Evangelical Missionaries Preach Death in Uganda by Andreea Nica

Andreea Nica, pentecostalismA former evangelical Christian friend of mine sent me information on the intriguing documentary God Loves Uganda. The newly released documentary addresses how the American evangelical movement has prompted a political and social shockwave in the country of Uganda. While missionaries are typically associated with delivering aid and improving the conditions of third world countries, the spreading of Christian values and ideals has inflicted suffering upon ethnic communities through evangelical indoctrination.

The intent of the film is to raise awareness of the political and social brutality that the evangelical missionaries are instigating; specifically through their teaching that homosexuality is a sin and should be dealt with accordingly. In Uganda this means death. Given the rise of globalization, transnational religious actors have been more enabled to engender other nations with their respective religious beliefs, often with minimal regard for the cultural and political landscape of the nation they wish to transform.

The Christian religious network, International House of Prayer (IHOP), is communicating a message to the people of Uganda which instigates hate crimes against homosexuals. By theologically mandating homosexuality as sin, Ugandans manage this religious expectation by extinguishing those who identify as homosexual; at times, at the mere suspicion. These transnational evangelical activities have undermined the state’s sovereignty through imposing western religious beliefs upon an ethnic community that suffers from gratuitous violence.

It’s important to understand the current political, economic, and cultural values and systems of a country before attempting to adjust its infrastructure. This social phenomenon not only hinders a country’s progression, but inevitably leads to a dismantling of cultural and social identities; in this case, through blind violence and discrimination. IHOP’s organizational and religious mission is to spread the gospel of sexual purity in Uganda through preaching abstinence, forbidding homosexuality, and an idea of sexual purity that breeds unreasonable expectations.

Uganda_Anti-Homosexuality_Bill_protestAnother point to consider is one of agency. Through coercing communities to identify and conform to specific social structures and beliefs, you are covertly restructuring and disarming people of their agency. During one of my mission trips to Romania at a Christian women’s shelter established by an international organization headquartered in the United States, I noticed that the women who were victims of abuse had to adhere to the Christian regulations and expectations set by the international organization even if the women didn’t identify as Christians. There was an apparent cultural dissonance in terms of how these women interpreted doctrine and their relational dynamic with god; yet this was constantly disregarded.

It was expected that these women conform to a set of beliefs and values in order to stay at the shelter. At the time, I considered this acceptable, but in retrospect, I realized these women had been victims of a power structure with their perpetrators, and here they were once again restricted to mandates and rules that didn’t allow them to develop as autonomous beings. That said, I do not oppose rules or obligations depending on the structural arrangement, but forcing someone to accept a lifestyle and a faith system in order to receive healing and safety is an illogical prerequisite and notion.

Who are we as a nation, society, or religious community, to police and intimidate others in conforming to our ways; especially with a righteous attitude that our way is somehow more moral or mighty? In contrast, there are many non-profit and governmental organizations that equip sex educators and ambassadors to teach international communities about safe sex and the meaning of healthy relationships, rather than solely preaching abstinence. One respected organization and social movement is Half the Sky Movement addressing gender inequalities, sex trafficking, and maternal mortality. This organization differs from entities such as IHOP in that it works to educate communities struggling with socio-economic and political conditions in a way that empowers them to find solutions based on their current model with the space to create and build upon their existing infrastructure.

This humanitarian strategy is much more effective because it doesn’t rob social groups of their agency. Rather, it provides tools for change while offering new perspectives for social improvement. Commanding a change hinders an individual’s development and infringes on a cultural landscape, often times having the opposite effect. The obtrusive agenda of the evangelical movement in African countries is of public concern, mainly because there is no accountability or monitoring that is taking place. These transnational religious networks are enabled to spread their untailored, pernicious messaging, not understanding the social impact it has on cultural groups.

While IHOP and other evangelical international organizations may have good intentions, it’s important to develop a system that educates these constituents on how and what to communicate to international communities. It begins with an understanding, respect, and openness to diverse social groups, and tailoring your social activist efforts accordingly. Positive change happens when we allow open discourse and receive insight from those who we wish to help.

Andreea Nica is a freelance writer, scholar, egalitarian, and yogi. She holds a M.S. from the London School of Economics and Political Science in Gender, Media, and Culture Studies. Andreea also holds a B.A. in Psychology from Northern Arizona University. Currently, she is writing her memoir on transitioning from Pentecostalism, focusing on institutional power, subjectivities, and socialization. She is the Founder of OrganiCommunications, empowering startups and social enterprises in strategic and digital communication ventures. She is the author of 2 blogs: OrganiCommunications and Progressive Thinking. You can find her in Seattle, WA. with her partner and kitty, probably doing yoga.@convergingearth  @integratedcom

Categories: Abuse of Power, Activism, Belief, Bible, Body, Christianity, Church Doctrine, Community, Death and Dying, Education, Ethics, Evangelicalism, Gender, Gender and Power, Gender and Sexuality, Human Rights, LGBTQ, Politics, power, Power relations, Race and Ethnicity, Sexual Violence, Social Justice, Theology, War and Peace, White Privilege

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7 replies

  1. Truly shocking, but I’ve heard about Christian coercion from many people working in Africa. Recently in Ethiopia, the new board of a very well known local charity sent out letters to overseas donors, informing them that they would only accept donations if they were Christian. The elderly charity MD only became aware of their actions when the donors contacted her direct. The board were fired, rightly so.

    People are troubled and suffering in different ways around the world. As you state, Andreea, lasting change occurs when we sit down with others and help them purpose a vision which will empower them, whatever their circumstance, and then do all we can to help them gain those skills. That is lasting, moral help.


  2. I am really looking forward to seeing this film. Thank you for bringing it to my attention.


  3. As Andreea notes, “…it’s important to develop a system that educates these constituents on how and what to communicate to international communities. It begins with an understanding, respect, and openness to diverse social groups…”
    In my opinion, ANY system of beliefs that professes to have the “correct” answers to the questions of life puts itself in the position of looking down on/being afraid of/disliking/wanting to change or annihilate those who disagree with them. Otherwise, how can they defend their belief system in the face of difference? How is it possible to hold a belief that differs from one’s neighbors while still respecting their belief? As the world shrinks, and we become more aware of differences in cultural mores/norms, traditions, and belief systems, we have to move from surprise/shock to becoming educated about those differences, to understanding the how and why of them, to tolerance of them, and then to celebration of them. At some point, we have to stop being afraid of those who are different. Fear is what underlies the desire to change someone. What is the fear about? I think it may be about concerns that someone may try to change US – that if another group gains too much power, they will force US to change. Thus, groups who fear change try hard to impose their beliefs on others.
    I think most of us have a deep longing to be with people like ourselves. We want to share the joy of the things that are important to us. Those who are less confident – those who are more afraid of being hurt by others – they are the ones who are most threatened by difference. We must remember the reasons why people become violent and oppressive. Those reasons almost always are based on fear, and lack of communication/education. Perhaps providing education about alternatives to oppressive belief systems is the best way to proceed. But first, maybe we need to look at our own belief systems and the oppressions inherent in them.
    If we want to help others, it is important for us to ask them what they need and how we can help, rather than imposing upon them our own views of what they need. It is hubris to decide for someone else what we think is best for them. We can offer to share our ideas, if they are interested in listening, but “evangelism” can quickly turn into forcing one’s beliefs on others. The Old Testament is full of stories of the annihilation of “enemies,” of taking over others’ lands and killing anyone who refused to accept their belief system.
    On the other hand, when we see systems of torture, unnecessary pain being inflicted on people or animals, or unfair and burdensome systems in place, what is our role? Is war the answer? When is it necessary to resort to force to defend ourselves? What would have happened if no one had tried to stop Hitler, for instance? On the other hand, how did Gandhi manage to make changes without violence? Again we hear the question Jesus posed: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Where is the line between “responsibility and care for others” and “respect for differences?”


  4. You have a lot of interesting things going on in the blog. Just some random thoughts: We have congregants at our mosque who are refugees from countries that kill homosexuals, and Uganda is extraordinary in their eagerness to murder. Yeah, I get your point here too well. I was blown away the first time I heard about Mother Theresa’s religious oppression (forcing death bed conversions, letting people suffer because that is the way of Christ, etc.) given the way she is played as a saint. A friend, a Pima Indian, told me how the Pima were converted to Christianity. Apparently, the missionaries cut off the water to the community until they gave in. I recall these Christian missionaries in Morocco who were there ostensibly to work with the poor and sick….but they had long-standing underhanded ways of encouraging conversion to Christianity. Before these two women we met realized my ex and I were Muslim, they shared some of their opinions. It was a stunner. Historical accounts and then this first hand encounter made me despise missionaries on the most visceral level. And yes, NGO’s should be facilitating local solutions. As you know, it’s more complicated than that. Just the presence of the NGO, their networks, who they fund, whose voices they hear, what solutions they understand themselves to be ethically bound to reject or accept, mean that they are no matter what directing more than facilitating. But still, any effort to facilitate is moving in the right direction especially when religious coercion is removed from the mix.


  5. This discussion reminds me of a comment Janice Poss made a few months ago: “in today’s terms, someone who defines the ‘other’ not allowing for their own definition is considered in the words of Patricia Evans, expert on domestic violence, to be nothing less than verbal abuse. One defines oneself in a healthy relationship…” I think that’s what we’re talking about here. In the Romanian case, maybe it was just verbal abuse, but in Uganda, it has gone from verbal abuse to actual physical abuse of the worst kind.

    Self-definition is the path I attempt to take. When this becomes difficult is when a person’s self-definition impinges on my own self-defintion, for instance, when some African women accept or even embrace clitordechtomy for themselves and their daughters (and then perform it on their daughters). I generally don’t believe in the Marxist concept of false consciousness, but in that case, I guess I do.


  6. It is likely that many good Christians have no idea just how horrible their Church missions are….As a Muslim (and Easterner) I know of family members and others who have unpleasant stories to tell of missionaries. However, the “savior complex” is not just Christian but also “western”. Femen and their attitudes towards Muslim women is one example of this type of complex—or when U.S. decided to “save”/liberate the people of Iraq and bring democracy—at gunpoint—is another…..

    “To save” also supposes there is a “victim” in need of saving—though this may be true to a degree—“victim” assumes a helplessness/powerless/voicelessness—in other words–the concept of savior and victim is that of a powerplay. But,—to assume that the oppressed are equal human beings who may have solutions to their own problems and who can maneuver their own destiny with the right help—which they themselves will articulate—is to get out of a power relationship and assume equality in brotherhood/humanity…….?…….

    Bad crises do provide the impetus for good change—and as a Muslim, I wish for my Ummah to consider from this how harmful intolerance and hate can become so that we do not fall into injustice. My own journey at exploring plurality and tolerance in the Quran/Islam came about because of an encounter (on the net) with Islamophobia.

    Perhaps this film will spur dialogue within the Christian community on the harm some of their brothers and sisters are doing and good people will rally to advocate for a compassionate, merciful and just Christianity…..


  7. What struck me about your post, Andreea, was that it could have been about Christian missionaries and how they have treated native peoples anywhere in the world where they have gotten into a power position over the last few centuries. Consider the extreme and lasting damage done to the native americans in the United States.

    It doesn’t surprise me that this is happening in Uganda or elsewhere, only saddens and disgusts me.


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