A 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.
Another 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
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