Mission, Money and Power

The New York Times has a fascinating and rather disturbing video linking US missionaries and funding to the persecution of gay men in Uganda. They won’t allow me to embed the video here, so you will have to go over to their page to watch it; it lasts about 8 minutes.

I realise that gay-rights is a controversial issue at the moment, and that’s not an issue I want to get drawn into, too much. It seems to me that whatever your view on the subject, the idea of homosexuality being punishable by the death penalty, or preacher asking who is willing and ready to kill gay men is abhorrent.

The reason why I’ve brought the issue up on this blog is that I believe it raises some important questions for Christian missionary and development agencies.

  • To what extent is it appropriate for Western Christians to use their money and influence to shape policy in Churches and governments in other parts of the world?
  • Do we really understand the impact of the way we work in other countries?
  • Why are their so many missionaries preaching to crowds in a country which claims a higher percentage of Christians than the USA?
  • Why is there so much focus on sexuality and so little focus on corruption and justice?

As you can see, I find a good deal to be concerned about in this video; not least because I’m worried that more responsible Christian agencies will be condemned by association.

8 thoughts on “Mission, Money and Power

  1. Thanks for posting this. It breaks my heart at so many levels. Uganda is a country I love with a deep passion. I cannot find any justification for the sorts of things being preached in this video (and the most terrifying thing for me is that one or two of these preachers are people I came across during our time there).
    LORD, HAVE MERCY

  2. Hi Eddie (and mark – are you following the comments? Would love to hear your views on this too)

    Chris Howles here – teaching at a Bible College in Uganda with Crosslinks.

    Naturally I watched this video with interest, and was absolutely appalled by it. But not for the same reasons I think you were. What a journalistic shambles!

    Watch closely (I’ve only watched it once but I’m almost entirely sure this is all correct) – there was not ONE mention from any American about homosexuality to any Ugandan. The talk from the missionaries back in the US was simply about preaching the gospel, the talk from the missionaries to Ugandans was about the gospel (and one reference to fleeing sexual immorality), the talk from the missionaries in Uganda about homosexuality was done in a 1-2-1 interview when clearly they were asked about their views on homosexuality, and seemed to answer with clarity and care, and the talk against homosexuality to crowds in Uganda was all done by Ugandans! The camera didn’t even show the guy who asked people if they would kill homosexuals…in fact there was no suggestion at all that this was even a Christian meeting or preaching of any sort! The homosexual man beaten up (and did he or anyone even say it was because he was gay?) was persecuted by the police not the church.

    My point is this: not once was there a shred of evidence for those missionaries doing anything of the sort they were accused of…it was just the presenter joining dots that were miles apart. Horrendous abuse of basic journalistic standards…let’s see if the NYT times would publish a video presenting American missionaries in good light that employed the same methodology. No way!

    Therefore Eddie your questions, which are generally good ones, are just unrelated to the video. Christians using money to influence church or government policy? They weren’t! Why are there so many missionaries preaching to crowds in Uganda? There weren’t! (every mission activity featured was training pastors…something I’m doing, and something Mark did) Why is there so much focus on sexuality? There wasn’t! The missionaries were clearly asked about it in a private meeting – that was it!

    Your questions are all useful missiological ones, but they don’t arise out of that video. And I don’t think having important mission voices like yours and Mark showing the video is a particularly useful contribution either…it’ll be up on the Richard Dawkins Foundation website before the day is out and we’ll have more that enough atheists bashing these (seemingly innocent) missionaries without us joining in too!

    There are huge problems with Ugandan culture here and the way they/it speaks about homosexuality and treat homosexuals, but we have to make sure we are not blaming the church unfairly (many of the pastors I train recognise the importance of loving and welcoming homosexuals in church) or American missionaries who may have easily mockable accents, patterns of speech, and mannerisms but didn’t appear to do much wrong in the video (Mark do you still keep your eye on the Monitor – did you see this from tthe weekend..http://www.monitor.co.ug/Magazines/ThoughtIdeas/Homosexuality–Is-it-a-normal-or-sick-lifestyle-/-/689844/1669834/-/fb7v3u/-/index.html)

    Hope that helps a bit gents…would be interested to hear your views. Anyway, love both your blogs…keep up the good work!

    Warmest regards to both,

    Chris

  3. Chris, good to hear a local perspective. The video aside, I’m surprised to hear you dispute the ties between the Anti Homosexuality Bill and American Evangelicals; I thought this was extremely well established already!

    Both Julius Oyet and Martin Ssempa have well-documented ties to prominent American Evangelicals, specifically Rick Warren and Peter Wagner; Scott Lively met with Ugandan legislators to promote the bill; (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/04/world/africa/04uganda.html?_r=0 – note that that’s an article from 2010; this is totally not new news.) Richard Cohen has been lobbying the Ugandan Parliament (http://www.today.com/id/34362943/ns/msnbc_tv-rachel_maddow_show/#.UQDDN-hg8y4); David Bahati was invited to the US National Prayer Breakfast (by whom?); Lou Engle praised the legislation at his TheCall rally in Uganda (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/03/world/africa/03uganda.html); and so it goes on. The reason why this will not be all over the media as a result of Eddie’s blog is because it has been all over the media for the past four years. The NYTimes has been doing a good series on the connections, as has Rachel Maddow’s show on MSNBC.

    All that really surprises me is that people are only just noticing now!

    1. Even if the links are well established, Chris is right about the video – it is the worst kind of journalism. Few of the narrator’s statements are supported by the statements of Americans in the video and none of the worst of his contentions. This video works only because people will want to believe the worst of evangelicals. If what the narrator said is true, and if he spent months undercover, he really should have ended up with better evidence than this. I am not saying that the links don’t exist. I am saying that this video uses innuendo and prejudice to “prove” them. For example, one American lady says she supports the law, but we don’t know if she represents anyone but herself. If she represented a significant evangelical church, certainly the author would have included that information. Fishy. On the other hand, what you say in your comment is convincing. So why not use that information instead of images of people raising money to support Ugandan pastors with no visible link to any kind of sexuality agenda? I think I know why – because it will stir passions better than the facts. I’m tired of liberals and conservatives raising money and supporting their causes through fear tactics.

  4. Thanks Chris & Simon
    I do agree that the video doesn’t actually help the issue at all – it is weak at all kinds of levels. So your points about that are fair.

    here are a few thoughts (in haste, alas)
    – as Simon points out, the american link is well-established (though I don’t know the mission/churches in the video – it may or may not be unfair to pick on them – that’s bad journalism).
    – i doubt very much that Richard Dawkins and co give me the slightest notice – the fact that the New York Times has this is sufficient to spread this amongst the liberal masses!
    – I actually know several of the Ugandans in the video who are saying this stuff from our time living there – and frankly this doesn’t dredge the worst of some of the things they say. I know for a fact that that they have US funding and worse, US training and promotion.
    – Eddie’s questions are VITAL in mission – and that is primarily why i retweeted this passage. In the end, i think the underlying issue is one of power and control, and the fact that far too many in the west don’t seriously consider the influence that money brings.
    – As far as the issue itself is concerned (quite apart from what is, as you say, a poor and slapdash video), i think we must resist at all costs the pressure (from various lobbies on left and right) to make this a BINARY issue. It is not a question of being pro or anti gay, despite what gets said. I make it a point of trying to subvert the blithe and simplistic categories as a Christian.
    This is simply because such complex issues as these actually converge here:
    – justice and care for the vulnerable
    – justice and punishment (eg the death penalty)
    – how God’s kingdom is to be built – and the relationship between law, society, church and ethics
    – what holiness actually looks like
    – power relationships between rich and poor, west & Africa

    I for one am, as you are, entirely committed to mission, and a large part of my heart will always be in Uganda after the years we spent teaching there.

    Hope that makes some sense

    1. this reply is from Chris, not me

      Thanks Simon and Mark…these are really interesting comments. I must protest a little though Simon – I wasn’t actually disputing the ties exist. I was just pointing out that there was nothing on that video to suggest ties at all…it was terrible journalism that shouldn’t have got anywhere near the NYT website. Therefore I cast doubt on whether we should be showing it around and furthering the damage being caused to what appears to be a group of innocent missionaries.

      I wasn’t suggesting Eddie’s blog, or Mark’s tweeting, will carry this news forward in the mainstream (I like you have been aware of this for a couple of years now), but simply that I don’t think we should be promoting that video. I can imagine myself so easily being entrapped into a similar video and would hate brothers and sisters to then spread it round. Some of the other links you sent Simon seem much more based on factual journalism.

      An important question to ask is how much ‘Christianity’ is really pushing this bill forward. I know it’s Uganda and it’s hard here to separate ‘Christianity’ from a pre-Christian ‘natural’ Ugandan culture but really, I think Uganda would have come up with something similar with or without Christian influence, and certainly with or without American evangelicals. Most of the people supporting this bill, chanting at rallies about their willingness to kill gays, and scrawling graffiti on the homes of gays don’t have the foggiest what the Bible teaches about homosexuality. It’s ingrained at a deep level through the Ugandan air they breathe that this is wrong in their eyes (see similar outrage for, and abuse against, albino’s, those with physical birth defects, the mentally ill, and anyone ‘different’) and when you combine that with a legislative culture that seems to me rather arbitary and at times phenomenally strict legislative process (last week a lady got 15 years, and escaped hanging, for sleeping with a 17 year old boy consensually, when he said he was 18), and also combine it with an increasingly fierce anti-colonial rhetoric that desperately wants Uganda to do something to show it’s not just sat on by the West and the UK, then this kind of bill is the result. I suspect Christianity is basically just a rhetorical hook to hang it on.

      Thanks for reading – I’m very happy to be disagreed with, and perhaps deserve it, and would love to hear any more thoughts but, if not, it’s been great interacting up to this point and perhaps we could all talk more in the future,

      Warmest regards Eddie, Simon, and Mark,

      Chris

  5. Ugandans and Africans are not obsequious servants of conservative evangelical causes. “Beware the stereotype of the missionary drilling his ideas into the heads of obsequious local people” (Rev Prof. J D Ekem) This film promotes that stereotype. True, some may go along because of the money, but many more will ally themselves with external forces with which they agree, just as the narrator has done.

  6. Thank you gentlemen for you comments. I’ve only had mobile access to the web for a few days and have not been able to contribute other than to cut and paste an email from Christ into a comment.

    For the most part, the debate has moved on, so I don’t want to comment further. I hear and understand the comments about the video. To be honest, I thought long and hard before linking to it. In the end I did so for a couple of reasons:
    – it allowed me to pose some of my favourite questions.
    – this is the sort of issue I regularly get asked about as a mission leader in the UK. Even if we aren’t talking about it, people in the pew who are interested in development and justice issues are. It was widely linked to on twitter by UK evangelicals before I saw it. Whatever the merits or otherwise of the video, someone in my position can’t simply ignore it.

Comments are closed.