Evangelical Leaders Encouraging Anti-Gay Movement in Latin America
Following the recent defeat of the Uganda Anti-Homosexuality Law of 2014, which would have allowed LGBTI individuals to be sentenced to life in prison, American evangelical leaders seem to be turning their attention to a new conservative battleground: Latin America. Many Ugandan LGBTI rights activists say that members of the American evangelical community are responsible for inciting much of the fervor against homosexuality. Accordingly, it now appears that religious leaders are attempting to spread their influence to Peru and other Latin American countries.
Reverend Samuel Rodriguez, a prominent Latino pastor, and Mat Staver, founder of the Christian rights law firm Liberty Council, are reportedly meeting with evangelical faith leaders in Latin America to help strengthen their message and outreach. These meetings have already resulted in a merger between two Hispanic Christian organizations in the spring of 2014: the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference (NHCLC) and Conela, a Latin American group of evangelical churches. The merger is allegedly designed to help conservative Latino pastors and leaders increase their political influence, especially in regards to controversial topics like same-sex marriage.
Though the combined organization is still relatively young, it has already had an effect on legislation in Peru. Currently, Julio Rosas, a conservative lawmaker with ties to NHCLC/Conela, is fighting a bill that would allow same-sex civil unions in the country. Supporters of the bill have cited Rosas’s efforts as a main reason the bill has not yet passed. However, it is unclear how the organization will fair in other areas of Latin America such as Argentina, Uruguay, and Mexico City, which have recently legalized gay marriage.
This interest in Latin America’s evangelical movement seems reminiscent of previous outreach efforts in Uganda, a nation that has become known internationally for its legal measures against homosexuality and violent attacks on members of the LGBTI community. Many Ugandan activists, including Reverend Mark Kiyimba of Uganda’s Unitarian Universalist Church, and Nicholas Opiyo, one of the lawyers who fought the Anti-Homosexuality Law, have traced the origins of this prejudice to American evangelicals who visited Uganda and helped raise support for the bill. While Rev. Kiyimba has noted that same sex relationships were already illegal before the new law was introduced, and that LGBT people were not openly accepted in Uganda, he has stated that the violence and hatred have origins in the Ugandan Pentecostal movement, as well as other evangelical sects in the nation. In the wake of the bill’s dismissal, which was found to be inadmissible due to a technicality, Opiyo has voiced concerns for the safety of LGBTI individuals because of the continued fervor of the growing evangelical movements.
In the wake of the combination of NHCLC and Conela, Latino activists and scholars have suggested that Rodriguez and Staver are attempting to take advantage of Latin America’s existing conservative values. Comments from both men have supported these views: Rodriguez has stated that he hopes the group will “serve as the catalyst for the global revitalization of evangelism”, while Staver has called the organization a response to financial aid he alleges the United States government pays to gay rights groups in various countries. NHCLC/Conela, meanwhile, has identified itself as the largest Evangelical association in the world. While the organization has currently only taken action against same-sex marriage, it is possible, given evangelical beliefs and the backgrounds of key members, that they may also turn their attention to other controversial subjects, such as abortion and even divorce. The latter could potentially cause problems for NHCLC/Conela and their American partners as divorce grows increasingly popular around the world: in the United States, for example, as many as 50% of marriages end in divorce, with two-thirds initiated by women. Additionally, this liberal attitude in their home country, combined with a general social acceptance for gay marriage, suggests that Rodriguez and Staver may be searching for a new market for their mission due to opposing views in the U.S.