Thursday, January 24, 2013

Roger Ross Williams's Documentary on Exporting of American Homophobic Hatred to Africa: "Gospel of Intolerance"

In a New York Times opinion piece, filmmaker Roger Ross Williams explains what compels him to produce his documentary "Gospel of Intolerance," exploring the ways in which the American religious rights is exporting homophobic hatred to Africa as that movement senses that it's losing the anti-gay culture war in the West: though he grew up in the church, though his father was a religious leader and his sister a pastor, though he went to church every Sunday and sang in the choir,

But for all that the church gave me — for all that it represented belonging, love and community — it also shut its doors to me as a gay person. That experience left me with the lifelong desire to explore the power of religion to transform lives or destroy them. I became interested in Uganda, an intensely religious country that attracts many American missionaries and much funding from United States faith-based organizations. The American evangelical movement in Africa does valuable work in helping the poor. But as you’ll see in this Op-Doc video, some of their efforts and money feed a dangerous ideology that seeks to demonize L.G.B.T. people and intensifies religious rhetoric until it results in violence. It is important for American congregations to hold their churches accountable for what their money does in Africa. 

At his Slacktivist site, Fred Clark comments on the documentary and the exporting of Western-brewed homophobic hatred to Africa:

This is not about missions or missionaries or the gospel, this is about outsourcing theocracy.

And what these purported Christians are promoting in Uganda is evil. This is a tree bearing bad fruit.

I think what’s most amazing to me is the contrast between all the images of white American evangelicals and the black Africans in whose ears, quite literally, they’re whispering in order to inspire the same hate abroad that they do here at home. I raise the issue of race because many African bigots raise the issue themselves.  They claim that homosexuality does not inherently exist in Africa, white people imported it from the West.

I'm struck by the following observation of Rev. Kapya Kaoma in the film:

This movement believes that they have a God-given mandate to rule the world, to rule all spheres of society. And this is not just limited to the religious spheres, but they believe that they have to have this influence in politics, in business, in education, in entertainment--every kind of sector you might think of, to see themselves in authority.

The experience of growing up in a church that is home and family, which simultaneously embraced him and then shut its doors against him as a gay man, left Roger Ross Williams "with the lifelong desire to explore the power of religion to transform lives or destroy them." Religion shows both a salvific and a demonic face over the entire course of human history, in all cultures, in all religious traditions.

Those to whom religion shows its demonic face--the outcast, the marginalized, the despised, the shut-out--understand the potential of religion to do both good and evil in ways that the comfortable and accepted do not (on this point, watch Walter Brueggemann's powerful statement "Schooled in Denial" via Phil Ewing's Blue Eyed Ennis blog). 

The movement to export homophobic hatred from America to Africa is not about religion. It's certainly not about religion in the salvific sense. It's just as Fred Clark concludes: "[T]his is about outsourcing theocracy." Or, as John Aravosis notes, it's about mouths of powerful monied white interest groups whispering in black African ears--"whispering in order to inspire the same hate abroad that they do here at home."

(Note the stress of some of the evangelical spokespersons in the documentary on money: on how much of it we have in America, on how freely available some of us make it for certain causes, on what it can buy in nations far poorer than our own. Money. Not God. Where our treasure is, there will our hearts be.)

As Kapya Kaoma, a very important on-the-ground African witness to what is happening in the interchange between the American religious right and Africa, notes, this interchange is about white American evangelicals (with strong support from the Catholic right), seeing themselves in authority.They talk God and God's rule of politics, culture, education--of everything.

But it's themselves they wish to see on the throne, in the ruler's place.

It's themselves to which they want the political, educational, and cultural spheres to bow.

They have, in short, confused themselves with God. And that is the most fundamental, most devastating theological error we can make, according to longstanding Jewish and Christian tradition, which sees that inversion of all values, the confusion of oneself with God, as the root of all sin.

Not sexual promiscuity. Not homosexuality. Not fornication.

The belief that I am God and others should bow down to me because I am God: this is the root sin from which all other sins grow..

And so Fred Clark is exactly right to note that no good fruit can come from a movement which touts itself as extending God's rule, but is in reality all about extending the rule of privileged, powerful, hate-driven elites in Western society, and assuring that Western privilege, power, and hate prevail in the developing world in the name of God and of religion.

For my money, if one wants to see the face of Jesus in Roger Ross Williams's documentary, one should meditate on the face of Sasha Kalule as one listens carefully to what he has to say. The faces of the American Christians and their Ugandan puppets in this documentary, by contrast, say everything except Jesus to me.

For more on the important testimony of Kapya Kaoma, see the following:

1. By Kaoma

2. About Kaoma

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