As a career missionary to Africa, I fear what would happen to me on judgment day if I didn’t speak out against what is happening in Uganda right now in the name of Christ. I was in the middle of typing my monthly newsletter when I decided to check my e-mail. The subject line read, “Pastor Rick Warren condemns Uganda anti-homosexuality bill.” Hurray for Rick Warren, but my question is where’s everyone else? Christian Right leaders in the U.S. are constantly griping that the media portrays them as bigoted towards homosexuals. Well Mr. Dobson and Mr. Sekulow, now would be a perfect time to prove them wrong. I’m still waiting for my urgent action e-mail.
I’m not talking about an issue that falls within the realm of perfectly legitimate political debate—like whether gay marriage should be legal or not. What I’m talking about is a bill that if passed would condemn homosexuals to prison, would give the death penalty for homosexuals with HIV, and would criminalize heterosexuals that support gay rights. The bill being considered would actually force heterosexuals to report their gay friends and neighbors to the authorities. I would expect something like this from a group like the Taliban, but from a nation with a vast majority of Christians? Who would have thought? But then again, I’m not sure why I’m surprised.
I’d like to think that American Christian leaders have nothing to do with the direction that Uganda’s government is sliding towards, but I know it’s not true. For starters, I’ve been to Uganda and have lived and traveled extensively throughout Africa. Based on my experience, the level of influence that American pastors, evangelists, and missionaries have in predominately Christian countries in Africa is astronomical, especially when you consider how many African churches and ministries are dependent on American support. As difficult as it may be to believe, in most English speaking countries in Africa, American televangelists are like rock stars. The way the average Ugandan feels towards people like T.D. Jakes, Reinhard Bonnke, and Benny Hinn is what the average American feels towards people like—ironically—Bono. If I’m exaggerating, it’s only slightly.
Lest I be misunderstood, I’m not suggesting that the above-mentioned leaders are guilty of stoking anti-gay bigotry in Uganda. I use their names only to underscore the fact that, in most cases, American Christian leaders wield a greater influence over the pop-culture in African countries than they do in their own country. Even pastors of small to mid-sized congregations in the U.S. can go to countries like Uganda or Kenya or Nigeria and preach to tens of thousands of people at a time—and maybe even meet with the country’s leaders. It happens every day. American Christianity has enormous influence in Africa. With great influence comes great responsibility.
Let’s not forget that there was a man about 80 years ago that came to power on the platform of criminalizing consensual gay sex. His name was Hitler. There’s a reason why the Apostle Paul said to the Corinthian Church, “For what have I to do with judging those who are outside?” (I Corinthians 5:12) Paul must have known that when Christians try to legislate morality outside the confines of spiritual discipline within the Church, the result is usually an ugly monster that looks nothing like Christ. It’s time for American pastors, missionaries, and evangelists, along with our African brothers and sisters declare loudly to the world—not in our name!