When Shaping Culture Means Shaping Hate

In a recent speech to Ugandan policy makers, Patrick Henry College’s Dr. Graham Walker roundly condemned the ‘postmodernism’ of American universities, delivering sentiments with the potential to inflame anti-gay sentiments in the country.

Walker, who taught at the University of Pennsylvania before joining Patrick Henry’s faculty, mined his time at the Ivy League school for outrage fodder. A former mentor for incoming freshmen, Walker described a case study handed out to students to acquaint them with the school’s diversity. To the University of Pennsylvania, the study was designed to encourage respect for sexual minorities; to Walker, it encouraged nothing but sin.

He paraphrased the study for his audience.  “Imagine you are a young woman who is arriving as a new student on the urban Ivy League campus of the University of Pennsylvania,” he said. “You were raised in an uncomplicated rural farming region far away from the city. When you were growing up, the people in your rural community, in your family and in your country church, taught you to believe that gay and lesbian people were perverted and depraved.”

The case study later gives this hypothetical farm girl a hypothetical lesbian roommate, painstakingly identified as courteous and intelligent. It sets up an obvious dilemma: how to resolve this clash of inherited belief with reality?

“The answer was obvious: they were supposed to abandon the outmoded ‘rural’ beliefs about homosexuality and adopt the supposedly superior beliefs of the urban sophisticates,” he told his audience.

Of course, Walker’s own bias is equally apparent throughout his remarks. He made it clear that his objection had less to do with the simplicity of the case study, and everything to do with its conclusion.

Walker slammed the social psychologist who wrote the study: “…he had written the narrative in such a way as to assume the legitimacy of the claim that some people simply ‘are;’ ‘lesbian,’ as if it were a category of identity given by the natural order of things.”

Quotation marks are Walker’s own.

It’s clear to me that he doesn’t believe anyone is essentially queer; he can’t even acknowledge ‘lesbian’ as a viable identity. Instead, he implies it’s unnatural. That would be troubling enough if his remarks had been given at his fundamentalist home institution, but of course they weren’t. They were delivered to Ugandan policy makers, right before the Ugandan parliament voted to pass a draconian law targeted at the country’s sexual minorities.

That bill assigns life imprisonment to anyone found guilty of ‘aggravated homosexuality;’ homosexuality itself has already been criminalized in the country. A previous draft of the bill assigned the death penalty for the same offense. President Yoweri Museveni, no supporter of gay rights, blocked it based on a technicality, as the parliament passed the bill without a full quorum.

And there’s further context to Walker’s speech. He’d been invited to Uganda by Uganda Christian University (UCU). UCU is affiliated with the deeply conservative Church of Uganda, an entity that has long been reluctant to condemn the country’s infamous anti-homosexuality bill. The church even defrocked a retired bishop, Christopher Senyonjo, for his advocacy for Uganda’s beleaguered sexual minorities.

Walker’s home church is also affiliated with the Church of Uganda, further deepening his ties to the conservative body. He attends Waterford Anglican Fellowship, a plant of the Church of the Holy Spirit, located in Leesburg, Virginia. A Loudoun Times-Mirror article described Holy Spirit’s consecration by Bishop John Guernsey; Guernsey himself was consecrated by the Church of Uganda.

In 2009, Rev. Dr. Christopher Byaruhanga, a professor of theology at UCU, condemned Western Christians for their antipathy toward the legislation. “You see there’s a kind of imperialism and a kind of relativism from the West,” he said. “They don’t understand our ethics in the country of Uganda and they are trying to impose what they believe.”

UCU’s Vice-Chancellor, John Senyonyi, attended last year’s Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON), a meeting of conservative Anglican clergy. GAFCON originally convened out of opposition to a perceived shift toward liberalism, engineered by the church’s leadership; observers believe the liberal-conservative rift has been at least partially inspired by the church’s consecration of Gene Robinson, an openly gay man.

Last year, GAFCON adopted the Nairobi Commitment. It reads: “In 2008, the first GAFCON was convened in order to counter a false gospel which was spreading throughout the Communion,” and adds, “It sought to mask sinful behaviour with the language of human rights. It promoted homosexual practice as consistent with holiness, despite the fact that the Bible clearly identifies it as sinful.”

Senyonyi read the statement aloud on the final day of the conference.

Senyonyi and his colleagues might not explicitly advocate for the murder of sexual minorities, nor might Dr. Walker. But there is no doubt they are anti-gay. The ‘human rights language’ the Nairobi Commitment condemns is designed to protect sexual minorities from persecution. But these so-called men of God haven’t concerned themselves with the prevention of persecution. Instead, they contribute directly to it.

Walker isn’t unique. He’s merely the latest Western anti-gay activist to travel to Uganda to peddle hate disguised as faith. It’s a crusade that has already resulted in bloodshed. That context is absent from Walker’s anti-gay speech, though I’d argue it’s impossible he’s unaware that it exists. In fact, I’d argue the opposite. He is aware. He simply doesn’t see anything wrong with it. Why else deliver anti-gay remarks to policy-makers overwhelmingly devoted to the persecution and destruction of their LGBT constituents? Why travel to Uganda at the invitation of a clergyman so devoted to anti-gay prejudice he’d risk a split from the global Anglican church? Walker, who teaches government at Patrick Henry, surely understood the political implications of his speech.

On its website, Patrick Henry College boasts that it ‘shapes culture,’ and that’s certainly true. They are shaping culture: a culture of hate. And thanks to Dr. Graham Walker, that project knows no borders.

Hat tip for this story to a PHC alum who alerted me to Walker’s speech. 

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