Global: Christian fundamentalism | IPS review

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The current President of Tanzania, John Magufuli, is a professed and practicing Catholic. When he fought for the highest office in the country in 2015 and wanted to convince the Tanzanian public, he campaigned through prayer and demonstrated his faith. Magufuli won the election and was sworn in just over three years ago. When, as in this case, a practicing Christian comes to power, no one in Western countries gets nervous. If Magufuli had prayed to Allah as demonstratively as he practiced his Catholic faith, the Western world would probably have been less comfortable.

After his election, Magafuli was first seen as a beacon of hope, both in Tanzania and abroad. His religious morals seemed to indicate a beneficial political rigor: Magufuli was cracking down on corruption and nepotism, and he seemed to be the right person to clean up ailing public finances. He was hailed as a role model for the whole continent.

Over time, however, the blessing faded, and what remained was pure morality. In September, Magufuli told his listeners to their amazement that women using birth control were just too lazy to support a family. “I have traveled to Europe and other areas where I have witnessed the harmful effects of birth control,” he said. “Some countries are now suffering from a decline in their population.

Tanzania does not need to be afraid of this. With population growth of over three percent, the country is already overwhelmed by the creation of enough new jobs for the next generation. Almost one in two Tanzanians is under the age of 15 and 800,000 young people enter the labor market each year. According to the World Bank, about a third of the country’s 57 million people today live in poverty. Despite all the efforts, people are struggling to feed their families.

The EU’s timid reaction

Magufuli’s Catholicism pushed him not only to such bizarre expressions of opinion, but also to decrees marked by religious fanaticism. For example, he banned pregnant girls and single mothers from going to school. This ban is strictly enforced. Teachers who oppose it should expect disciplinary action. Homosexuality is already illegal and can be punished up to 30 years in prison.

Politically and theologically, churches in Africa are becoming more and more conservative.

Since Magufuli’s election to the presidency, anti-homosexual rhetoric has increased dramatically. Magufuli’s government now wants to go even further. In October 2018, a special unit was formed to persecute homosexuals in the political and commercial capital of Dar es Salaam. Dar es Salaam Regional Commissioner Paul Makonda called on the population to report homosexuality suspects to the authorities. Makonda said that homosexuality is against the will of God. In the past, he has called for the persecution of lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people.

The EU responded by announcing that it would reconsider its financial contributions. And the World Bank is selecting a $ 300 million education project. But the outrage would probably be even more massive if the core of this hostile morality was an Islamist.

Death penalty for homosexuals

Magufuli is not the only Christian who, because of his radical attitude, violates human rights, excludes people and limits their opportunities for the future. On the African continent, the number of revival churches is increasing; many of them propagate very conservative and also extremely homophobic theories.

However, radical attitudes like these are not limited to these churches – which to a Western observer may seem like exceptions as there are still relatively few of them. But members of the big churches have also propagated radical theses, calling for the stalking of homosexuals – just as Magufuli and the new Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro are doing.

Politically and theologically, churches in Africa are becoming more and more conservative. This is mainly due to the massive influence of conservative religious groups in the United States. Criminalization and discrimination against homosexuals are now widespread in various African countries. In Kenya, physical contact between persons of the same sex can be punished with up to 14 years in prison. In Uganda, a bill even included the threat of the death penalty. The bill came in response to massive pressure from conservative evangelicals, who managed to convince many influential African pastors and bishops to campaign against sexual minorities.

In the government of Bolsonaro, the evangelicals will exert a great influence. The new president is himself Catholic, but his closest confidants are far-right evangelical preachers.

Conservative evangelicals lure people in by offering scholarships, loans, and other benefits, often under the guise of Christian aid organizations. The emergence of Holocaust denier Scott Lively, president of the Abiding Truth Ministries in California, has had an exceptional impact. Lively actively participated in the Ugandan campaign against gays and lesbians from 2009, intervened in legislation and wanted to introduce the death penalty for homosexuals.

Representatives of the Conservative Church in the United States often have access to the political elite of African countries. The consequences are dramatic in many African countries: in Uganda, Kenya and other countries, homosexuals now fear for their lives, and many have already been murdered.

The homophobic wave in Latin America

In Latin America, the situation is just as dramatic. In January, Javier Corrales wrote in the New York Times that an evangelical church can now be found in almost every neighborhood. Evangelicals represent 20% of the population today, compared to 3% thirty years ago.

In Latin America, these religious communities, who claim to interpret the Bible literally, have massive influence on politics. Evangelical pastors adhere to different ideologies, but share the same conservative, patriarchal and homophobic values ​​when it comes to gender and sexuality. Under their influence, prosecutions against homosexuals have intensified everywhere.

Brazil is a prime, albeit troubling, example, and was so even before the October election of far-right populist Jair Messias Bolsonaro. Bolsonaro has been talked about a lot for his misogynistic, anti-gay and racist remarks. On January 1, 2019, he took up his new role, and as a result, Brazilian society will continue to change.

In the government of Bolsonaro, the evangelicals will exert a great influence. The new president is himself Catholic, but his closest confidants are far-right evangelical preachers. Fundamentalists want to ban sexual and gender topics from schools. Anything that violates “custom and decency” must be fought. This includes homosexuals.

The West views these developments with great concern, especially with regard to Bolsonaro’s Brazil. In the public perception, it is mainly about violating human rights, while the Christian fanaticism behind it is ignored. On the other hand, among Muslims who call for hatred of homosexuals or conduct an extremely conservative social policy, waves of indignation immediately arise. And rightly so – but radical Christianity also threatens freedom.


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