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  WINDY CITY TIMES

Inclusive ministry battles spread of LGBT hatred in Africa
by Gretchen Rachel Hammond
2015-04-22

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Despite their stringent denials, U.S. Christian Conservatives such as Rev. Rick Warren of California's Saddleback Church and Truth Abiding Ministries President Scott Lively have undertaken a multi-year mission to convince the people, leaders and lawmakers of African nations to join them in and even legislate for an anti-LGBT ideology couched in fear and hatred—one that is increasingly falling on deaf ears in Europe and the United States.

A 2014 article in Mother Jones noted that, in 2009, Lively made a five-hour television broadcast in Uganda during which "he claimed that homosexuals were aggressively recruiting Uganda's children and argued that human rights protections shouldn't be extended to these 'predatory' figures."

Warren has publicly stated his opinions about homosexuality. "I have all kinds of natural feelings in my life," he said. "But it doesn't necessarily mean I should act on every feeling." While attempting to project a benign and charitable front behind his work in Africa according to a report issued last year by Political Research Associates during a 2008 visit to Uganda "Warren told the African press that 'homosexuality is not a natural way of life and thus not a human right. We shall not tolerate this aspect at all.' Pastor Warren left Uganda, but his powerful condemnation remained, recirculated in the Uganda media for years."

The results which have taken root not only in Uganda but in nations across the continent have been devastating. Even before Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni signed a 2014 law punishing homosexual acts with life imprisonment, reports from the country detailed mob brutalization and the indiscriminate murder of LGBT people who now live in hiding and fear. In announcing his intention to sign off on the bill, Museveni's words seemed uncannily similar to statements made by American Conservative pastors like Warren and Lively. "I am convinced with the available information that these people are not born like that, they just learn and they can unlearn what they have learned," Museveni said.

Anti-LGBT laws have since spread to countries such as Nigeria and Gambia. In tracking those laws in Africa that criminalize homosexuality, the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association ( ILGA ) notes over 30 of Africa's 54 nations with anti-gay laws on the books ranging from indeterminate lengths of imprisonment to the death penalty.

In August 2015, Warren is going back to Africa. According to the Christian Post he will play host to "pastors and church leaders from all 54 African nations" at a conference in Rwanda. The Saddleback Church describes it as part of Warren's PEACE plan designed to address world problems such as "spiritual emptiness, self-centered leadership, poverty, disease and illiteracy."

"The PEACE plan is about turning an audience into an army, consumers into contributors and spectators into participators," the Saddleback's website states.

To counter Warren's armies, one United States organization—The Fellowship of Affirming Ministries ( TFAM ), which describes itself as a multi-denominational group of primarily African-American Christian leaders and churches with the overriding purpose of moving towards a theology of radical inclusivity to serve all in need without prejudice or discrimination—has embarked upon its own African mission: to attempt to minimize any further damage that Warren might inflict upon the continent's LGBT people with their propagation of an opposite message of love and inclusion.

In a press release, TFAM stated that the organizations founder and presiding Bishop Rev. Dr. Yvette Flunder and Executive Director/Bishop-elect, Pastor Joseph Tolton are engaged in a month-long tour of countries such as Rwanda, Cote D'Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of Congo ( "DRC" ) and Kenya to "bring global attention to these human-rights issues in Africa, support affirming African organizations and local movements and promote governmental policies and the policies of organized religious structures that support LGBTI dignity, inclusion, and justice."

Both church leaders had been working with LGBTI people in Africa prior to the tour, which began on March 27 and will conclude on April 29. Tolton spoke with Windy City Times from the Cote D'Ivoire.

"The tour has been very community-based and the strategy has been to reach out to mostly evangelical Pentecostal pastors who themselves have networks of pastors that they are in communion with," he said. "We are providing outreach, teaching and training to call for a gospel of inclusion and for the continent to connect around issues of oppression at large. We're talking about LGBTI exclusion, a lack of response to HIV/AIDS, structural poverty and violence against women. The idea is to package these issues and show the commonality that all oppression is rooted in the same soil and to very clearly articulate the strategy of Conservative evangelicals who have created hostile environments. We want to try to expose how politicized that mission is and how they have globalized the culture war. Many of these Conservatives are the very same who support policies in America that are not beneficial to the lives and well-being of African-Americans."

Tolton added that the reaction to the tour from churches in nations such as Rwanda has been interesting. "The mostly rural Pentecostal Church of God Rwanda have fully embraced and welcomed the LGBTI community to the church," he said. "It's historic. It's probably the first Pentecostal African denomination to open its doors affirmatively and without compromise."

He added that the church's position has led to introductory conversations in the Democratic Republic of Congo. In Kenya a group of psychiatrists and clergy indicated to Tolton their desire to start a rescue center for abused women and people suffering from HIV/AIDS. The center would also serve as a safe space for LGBTI young people chased away from their homes and cut off from their families.

In Tolton's opinion, Warren's success in sowing the seeds of LGBTI hatred in Africa is based around a tried and trusted historically effective strategy. "What he has been able to do is go places where there is economic despair and where people's political aspirations around democracy have often been bashed," he said. "When you give people a perverted sense of being empowered along with digging wells and building schools, you are bringing them a divisive message but also a measure of hope that people latch onto."

Tolton has seen first-hand how Warren's message has impacted LGBTI people living in the nation's he has visited. "Rwanda is a place where there are no anti-sodomy laws," he said. "But even in that type of an environment, where the government is moderate there are still pockets of hostility. In Kenya there was a thriving LGBTI nightlife but the Uganda bill next door shined such a light on East Africa that a lot of [the nightlife] has closed down in the last two years."

Chicago pastor and TFAM's Midwest Regional Bishop Phyllis V. Pennese told Windy City Times that she believes Warren and the Saddleback's African mission is based around the growing rejection of his ideology in the United States.

"They are losing the fight here in the U.S. and are taking it to African people," she said. "The whole notion that they believe they can win the fight there and so define African people and people of African descent and divide us I find to be curious and distasteful."

She asserted that TFAM will go on countering Warren with unified peace—a message she says is already taking hold in the African people despite the vitriol of their governments. "We realize that all of our struggles is one struggle with many fronts. Oppression, colonialism, racism—all of these things connect and intersect. The fight is against all forms of oppression no matter where they try to rear their heads in countries where they think they have an upper hand. Just as we are finding here in the US, more and more people in Africa are embracing inclusion rather than hate and division."

Tolton has his own message to Warren's followers. "There is a crisis in the United States that relates to African-American people," he said. "Police brutality, mass incarceration and income inequality are huge and accelerated problems to the African-American community. There has been a lack of response by Saddleback to those issues. If in fact they do not have a strategy that deals with those issues, their intentions in Africa become obvious. I challenge Saddleback to challenge [Warren] to craft a strategy of supporting policies for the good health and welfare of African-Americans. I would encourage them to ask him to take the funds they are giving to Africa and give them to African-Americans to do the work [there]. Support us as we do right by our brothers and sisters on the ground."

Windy City Times reached out to the Saddleback Church. There was no response to requests for an interview.

For more information about the work of TFAM, visit www.radicallyinclusive.com .


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