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Romney and the religious right’s anti-LGBT foreign policy

This is an except from commentary by the Rev. Canon Albert Ogle that appeared in the San Diego Gay and Lesbian News. In it, Ogle describes and analyzes this week’s Clinton Global Initiative 2012 conference in New York, including a speech by Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney.

Foreign policy under Romney – the role of the Religious Right

Mitt Romney (Photo by Gage Skidmore via WIkimedia Commons)
Mitt Romney (Photo by Gage Skidmore via WIkimedia Commons)

The next morning [Sept. 25], following the awards ceremony, Mitt Romney had the opportunity to roll out his proposed foreign policy to this distinguished audience. Again, like Secretary [Hillary] Clinton, he stressed the need for greater investment by the private sector as a long-term solution for these larger problems for the world.

On the surface, it appeared there was agreement from the Obama and Romney camps on the targeting of future U.S. aid to incubating long-term economic investment, until he mentioned pastor Rick Warren [of Saddleback Church] as an example of good American global development! The hair on the back of my neck reacted.

The model Romney was using sounded something like this: “The U.S. will promote private enterprise allowing businesses go into developing countries to do whatever they want and create jobs for people (with minimal regulation) while the faith-based community would take care of the left-overs.”

By invoking Warren as his only example of good American overseas aid strategy, Romney had just reinforced the “soup-kitchen model” of religious charity with its ultimate goal to win souls for Jesus. This is certainly not my form of Christianity, and there are millions like me.

To secure the votes of more American evangelicals, it sounds as if a deal has been made to allow faith-based charities in the USA to funnel billions of dollars in aid to churches in Africa and beyond, to care for AIDS orphans, build hospitals, create small church social service programs and educate millions of children.

If we want to predict what this will look like, we need to go no further than to look at the effects of international faith-based initiatives during the eight long years of the George W. Bush Administration. Americans, apparently suffering from collective amnesia, has wiped this traumatic era from their minds when we were not only at war for the wrong reasons but under Bush’s faith-based programs, family planning programs abroad were shredded, HIV interventions were reduced to “abstinence only” models and the current wave of global homophobia was unleashed from American evangelical churches globally.

Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)
Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Where did Ugandan theocrats like the Rev. Martin Ssempa and MP David Bahati get their head start in Ugandan political life but through these faith-based AIDS programs. With the blessing of pastor Rick Warren and other American evangelical organizations, this largely underground movement secured millions of dollars in government contracts abroad. Churches in Africa and elsewhere hit a gold mine and it was not in the long-term interests of these communities, but was often at the expense of a private foreign policy of religious extremists who were frustrated in their attempts to create God’s kingdom on Earth. If they could not do it in godless America, then Africa was an easy and vulnerable target.

The holy rollers and the gravy train

At a recent meeting in Georgetown University during the International AIDS Conference, the President of World Vision appeared with Rick Warren to once again to support an “abstinence only” strategy that we know has failed in places like Uganda. As the HIV infection rate soars through these failed policies, some leading American faith-based charities would rather support a theological and biblical interpretation of sexual behavior over a more scientific evidence-based approach.

Where the vast majority of religious organizations in 76 countries support the status quo that homosexuality should be criminalized, this often translates into lack of access to prevention and health services for millions of LGBT people. How can we give public funds to organizations that are working against universal access to health care?

Rick Warren, on the one hand, provides support and resources for the care of orphans and alleviation of suffering in places like Rwanda and Uganda but his reluctance to come out against the criminalization of homosexuality and his support of “ex-gay” therapy is a big problem. To use his positive work while being blind to his negative impact on the lives of millions of people was another Romney faux pas. The media did not hear it.

However, combined with the recent disclosure from a Republican platform policy document that a Romney Administration would not object to 76 countries continuing to criminalize homosexuality and not intervene in places like Uganda (as President Barack Obama and Clinton have done) this is troubling U-turn for our investment in sound human rights and HIV policies.

Read the full commentary here: RGOD2: “A week is a long time in politics”  in San Diego Gay and Lesbian News.

Written by Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart is a 45-year journalism veteran living in Southern California. After his retirement from paid newspaper work in 2011, he launched Erasing 76 Crimes and helped with the Spirit of 76 campaign that assembled a multi-national team of 26 LGBTI rights activists to advocate for change during the International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C., in July 2012. He is the president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which supports LGBTQ+ rights advocacy journalism, including the Erasing 76 Crimes news site and the African Human Rights Media Network. Contact him via Twitter @76crimes or by email at Mailing address: 21 Marseille, Laguna Niguel CA 92677 USA.

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