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South Africa bars American pastor who calls gay people ‘perverts’

JOHANNESBURG — A controversial American pastor has been officially deemed persona non grata by South Africa's government, with Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba saying in a statement  on Tuesday that Steven Anderson and his church associates are barred from entering the country.

The move comes after months of lobbying by members of South Africa’s LGBT community, who asked the government ahead of Anderson's planned visit to stop him from promoting intolerance in the country.

Anderson’s Faithful Word Baptist Church in Tempe, Ariz., calls itself “an old-fashioned, independent, fundamental, King James Bible only, soul-winning Baptist church,” according to its website. It is among the hundreds of U.S. hate groups listed by the Southern Poverty Law Center and notes in its doctrinal statement that “homosexuality is a sin and an abomination which God punishes with the death penalty.”

The church had planned a “soul-winning marathon” in South Africa later this month. After the outcry from the LGBT community, Anderson said he didn’t plan to focus on the issue of homosexuality while in South Africa.

“It’s an evangelism campaign. It never had anything to do with homosexuality,” Anderson told the South African radio station Radio 702. “Only the media, because they’re obsessed with homosexuality, has spun it to be all about these perverts.” He added that some of South Africa’s religious leaders, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu, were “a bunch of perverts.”

His church preaches that “homosexuality is a sin," and has referred to gay people as "perverts." (Video: Facebook/Malusi Nkanyezi Gigaba)

On Tuesday, Gigaba, invoking South Africa's constitution and the Immigration Act, which prohibits entry for foreigners who are likely to promote hate speech or advocate social violence, said he had designated Anderson and his associates as “undesirable persons" who are "barred from traveling to South Africa” and withdrew the visa exemption they enjoyed as U.S. citizens.

Despite South Africa's progressive laws, the minister’s decision was a surprise to some rights advocates.

“We never fully know where government will go in [applying] the constitutional protections,” Jabu Pereira, director of Iranti-org, a queer rights media organization based in Johannesburg, wrote in an email. Pereira cited South Africa’s recent abstention from a U.N. Human Rights Council vote to appoint an independent expert to examine violence against the LGBT community.

“The minister demonstrated key leadership in making this decision,” he wrote, referring to the move against Anderson.

A recent survey of South Africans’ attitudes toward homosexuality and gender nonconformity offered a mixed bag of perspectives. (The ensuing report was aptly named “Progressive Prudes.”) Although half of the respondents said gay people deserve equal treatment before the law, 72 percent said homosexual activity is “morally wrong.”

“There exists a great void between our progressive laws and how we treat each other as individuals,” Gigaba said in his statement. “South Africa has its own mending to do; we do not need more hatred advocated to our people.”

Anderson, who could not be reached for comment, noted the government’s decision on social media but pledged to carry on the church’s mission next door, in Botswana.

“I feel sorry for people who live in South Africa, but thank God we still have a wide open door in Botswana,” he wrote. “Stand by for reports of MULTITUDES saved in Botswana, where religious freedom still exists.”