Uganda, Gays, and Missionary Positions

Uganda KingThe story is told that the Kabaka, a Ugandan tribal king, asked some of the first Christian converts to have sex with him. He killed them when they refused and they became Uganda’s first Christian martyrs. Growing up as a missionary kid in Uganda, I heard the story as a lesson on how depraved primitive Ugandans were, and how important it was for brave Christians to save Ugandans from their pagan past.

As I rethink that story as an adult—and reflect on how early missionaries helped the British colonizers—I suspect the Kabaka was less a gay rapist than an outraged king who decided to screw Christians when he realized how the white man was screwing his people.

UK-Dept. for International Development

UK-Dept. for International Development

Museveni

Today I think Museveni is less a gay hater than an outraged Ugandan president who is declaring his solidarity with his people. In his speech in which he explained why he signed the anti-gay legislation into law, he spoke of “arrogant and careless Western groups” who are “recruiting young children into homosexuality and lesbianism.” He goes on to talk about the sexually exhibitionist nature of a Western culture that keeps exposing itself to Ugandans. Finally he warns about the dangers of the oral sex promoted by Western “outsiders.”

Local Chickens

Westerners might find this laughable and confusing, and here we need to heed a Ugandan proverb “Think like a local chicken.” In the thinking of most Ugandans a tribal consciousness still exists. In the village most marriages are arranged, and spouses function as social and economic partners rather than as romantic companions. Ancestral religions still exert influence, and children are still the best form of social security. The goal of marriage is to build the clan and contribute children to the family line. Gay relationships break the chain and make little sense in a tribal context.

By DVIDSHUB

By DVIDSHUB

This is not to say that there aren’t homosexuals in tribes. But in the village people are not abstract “homosexuals.” It may be well known that Uncle Musa particularly likes to drink banana beer with Moses and go for night walks among the matoke trees with him. But, on the scale of eccentric village characters, this hardly rates. Since no one speaks of Uncle Musa as being “gay,” there is rarely social or physical violence against him or “his kind.”

Gay Ugandans

Here, if we are still trying to see from the perspective of a local chicken, Ugandan homosexuals emerged as Westerners taught Ugandans their ideas of romance, autonomy, individuality, sex without children, and marriage for love. Westerners, including Christian missionaries, created gay Ugandans. Museveni is basically right.

Since Uganda is one of the largest African recipients of U.S. aid, Museveni is sometimes belittled as a kept girl of the West. Because of the monetary stakes, Museveni vacillated on whether to sign the bill. But as in the culture wars of the West, homosexuality is highly symbolic in Uganda. The vast majority of Ugandans (around 90%) oppose gay rights. Signing the bill was ultimately a high-profile way of saying that he stands with the traditions of his people against outsiders. It is not that complicated.

New Missionaries

Interestingly, a new kind of missionary—the gay activist—fails to understand this. For people like Roger Ross Williams, producer of the movie God Loves Uganda, the devil is evangelical missionaries, Ugandans are duped innocents, and LGBT Ugandans are the new souls to be saved. Armed with such a self-righteous story, Williams is likely to evangelize in as “arrogant and careless” a way as the missionaries before him.

As a gay Christian, I have empathy for the passions of both Christian and gay-activist missionaries. Christian missionaries have created hundreds of hospitals and orphanages; have fed, clothed, and paid school fees for tens of thousands of children; and have introduced millions to a loving God. On the other hand, gay-activist missionaries will protect an emerging and persecuted sexual minority in the increasingly capitalist, urban, post-tribal, Uganda.

But let’s at least get the story right. It’s not that Museveni is being a primitive pagan. Museveni, as a representative of his people, is wary of being on the receiving end of all our missionary activity. Let’s temper our outrage with an understanding of how Western influence has created a crazy complex and difficult time in Uganda. Maybe, as we face the truth, if we still want to have relations with Uganda, we can be less coercive, and more versatile and humble this time.

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10 Responses to Uganda, Gays, and Missionary Positions

  1. garyjonmoore says:

    A thoughtful post – thanks for sharing. There is certainly a gulf between the liberal West and African countries such as Uganda. Although I tend to think that life must be horrible for gay Ugandans and I suspect Museveni is thinking about his electoral support in the highly conservative rural areas.

  2. It is a tight rope to walk between resisting the unwelcomed (and uninvited) influences of the West and recognizing the necessity of being part of an increasingly smaller global village. All parties have been failing.

  3. Thank you for this incredibly thoughtful piece! I worked as a Christian service worker in Uganda and am a fierce LGBTQIA ally, but the reality of puzzling through these sentiments is so much more complicated than most of the Western articles i’ve read give credence to. Rock on!

  4. etseq97 says:

    Way to completely white wash evangelicals responsibility and shift blame to “gay activists” – basically, you are denying gay ugandans any agency and attributing “gay identity” as a “western” phenomenon. So, as long as they stay in the closet, no big deal huh? The same thing was said 50 years ago about gays in the West – how incredibly racist to cast ugandans as some sort of primitive people incapable of “western” concepts like democracy or human rights. If you are really gay, then you have internalized some massive homophobia. You need to repent of your colonial settler crimes against Uganda!

  5. etseq97 says:

    Oh I see now – you are a self-loathing celibate Uncle Tom. What ex-gay therapy didn’t work for you? Surprise – you can’t pray the gay way you but that doesn’t stop you from taking your daddy issues on the rest of us who are proud of being gay. Why don;t you head to Uganda and let them know you “suffer from same sex attractions” and see what happens! Your pal Scott Lively and Paul Cameron have advised them about all kinds of “treatments” for you. How about being a martyr for you Sky Daddy!

  6. Tim Otto says:

    Etseq97, Wow, I don’t think I could have modeled the missionary position better if I had tried!

  7. etseq97 says:

    Was that an attempt at humor? No wonder you are celibate…Why don’t you try telling that to this brave “gay activist” who is a lot more credible than some white christian colonialist…

    http://www.youtube.com/attribution_link?a=8wDV8U8vcoc&u=%2Fwatch%3Fv%3DMrVjjQ7DKCc%26feature%3Dshare

  8. Tim Otto says:

    I was saying that your post demonstrates some of the worst traits of missionaries.
    1. You immediately fit what I said into your own worldview and didn’t really try to understand what I was saying. If you re-read the post you’ll see that: I appreciate the work that gay activists from the west will do given the emerging folks who have a gay identity in Uganda and that I think it is primarily Ugandans who have agency rather than evangelical missionaries,
    2. I did not imply that Ugandans are incapable of western values of human rights and democracy. It is just the case that many Ugandans who live in the traditional way don’t highly esteem these values. You seem to assume that such values are superior values. That is classic missionary.
    3. You don’t seem to have much of a cultural awareness that realizes that other cultures construct sexuality differently than we do and that it is just not true to say that most Ugandans, especially years ago had anything resembling a “gay identity.”
    4. You seem to lack a historical consciousness that acknowledges that even in the west, people didn’t generally have what we would recognize as a “gay identity.”
    5. You then, in a fit of missionary self-righteousness, go on to imagine the pagan I am who desperately needs saving. What a savage I am! “Self-loathing,” with villainous pals and a martyr complex! You think you know my motivations and my history. But you don’t.
    Gosh, it is not a very inviting stance for conversation. So, if you want it, go ahead and have the last word . . .

    • etseq97 says:

      Ah yes…I am quite familiar with the “gish gallop” style of christian apologetics that you employ. It useless to engage you someone who has rejects the Enlightenment and whose worldview is shaped by pre-modern anachronisms. It explains the cognitive dissonance of someone who claims to ground his epistemology in the “literal” words of the scriptures of one out of thousands of ancient myths yet shifts to a non-foundationalist social constructionism when it comes to the biological reality of your sexual orientation. You then endorse a vulgar cultural/moral relativism that is logically inconsistent with your Christian pretension to an objective, fixed and eternal morality . Finally, there is the requisite persecution complex that evangelicals have perfected over the last few decades but self-loathing gay (or pseudo-gay, post-gay – you guys put queer theorists to shame with your attempts at denying reality) evangelical is a sight to behold.

      As a young child, I was able to see through the fairy tales and logical inconsistencies of religion and I have no respect for those who are obviously intelligent enough to know better but still delude themselves because its easier to conform. I have some sympathy for those gay people who are so indoctrinated in religion that they have internalized so much shame and guilt that they repress their sexuality. I grew up in the South and know first hand the damage evangelical christianity can do to oneself and others. However, once they become apologists for homophobia like you, no amount of sympathy can excuse the damage they do to others, especially gay kids who are literally killing themselves. Not to mention all the lives your co-religionists in Uganda will destroy in the name of the twisted morality you proclaim.

      So, you can play all the word games and mental gymnastics you want to avoid responsibility for the damage you and your fellow self-righteous confreres have wrought but you aren’t fooling anyone but yourself.

  9. etseq97 says:

    Also, I am quite familiar with social constructionism vs essentialism debate but you obviously aren’t because you assume that that “construct” and “identity” have an ontological reality that most philosophical realists deny. Your glib use of the terms reveals just how unsophisticated and logically incoherent your “theology” is. Of course, theology is by its very nature an absurdity so this doesn’t surprise me. Using it to excuse your complicity for the death of others should give you pause, if you have any decency left. However, repression is a powerful force that warps a person and dulls their critical reasoning skills, which is why religion thrives on it.

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