God Loves Uganda

It looks increasingly likely that the “Kill the Gays” bill in Uganda will soon become law. I had the chance to see God Loves Uganda today, a documentary that tells part of the story of the background of the bill, including the involvement of American Evangelicals in advocating for its passage.

Unfortunately, the film is deeply flawed. As I watched, I increasingly felt as if the film maker was attempting to create a mirror image in the US of the events in Uganda. In other words, he was manipulating the story, the imagery, and the emotions of white progressive (LGBT) Americans in his effort to demonize Ugandan politicians, religious leaders, and American evangelicals. Throughout the film, ordinary Ugandan people are silent and passive, objectified and prevented agency, acted upon by American missionaries and activists. It was if Uganda had become a proxy battlefield for the American culture wars, just as in previous decades, African countries had been proxies in the Cold War.

It’s a story with real victims and real consequences which becomes clear with story of LGBT activist David Kato, his brutal death, and the travesty of his funeral show.

But there’s a larger story that would provide important context–the history of Colonialism in East Africa and especially Uganda; the history of Anglicanism in Uganda which began with the martyrdom of Ugandan Anglican converts by the local king when they refused to sacrifice to the traditional gods and refused to accede to his sexual demands. It’s also a church whose Archbishop was executed by Idi Amin. There are dynamics of nationalism, anti-Americanism, and anticolonialism that play important roles in the story as well.

I know all too well how African Anglicans have been deployed and manipulated by American  Episcopalians over the years as pawns in our internal struggles for legitimacy and the upper hand. It’s been done by both sides and this film often takes that manipulation to another level.

Jason Bruner provides important background on the complexities within Ugandan Christianity, society, and politics that have played crucial roles in the anti-gay legislation and attitudes. On the Anglican Church of Uganda, for example, he points out that in addition to the importance of conflict within the Anglican Communion and the perception that African Anglicans have become the stalwart upholders of Anglican Orthodoxy, Ugandan Anglicans are also motivated by increasing competition with other Christian groups, especially Pentecostalism.

His essay is a must-read to understand the controversy and the Ugandan context better.

Christians and the LGBT community in Madison and around the world

At Grace we are continuing to reflect on ways of making our congregation more open and welcoming of all people in spite of our struggles with the diocesan ban on offering same-sex blessings and Wisconsin’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. A recent article by Doug Erickson told the story of the suicide last fall of Mindy Fabian, a transgender teenager who struggled to find acceptance at her school and a place in the world. It’s a reminder that even in a progressive city like Madison, LGBT persons face adversity, prejudice, and bullying.

But it’s much worse in other places in America and across the world. After lengthy silence, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York have written to all Anglican primates to remind them of their public “commitment to the pastoral support and care of everyone worldwide, regardless of sexual orientation.” This came while Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby is traveling in Africa and after considerable criticism for his silence on the recent laws passed in Uganda and Nigeria that increase criminal penalties on LGBT individuals.

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefforts Schori has also recently reiterated the Episcopal Church’s commitment to LGBT rights:

The Episcopal Church has been clear about our expectation that every member of the LGBT community is entitled to the same respect and dignity as any other member of the human family.  Our advocacy for oppressed minorities has been vocal and sustained.  The current attempts to criminalize LBGT persons and their supporters are the latest in a series, each stage of which has been condemned by this Church, as well as many other religious communities and nations.

Stanley Ntagali, Anglican Archbishop of Uganda has responded to the Archbishops of Canterbury and York and the Uganda bill:

We sincerely hope the Archbishops and governing bodies of the Church of England will step back from the path they have set themselves on so the Church of Uganda will be able to maintain communion with our own Mother Church.

There is supposed to be a screening in February at UW of the documentary God loves Uganda that details the role of colonialism and western missionaries in creating homophobia in Uganda.