Thursday, May 22, 2014

"God Loves Uganda": Some Critical Notes

Steve and I had a chance to watch Roger Ross Williams's documentary "God Loves Uganda" last night. Our local PBS station aired it Monday night, and we had saved it. I don't have much to add to what astute reviewers have already said in praise of this film (and here).

What struck us, above all, as we watched it last evening, was the heavy, overriding emphasis on words like "law," "order," "obedience," and "control" in the rhetoric of the white American evangelicals intent on exporting anti-gay animus to Africa, and their hysteria about the opposites of those terms: the West is in "rebellion." We've entered a state of "social chaos." Everything is now falling apart — for us, that is — and these American Christians think they've been called to Africa to stop the chaos and rebellion and the falling apart.

To stop it in Africa, that is. But as they themselves say quite plainly in their interviews, their real concern is to stop the movement to social chaos and rebellion against God in the West, in the United States. Africa and its peoples are merely instruments being wielded in the hands of faith-based (but eminently political) groups in the U.S. who believe that if their power over targeted minorities (and, above all, women) wanes, they've become impotent.

They're no longer in control, as they've imagined themselves to be for ever so long now. And if they're not in control, God has lost control.

The God these American evangelicals export to Africa is an angry Calvinist God hard to reconcile with the loving parent embodied by Jesus Christ in the gospels. He (and he is eminently a he) is touchy, ready to slap down, easily offended by immorality, and especially by any whisper of sexual transgression, which becomes, in the minds of these evangelicals so certain that they know the mind of their angry, irritable male God, a touchstone for law and order and obedience and control.

Let people get out of control sexually — let gay men and all women, in particular, get out of the control of angry white evangelical men and the God they believe they represent in the world — and Everything Will Fall Apart. The evangelical Christians whose activities in Uganda are carefully documented in the film are there, they tell us, to assure that Uganda won't make the same mistake the West has made: they're there to assure it won't let things Get Out of Control.

They're there to assure that the Christian gospels and their message are equated with male entitlement and female subordination, with stigmatization of gays and lesbians, with an otherworldly message of salvation that in no way touches the real world in which people live except to control their erotic lives. 

They're there to bring something to Africans and African culture, and most certainly not to receive or learn from those to whom they bring their message of an angry white man sitting on the clouds to knock into place the rebellious — read: women and gays. The documentary is full of stomach-churning scenes in which callow, well-fed, and oh-so-smugly-certain young Americans go out into the countryside seeking converts.

They peddle their gospel verses. They badger. They seek to overturn the already existing religious beliefs of those they encounter with simplistic formulae about "God" and "sin" and "damnation" and "salvation." 

And all the while, what they're peddling is really American-style capitalism wrapped up in a handful of carefully selected bible verses. To those preaching this American gospel to poor people in Africa, there's no distinction between culture and belief — between their American capitalistic culture and the bible they offer to Africans. Nothing in their educations or church backgrounds has ever invited them to think about the critical difference between the culture they take for granted as God's culture, and the bible they assume they know because they've extracted a few prooftexts from it to hurl at "sinners."

This is scary stuff, because it has nothing at all to do with God, the bible, or Jesus Christ. It's scary because it so glibly uses, with not a scintilla of respect for those who are being used, poor, struggling human beings in developing countries. It uses gay folks and women as despised objects to be vilified, roughly shoved into place, and, failing that and if they remain "rebellious," to be violently attacked.

This is scary stuff because it may well be the future of humankind, if we don't wake up and do something about it very soon.

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