** note: as usual, my film reviews are just my collected thoughts. don’t expect Roger Ebert here (read: I swear a lot)…just sayin’ **
So, I went to an advanced screening of this film tonight. It was sponsored by Political Research Associates and shown at the SAIC. I can’t remember how I found out about it…twitter, I suppose…but I’m glad that I did go. There was a panel discussion afterward as well.
There were some snacks and chatting beforehand, but I had a bout of social awkwardness and ate cookies off to the side and tooled around on tumblr, etc.
The film is a documentary about how US evangelicals are shaping anti-gay hate in Uganda. The film covers several aspects of the bill before the Ugandan parliament.
Rev Canon Dr. Kapya John Kaoma - he works at the PRA as their religion & sexuality researcher. His report on the US evangelicals in Uganda and other African nations was part of what informed the makers of this film. He is interviewed throughout the film discussing how he went undercover to Uganda to see what was/is happening. For this, he is now living in the US, unable to safely live in Uganda. So, the events leading up to and through all of this as seen by him are one measure that the filmmakers used to illustrate the issue.
The next perspective to cover the issue, involves following an evangelical ministry based in Kansas City, MO called IHOP (no…not the pancake house, but just about as full of junk calories. And honestly, all I know about KC, MO is a football team, steaks and that my grandfather is buried there.). The filmmakers follow a group of IHOP’s spiritual flapjacks from KC to Uganda.
These motherfuckers are scarier than American Horror Story. It’s basically Jesus Camp, where they openly boast about their war for Jesus. Members of the ministry use military terms right and left with glee and the occasional “but we’re not using bullets but we’re using Bibles instead” does not hide the military design and worldview of IHOP.
The serving staff of IHOP are: Lou Engle, Jesse and Rachelle Digges - a husband / wife combo of white christians living in Uganda, the assorted Ugandan ministers and volunteers and Rev. Jo Anna Watson, a freakish white woman missionary that so bubbled with smug, pious self-aggrandizement that she should be the poster person for the ‘white savior industrial complex’.
These prayer servers take to a van and go around spreading the word of Jeebus to people that didn’t ask for it. They stop at a road stand for peddlers and from the comfort of their van, they start trying to convert Muslims to Christianity. (now, what could possibly go wrong there?) They then go to some small village where the residents are sitting in the hot shade and listening through interpreters. I know that if I was sitting in blazing heat, maybe needing food or work - the sight of a bunch of white teens talking about Jesus and putting their hands all over me would just make my day :-/. The whole thing reeked of predators and exploitation. The onset of my gag reflex was made easier by my election to skip everything except some pita during the mixer before the film.
I mean, watching these mostly white christians just run roughshod across the landscape of Uganda was physically revolting. Conceit, ignorance, vanity, grandiosity and summer joy ride for a bunch of Jesus toting twentysomething zealots was embarrassing and repulsive. But Rev. Watson is like Nurse Ratched level of skin-crawlingly frightening.
The film also interviews Pastor Robert Kayanja, the leader of a Ugandan megachurch that rakes in megabank from US evangelicals. The guy lives in a mansion that Michael Jordan would feel comfortable in. The film shows him eating with his family from some huge buffet in a designer kitchen. He goes to the ‘fridge and he’s got some dude wearing white house servant clothes opening the refrigerator for him. The film said something about him being one of the five richest people in Uganda. I believe it.
The events leading up to the ‘kill the gays’ bill include video of Scott Lively and Pastor Martin Ssempe preaching hatred of gays in front of politicians to get the bill written and laid before the legislature. Dr. Kaoma describes Scott Lively as a “nothing back home in the US” but given all sorts of credibility in Uganda because he is white and comes from the US, where the money comes from. He even got to preach this directly in the parliament. Pastor Ssempe goes off on a tirade about the evils of being gay, complete with a slide show of leather clad gay men eating ass.
The film also interviews Bishop Christopher Senyonjo. He has been stripped of his church because he openly supports LGBTQI persons as living human beings. He and his family have made considerable sacrifices because he has made this choice. He’s about as decent a person as you’ll ever meet.
The issue is not resolved and the film does not try to suggest that it is. One clear dynamic illustrated by the film is how life in country on the other side of the planet is shaped by the flow of US money from evangelicals and taxpayer funded initiatives like PEPFAR & USAID. This is the elephant in the room: the US is not only fucking with Uganda by sending gay-hating ministers, but our government agencies are playing an enormous role in shaping who is in power and who is targeted for death by neglect or bullets.
Speaking in the panel afterward:
Victor Mukasa - co-founder of SMUG. Victor asked the audience what are we going to do to stop our own bad actors? He discussed post-colonial realities and overlapping interests of politics, culture. He also described that the very poor are targeted by these missionaries and hate spewers who are told that their children are being recruited by gays? Looking at how those people might feel when offered the worldview of these missionaries: ’who wouldn’t want to protect their children?’ ’who wouldn’t want to stop being poor?’
Jane Fleishman - a citizen turned activst upon learning that Scott Lively is working in her city…3 doors down from her own office. She talked about not expelling him to some other community but rather working with groups that are already active to confront him, mitigate his damage and bring him to account for his actions. Scott Lively is currently on trial in US courts for his genocidal actions in Uganda.
Rev. Dr. Kapya Kaoma - Notes that the anti-gay topic comes up when governments lose legitimacy. He suggests that when we see the anti-gay rhetoric come up in a country, look at what’s going on in the news of that country to see what they are trying to distract or garner support to undo. For example, getting the support of the church by publicly advancing their moral crusade. He also noted that he believes we make a mistake by surrendering the bible to the right. They expect the Koran & atheism, but not to be challenged for ownership of the bible. Faith does not need to be abandoned to hatred and can be a powerful tool to mitigate hate groups, he contends. - I find myself both agreeing with Dr. Kaom and distrusting that the inevitable end of religion is fundamentalism…worshiping ignorance…logic based on illogic and my disagreement that morality is externally driven / divinely bestowed via faith.
So, what do I think? I think that colonialism is alive and well and living in the US. I think that when we use the term “cultural wars” we are really talking about racism and military-corporate-capitalist-colonialism. What I see in Uganda & other African nations that these US evangelicals are going to harvest the poor. The idea that white christians can view the entire continent of Africa as a resource of souls to send their missionary bible soldiers into is little different than invading with an army to steal land & resources.
I think that it’s conceited and oppressive to declare Africa needs to be saved and that we Americans, especially the white christian Americans - have any right in declaring what a continent of people need…not because it’s what they say but because it’s what we say, what we want to believe…to make ourselves feel better / holy / good / worthy of heaven.
I think that if anyone living in the US wants to ‘help’ people in Africa, we can start by asking people in Africa if they want anything and then give that to them. At the very least, we could stop sucking money off the continent. In addition to PEPFAR & USAID, the IMF and World Bank are instruments of colonialism. I liken this current version of colonialism to outsourcing. Invasion and occupation are expensive and labor intensive, so we outsource the management of empire to the local residents and keep the money flowing out of Africa. We don’t need to commit US (white) bodies to the ground when the locals have a big enough piece of the action to be the 5th richest man in Uganda.
I’m willing to bet that African nations and people could solve a lot more of their problems for themselves with less debt and bullets from the US & other nations.
Us white people love to quote a black or brown man with some flowery words about rainbows or something in order to put a gloss on our dominionist world view. To toe the line, I’ll add Bishop Desmond Tutu’s comment to close:
"When the missionaries came to Africa they had the Bible and we had the land. They said ‘Let us pray.’ We closed our eyes. When we opened them we had the Bible and they had the land."