Like many a Daily Beast reader, I found Campus Crusade for Christ to be somewhere between annoying and amusing. You remember them from college: the Jesus freaks, intent on spreading the “Good News,” somewhere between quaint and creepy.
Turns out, CCC—now rebranded, ludicrously, as “Cru”—is a massive organization, and involved in some of the meanest homophobia-for-export in Africa. Not so amusing anymore.
Remarkably, CCC is No. 20 on Forbes magazine’s list of the largest charity organizations in America, with $548 million in annual receipts in 2013, $503 million of which are donations. (Presumably the rest are Cru-branded sweatshirts.) This is an impressive achievement, to put it mildly—most of the other top 20 are household names such as United Way and the Salvation Army.
As its former name implies, Cru is best known for its campus outreach: Bible study groups and the like. But it also has a powerful international arm—there are a lot more eligible converts in Africa than at your typical college kegger, after all—which runs missionary work and conferences.
On March 22, 2013, one of those conferences, Pamoja III, attended by 300 African college students and captured on YouTube, featured Dr. Seyoum Antonios, introduced with enthusiasm by CCC’s vice president of global church movements, Bekele Shanko. Having been praised by Cru’s vice president, Antonios spewed a toxic blend of U.S. anti-gay talking points, in the ironic context of fighting U.S. imperialism.
Among the takeaways from Antonios’s presentation: Thirty-three percent of homosexuals are pedophiles, gay couples are coming to Africa to steal children and turn them homosexual, homosexuality is a Western plot to kill Africans, and gay people are 15 times more likely to be murderers than straight people.
Fortunately, Antonios said, Ethiopia will become a “graveyard for homosexuality.”
Now, there are homophobes everywhere. But Antonios is a powerful homophobe. He is the head of United for Life Ethiopia, a country that was considering increasing the penalty for the “crime” of homosexuality—until it did an about-face in April after the firestorm in Uganda. Antonios, like his comrade in arms Martin Ssempa in Uganda, has called for the death penalty.
Nor is Antonios some kind of lone wolf. On the contrary, as discovered by Dr. Kapya Kaoma of the think tank Political Research Associates (where I have worked in the past, on other issues), he and CCC are part of, yes, a vast right-wing conspiracy to export homophobia to Africa and fight the culture wars on potentially winning (and donor-pleasing) turf.
The American Center for Law and Justice, founded by Pat Robertson as an answer to the ACLU, has set up offices in Kenya and Zimbabwe to “uphold pro-life and pro-family values,” the former apparently including the death penalty for consensual sex.
And the Alliance Defending Freedom, the folks behind the “Turn the Gays Away” bill and a key part of the Hobby Lobby coalition, has led numerous programs and conferences in Africa to warn unsuspecting Africans about the “homosexual agenda.” At one conference, the ADF said, Anita Bryant-style, that this agenda includes “recruiting children.”
CCC—sorry, Cru—is at once better known and lesser known than these groups. It has a brand that far more people recognize, and a budget dwarfing the others’. (CCC does not reveal how much of its budget is spent on overseas activities.) At the same time, when progressives roll off the names of their usual foes—Family Research Council, Human Life International, Family Watch International, American Family Association, The Becket Fund—Campus Crusade for Christ is not usually among them. Its members are supposed to be the earnest Christians, preaching the Gospel but not fomenting hate around the world.
Moreover, most of its anti-gay work takes place far outside the spotlight. Consider Antonios himself. Would anyone know about his bilious speech had it not been publicized by the advocacy organization Truth Wins Out and gradually made its way through the LGBT press? Needless to say, this is the first mainstream media coverage Antonios has received. How many more such events are held without most of the world knowing?
Nor is this CCC’s first foray into African homophobia. It’s no coincidence that Antonios’ speech was eerily familiar to the one given by Ssempa in Uganda in which Ssempa memorably insisted that all gay people “Eat the Poo Poo,” which he vividly pantomimed in his speech. According to Truth Wins Out, CCC has been active in Uganda for more than a decade, bringing Holocaust revisionist-turned-anti-gay zealot Scott Lively to the country in 2002.
There is a growing myth that advances in LGBT equality here in the United States have led to a backlash overseas. But this “backlash” has been engineered by the same far-right conservatives who have lost the culture war here in the U.S. and who find sympathetic ears among authoritarian regimes in places like Russia and Uganda. This isn’t a backlash—it’s a backup plan.
And in many places, it’s working. Campus Cru-sade for Christ may seem harmless enough—but tell that to the latest victim of violence where its preachers are preaching hate.