, How US evangelical missionaries wage war on gay people in Uganda. Although Lively himself doesn’t seem to have made a personal appearance in Jamaica as yet we have been treated to diatribes against the LGBT-community by one of his disciples, Peter LaBarbera, whose group Americans for Truth About Homosexuality (AFTAH) threw a banquet in honour of Lively in 2011. LaBarbera was in Jamaica as recently as December 2013 urging Jamaicans to resist changing the laws against buggery. 

LeRoy Clarke. Photo: Stefan Falke

Of course we can’t blame the Pentecostal purveyors of hate entirely for the intolerance towards the LGBT community. Their maniacal fervour and rhetoric falls on very fertile ground. Anti-gay sentiment is alive and well from the least literate to the most highly educated and accomplished of Caribbean citizens. Look for example at the startling outburst the other day by Trinidadian artist Leroi Clarke, that has stirred up quite a controversy in Port of Spain. A report in the Trinidad Guardian quoted the eminent painter:

In a phone interview yesterday, Clarke related homosexuality to the increase in crime, saying young men are usually indoctrinated into gangs with homosexuality and because of the violation of their manhood use the gun as a symbol of their masculinity. He added: “It is brought about by power bases that manipulate the principles that hold our heritage for their own advantage. “Something is happening with the gender paradigm today. We had guidelines where we looked at certain types of conduct as abominations. We took it from the scriptures.” The Bible, he added, was one of those and verses clearly refer to homosexuality, men with men and women with women, as “unnatural” and an abomination. “Today, the word abomination does not have the same tone. People indulge abominations, accede to them,” Clarke lamented. “At 73, I can say the world is no longer mine,” he said. Asked exactly what he meant by saying homosexuality was threatening the arts, Clarke said with the exception of the sailor and maybe the midnight robber, there were no longer any definitely male costumes in Carnival, not even in portrayals of the devil. “An effeminating power has taken over the costumes and even the rhythm of the music. Carnival is no longer male and female. “This is a very serious matter. We are dealing with a problem that is threatening our heritage.

LeRoy Clarke at work. Photo: Annie Paul
LeRoy Clarke at work. Photo: Annie Paul

Rumour has it that what may have set Clarke off was the recent state gift to Carnival Masman Peter Minshall of the State property he has been occupying in Fede­ra­tion Park, Port of Spain. Minshall, a white Trinidadian is openly gay.

To return to Stephen Sackur’s interview with Binyavanga Wainana which must be watched to be believed, I admit to feeling as if the scales have dropped from my eyes. On the one hand you have Sackur browbeating Wainana for bringing up the very pertinent matter of the anti-gay campaign by Pentecostalist missionaries in African countries such as Uganda, claiming that the Kenyan writer was trying to blame African homophobia on ‘external influences’ such as this (He wasn’t); and on the other hand you have Sackur insisting later on in the interview that the West must be allowed to interfere in the internal matters of African societies in the name of championing ‘universal values’! Sackur needs to be administered a good dose of Stuart Hall 101 on the inherent problems of overlooking cultural factors in the name of a tenuous universalism which only seems to work unidirectionally–from the West to the rest of us.

If indeed you speak in the name of the West Mr. Sackur deliver up former UK PM Blair to the Hague for trial for the universally understood category of war crimes (as Wainana gently suggested).  I’d love to see an interview along those lines. And at the very least leash the rabid hatemongers within your midst and curb the export of hatred and homophobia from the West before we all become puppets of the Pentecostalists. After that you may or may not be allowed to preach ‘universal values’. External forces ought not to lead the way to change in societies from outside, they can provide assistance discreetly, at the behest of, and in line with, not in advance of those militating for change  from within and only after they put their own house in order. Nuff said.

Nelson Mandela, Servant Leadership and ‘Born-heres’ : An Interview with Kumi Naidoo, Part 1

An interview with Kumi Naidoo on the occasion of Nelson Mandela’s death in which he talks about the great leader, leadership, activism and identity.

Kumi Naidoo, left
Kumi Naidoo, left

On December 5, the day Nelson Mandela finally died, after a heavily mediated, prolonged deathwatch, I was in Amsterdam with Kumi Naidoo, a close South African friend of many years standing. In between hundreds of requests for his comments from global media I managed to sneak in an interview myself. I had originally planned to interview Kumi about his role as Executive Director of Greenpeace International, about the predicament of the Arctic 30 who were still in captivity in Russia then and other environmental issues. After Mandela’s death I decided to include Kumi’s views on this historic passing in the interview, as an ANC activist of many years standing, as someone who knew and worked with Mandela personally, who better than Kumi Naidoo from whom to get a perspective on Nelson Mandela and political leadership in general. This constitutes Part 1 of the interview. In the second part which i’ll post in a couple of days i ask him about Greenpeace, environmentalism and the Arctic 30 among other things. First an excerpt from Kumi’s Greenpeace blog:

I was 15 years old when I first heard the name Mandela, or Madiba, as he is fondly known in Africa. In apartheid South Africa he was public enemy number one. Shrouded in secrecy, myth and rumour, the media called him ‘The Black Pimpernel’. He was able to avoid the police, using several disguises – a favorite of which was that of a chauffeur – until the CIA colluded with the apartheid regime to ensure his capture. In Durban, where I was born and grew up, and all over Africa, he was a hero! Now he is a hero to the world.


AP: Kumi, you knew Nelson Mandela personally, you’ve had experiences with him, you are from South Africa, and I heard you in the BBC interview a moment ago saying something about how you thought the world could best do justice to him, or the best tribute they could pay to him. Could you develop that point for me?

KN: Mandela was very keen not to be understood as an exceptional person. I’ll give you a story. In 2004, I was in Mobutu, Mozambique, to help moderate a discussion with young people and with some senior African leaders which included Graça Machel and Joaquim Chissano, who was President of Mozambique at that time, and these were kids from eastern and southern African countries who had developed a vision of what they wanted Africa to be in 2050, and were presenting the vision. So, when I was moderating the discussion, one of the young people asked the question: “What is your definition of leadership?” And Mandela’s mind flipped back to the forties and he answered it as he would have answered it at that point: “We in the ANC youth league believe in the idea of collective leadership.” So essentially his notion of leadership was a very servant leadership, that you are there to serve not to take. And the reality is today most of our political leaders want to be treated as gods and semi-gods, from the security details to the fuss around them and so on.

AP: They’re more interested in the aura of leadership?

KN: And I think even though he was feted and praised as he was, he always was at pains to say, I’m a human being. And whenever anybody called him a saint, he would say: “If by saint you mean a sinner who is trying to be better, then I’m a saint.” His own sense of himself was a very humble reading, [different] from how the world read him. And, quite often, you had the sense that he was not comfortable with all the accolades that would be, you know…

AP: Hurled at him.

KN: Yeah, in fact, there’s a beautiful one on women. Nelson Mandela once said “I can’t help it if the ladies take note of me; I’m not going to protest.” He also spoke about how, as a human being, he’s made mistakes. In 1995 when I was heading the Adult Literacy Campaign in South Africa I took kids and adult learners to the Parliament to meet Madiba on International Literacy Day. They were excited to have their picture taken with him – the image was to become a poster for our campaign to promote adult basic education – but everyone was anxious; they were asking me what they should say and how they should approach meeting the President! The main line that people had prepared, the kids, and even the adults that were there, was something like, “Thank you, Mr. President,” or, “Thank you, Madiba, for taking time. We know how busy you are.” But when Madiba emerged from his Cabinet meeting he turned the tables. He walked in and thanked everyone for taking the time to see him. “I know how busy you all are and I thank you for taking time to meet me,” he said. In that moment he closed the gap. He was just a human being, a person like them, and everyone relaxed. Within a minute, that sort of thing about the leader and the lead, the gap was closed, and that’s a rare thing.

One of the things that I noticed with my own eyes was his ability to engage with kings and queens and heads of state on the one hand, and his ability to engage with ordinary people, equally comfortably. For example, I first met him when I was in my late 20s, in 1993. I was helping facilitate an African National Congress (ANC) workshop to plan its media strategy. I went down to meet him for the first time and you know me I got stupid… I just choked. I said, “Hello Madiba, it’s a real honour to meet you,” and I couldn’t get another word out. Just that one sentence. So during the workshop, he quietly, didn’t make a big fuss of it, quietly asked, “Can I go and say thank you to the people who prepared the food, and the workers of the hotel?” And I followed and I watched what he did and he basically shook everybody’s hands in the kitchen and said thank you to everybody.

I’ve come across a lot of people in my life who talk about poverty and talk about the poor, but you rarely have a sense that it matters to them to the point at which they will be willing to sacrifice something. Yes, they feel a sense of solidarity, but when you speak about the poor, that you actually celebrate the eloquence of the poor, the tenacity of the poor, the perseverance, courage… I mean, to survive poverty is… You know, many people theorize poverty, but so many elements of poverty, individually, for most people who theorize about poverty would be really difficult to even comprehend the individual things. Just take homelessness. If you are homeless, what does it mean not to have a post box where people can contact you; what does it mean not knowing where you’re going to sleep at the end of the day; what does it mean not having a place where you can store what little you might possess. So dealing with homelessness in itself is a huge thing for most people who are commentators [on] or benefactors to poverty. Then you take an issue like living with HIV/AIDS… I mean, you know, where health care is difficult… where people have to struggle for access to antiretrovirals and some still don’t have access to them and all of that, and just confronting that alone, for most people, would be a major challenge. And then you got things like educational deprivation as a result of a conscious apartheid strategy, where the founder of apartheid, Verwoerd, once said, and I quote, “Blacks should never be shown the greener pastures of education, they should know that their station in life is to be hewers of wood and drawers of water.”

AP: Who said that?

KN: Verwoerd. V-E-R-W-O-E-R-D. He was the architect of apartheid. Those legacies still live on. And Mandela’s very strong commitment to education more than anything else, and very strong commitment to children more than anything else, comes very much from a deep inter-generational understanding as well. Like when I was the head of the adult literacy movement in South Africa it was always easy to get him to send messages of support and so on. But, because you can say, well, okay, the new government… There’s a term for it in South Africa now, like you know how they talk about the Millennials? There’s a term… ‘Born frees’! The born frees are those that were born after ’94. So now they’re ten years old. They got no… In fact, even if I take talking to the wonderful kids that are a part of my life, and who know the stories because they’ve heard it from me a thousand times, or they’ve been in the presence of friends, who when we get together we always tend to reminisce But still, often they think we’re exaggerating about  how bad it was. They don’t really believe, because thankfully they are in more normal situations now, they attend schools with kids of different races, and its no big deal like it was for us. That was such a big thing. So the one thing about Mandela’s leadership is that he was not only a strong leader showing the importance of understanding the appropriate role of individual leadership. But he was always collective-minded, understanding that the wisdom comes from a range of people. For example, his relationship with the other senior leadership of the ANC was critically important to him, like Walter Sisulu was his confidant right until he passed away, Govan Mbeki, Ahmed Kathrada.

AP: I wanted to ask you about Ahmed Kathrada.

KN: So Kathrada was the youngest of the Rivonia trialists…

AP: Of the what?

KN: The Rivonia trialists. Rivonia was a farm where they were captured from and the trial was known as the Rivonia trial.

AP: Mandela was part of that?

KN: Yes, that was the trial where he got life imprisonment.

AP: What were they trying to do?

KN: They had some explosives…Probably, in military terms, it was not even security training 101.

AN: Kindergarten.

KN: Actually, maybe I should take that back, because at that time maybe it was as sophisticated as you could get. But the other thing about Mandela which is really important was his passion for peace, because when he came out of prison he was unequivocal about the need to eliminate violence from the politics of South Africa. I remember this one speech, he went into Durban where there was a huge conflict between the ANC and Chief Buthelezi’s Inkatha Freedom Party, and it was Mandela’s force of character, his strength with humility, and so on. I mean quite often I think leaders are put into positions of unilateralism where they’re not prepared to deal honestly with their people about the ambiguity of leadership, because sometimes there are situations where you need a leader to be more assertive and maybe even less consultative, and in other situations, normally, I would say that’s a better style of leadership.

AP: Being consultative?

KN: Because then the responsibilities are shared more broadly and those who have responsibility for decisions have a greater investment in them… And as President, in the five years Mandela was there he was a very hands-off President, I would say, Thabo Mbeki did a lot of the day to day management of Cabinet Ministers and so on. And de Klerk was the other Deputy President, there were two Deputy Presidents in the first Cabinet. So I think that the kind of leadership that we need to revisit now as we reflect on one of the greatest leaders that walked this planet is, given where the world is, for example, should leaders take as given that the level of material privilege they assume, that comes with the role of leadership, should it be so vastly different from the day to day realities of often the majority of the people in their countries? So, for example, we have had some signs of positive actions such as the current President of Malawi, first woman to head up Malawi, and she, for example, sold off the Presidential jet. We just assume that the norm of leadership is living the life. So therefore you can see that there are times when leaders have to honestly say to their people, this is a time of austerity and we need to…

AP: Tighten our belts.

KN: …tighten our belts, people are thinking, well its easy for you to say. Its going to mean nothing to you because it will have no material effect on you, given that you have so much of excess income anyway, from what it takes to meet your basic needs. And so I think there needs to be a conversation. If there’s something that should come out of Mandela’s death right now, I would think there has to be a conversation about equality, and its importance, because every problem we have here is a world out of balance. I mean to have less than 200 of the wealthiest people in the U.S. be equivalent of, own more than, 65% of the American people, there’s something wrong with that system, where people have so much that they don’t need and they start being silly, and engage in exuberant consumption which is completely self-serving, and so on. And in that sense Mandela did not… and it was also the issue of his age and all when he came out, because, and don’t forget, he was cut off from the world for 27 years. Its amazing how he just appeared to fit smoothly into that world. But there’s a lot that he had missed in absolute terms. And so I don’t judge him too harshly on this, but the fact is, you know, he didn’t really fundamentally challenge the structural injustices in our economic life, and in that sense, I think that if you assume that he had spent, if you take the time that he was in prison, for example, and how much of that was lost. Because you know people don’t sufficiently acknowledge that he was not only about charisma and wisdom and all of that, he was also a person of intellect. He had a very very amazing intellectual gift, and I think his real gift was that ability to be able to walk one day with kings, queens and heads of state, and another day be as comfortable, and in fact, quite frankly, more comfortable, walking with regular people.

AP: That’s really good, you’ve given me a few private glimpses which aren’t out there which is great. I wanted to go back to the fact that you’re an Indian South African, and people don’t realize that many Indian South Africans participated in the ANC and in those struggles against apartheid. For instance I was quite surprised to see that this cellmate of Nelson Mandela was another Indian South African. What’s his name again?

KN: Ahmed Kathrada

AP: Right, so its not as exceptional as it seems?

KN: No, no, in fact, several South Africans of Indian origin were in Robben Island with Nelson Mandela. There was Mac Maharaj, Billy Nair, who spent twenty years there, and Zed, Uncle Zed we used to call him.

AP: Zed?

KN: Yes, Z-E-D, he spent fourteen years. Yeah, many, and disproportional to the size of the population in terms of this thing, but it was because of the legacy of Gandhi. During all of that there was quite a strong spirit of resistance in the community. Mandela was fond of Gandhi in terms of his life and work and writings, but the apartheid state, like all colonial regimes, maintained control by divide and rule, and in South Africa, the main form of divide and rule was on the basis of race, and not just that but also on the basis of language, so it wasn’t that it was just white, Indian, African, coloured, as they would’ve called it, but the African community was, the black African community were then broken up into Zulu, Xhosa, Tswana and the other African languages… your language and culture.

AP: Interesting, I have never heard that side.

KN: Yes, so there were people like myself who came through the liberation struggle, who were first influenced by Steve Biko, and were resisting the divisions of apartheid which were also historical and cultural divisions. Distinctions, let’s say, because obviously the people who came as indentured servants from India have a different history versus those who came to be defined as Coloured, whose numbers are in excess of three million; and their community was rich in culture…

AP: And the Coloureds are the hybrid people born out of contact between the Europeans and Africans?

KN: Yes, but the people who were so defined have forged themselves also into a rich community in their own standing. I think one of the richest cultures in South Africa in terms of music, dance, even rich art forms and so on, because there is also Malay influence, because there were slaves brought from Indonesia and Malaysia.

AP: Really, I didn’t know that.

KN: So, given all of these different influences, our response, those that came through the struggle like myself, when the state used to say white and non-white, we said we didn’t want to be non anything. So black then became the unifying identity. And Steve Biko’s big contribution was in the way that he defined black consciousness. He defined it as everybody who wasn’t benefiting from the privileges of white citizenship, and the ANC drew on and embraced that as well, and so for me my identity is very much first and foremost…

AP: A black identity, as a black person?

KN: Today, given the journey I’ve traveled, my first identity, it might sound silly but, is as a human being who is not bound by any man-made boundaries, but my second biggest identity is as an African whose identity is fundamentally linked to the African continent as a whole, and third it is South African, and then fourth, I would say, as a South African of Indian origin, and I don’t see any of those in contradiction. I think that they enrich each other in different ways.

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