A Review of “God Loves Uganda”

 

The documentary film God Loves Uganda by Roger Ross Williams explores the relationship between American evangelicals and LGBT rights in Uganda. Organizations such as the International House of Prayer, The Call, and Abiding Truth Ministries have been working in the country for some time, bringing with them their ideology. This ideology includes not just the Christian gospel but also an anti-gay stance which, Williams believes, was the inspiration behind the infamous 2009 Anti-Homosexuality Bill. The bill requires prison time for known homosexuals and requires capital punishment for repeat offenders.   

The film is quite useful for exploring the issue, but I felt as if the conflict mapping and analysis of the documentary falls short in a few areas. This hinders its use by activists to convert conservative evangelicals to our cause. Being raised in a relatively evangelical home and then growing up in a town in Ohio that is dominated by the evangelical right, I am actually quite familiar with some of the organizations that the documentary mentions. Because of this, after seeing the film God Loves Uganda, I was disappointed because I doubt its ability to open the eyes of hard-line “turn or burn” conservatives.

A failure to assess the situation hurts any movement’s cause. Williams spends much time following the right-wing religious personality Lou Engle, who William’s portrays as the leader of the International House of Prayer. In reality, though Engle served as a senior leader, the founder and current leader of the organization is a man named Mike Bickle. The film fails to even mention Bickle who, like Engle, has his own controversies. Engle serves as the leader of a separate organization entitled The Call. Though the two organizations have connections and some similar goals, they are still technically two different organizations.  The film jumps back in forth between the two without informing the viewer.  To someone involved in these organizations, the film’s portrayal seems somewhat sloppy.

Taking one step back, the film also fails to make the distinction between The New Apostolic movement (of which The Call and IHOP are part of) and organizations that are leftovers of the Moral Majority. For example, the documentary reports on the activities of Scott Lively in Uganda and portrays him as if he is part of the same movement that Bickle and Engle are part of. Being familiar with both, I can tell you the demographic of the audience of the two is completely different. What makes the New Apostolic movement both unique and scary is that the vast majority of their membership is in their twenties. Most would describe themselves as Christians who are “spiritual but not religious” and reject the disciplinary and ecclesiastical mechanisms that most denominations have; thereby allowing room for the ultra-charismatic beliefs that even have theologically conservative Protestants up on their guard.

One of the common mistakes that activists make when working in the third world is to blame everything on colonialism, which is undoubtedly the main problem. Though the anti-gay message these missionaries bring to Uganda is indeed a large component of the problem, there is still the issue of the highly patriarchal nature of the Ugandan society that is listening to their message. Even homophobes like Scott Lively thought that the Anti-Homosexuality Bill crossed the line:

“My advice to the parliament was to go the other direction from what they did to actually go on a proactive positive message promoting the family, promoting marriage, etcetera, through the schools, and that if they were going to continue to criminalize homosexuality that they should focus on rehabilitation and not punishment. And I was very disappointed  when the law came out as it is written now with such incredibly harsh punishments.”

This is not to excuse Lively’s behavior but activists need to realize that what is going on is a “perfect storm”. Namely, the anti-gay rhetoric expressed by these missionaries is being received from an already patriarchal society. Simply, limiting the influence of missionaries will do little to curb the plight of homosexuals in Uganda.

The film also follows the former Anglican Bishop Christopher Ssenyonj who the film says was excommunicated for his support of homosexual rights. There is little reason for Ssenyonj to lie, but the documentary fails to explore the ordeal that resulted in him being excommunicated. To a religiously conservative critic of the film, this could be seen as a deliberate omission. Regardless of which side is right, the failure of the film to explore this hinders its effectiveness as a tool for activists. The official position of the Anglican Church of Uganda is that he was defrocked due to starting his own denomination while serving as bishop:

“After following due canonical process, I was forced in January 2007 to depose him [Christopher Ssenyonjo] as a Bishop in the Church of Uganda for presiding at the consecration as bishop of a Church of Uganda priest under discipline for moral failure who  was being consecrated in a denomination of his own called Charismatic Church of Uganda.  One of the bishops assisting in the consecration is the also-defrocked Church of Uganda Bishop from N. Mbale – defrocked because he took a second wife.

“Of course, we do not approve of Christopher Ssenyonjo’s support for the organization  Integrity, nor do we support his teaching on homosexuality. But, that was not why he was  deposed. He was deposed because he set himself up as an Archbishop and recruited a defrocked Ugandan Bishop as a co-consecrator to consecrate a morally compromised man  as a bishop of an independent church.”

The climax of the film is the murder of gay activist David Kato, but Williams’ exploration of showing the face of violence against homosexuals in the country ends here. No figures are given throughout the whole film. It fails to answer the question “how much violence is being done to homosexuals is Uganda?” Kato’s death is more than tragic, but the rest of the homosexual community in Uganda deserves more than this. By the end, the theme of the film feels more to the tune of anti-westernization rather than showing the face of violence against homosexuals.

All in all, the film is quite enlightening but I doubt its effectiveness as a tool for activists. It glosses over its analysis of American evangelicals, it oversimplifies Christopher Ssenyonjo’s excommunication, and it doesn’t do justice to the extent of violence which homosexuals in Uganda face.

Ohio SB 193 blocked

In 2013, the Republican controlled state house of Ohio passed Senate Bill 193. Shortly thereafter, it became known to its opponents as the “John Kasich Re-election Protection Act” since it attacks third parties in Ohio by putting arbitrary restrictions to grassroots organizing. For example, volunteers for a minor political party (e.g. petitioners) must also have voted in that same party’s primary; this devastates the Green Party and the Libertarian Party, which have active cross-membership with other political parties. Due to deadline changes, minor parties would not even have a 2014 primary. Furthermore, each of the minor parties must obtain at least 3 percent of the statewide vote in order to stay on the ballot. These among, many other restrictions, would ensure that the people of Ohio would be unable to vote to a minor party; stripping them of their right to express themselves politically.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014, Judge Michael H. Watson blocked the implementation of the bill retroactively in a preliminary injunction, which would have banned minor parties from the 2014 election cycle. Though there is still much work to be done since it only applies to this election cycle, Ohio’s minor parties are already praised Judge Waton’s decision. Aaron Keith Harris, a LPO central committee chairman and Ohio candidate for secretary of state says “Kasich and the Republican party thought they were silencing the growing liberty movement in Ohio, but now they have one hell of a fight on their hands.” For the years beyond 2014, the battle for voter rights will have to carry on.

This is not the first time that the right to vote has been threatened in Ohio. Also passed in 2013 was Senate Bill 238 and 205. SB 238 substantially reduces the early, in-person voting time-frame by getting rid of “Golden Week”. In this week, voters may register and vote at the same time. SB 205 radically changed absentee voting rules that dis-proportionally effect the lower class.

Niebuhr on “Harmless Parish Priests”

leaves


I am not surprised that most prophets are itin- erants. Critics of the church think we preachers are afraid to tell the truth because we are eco- nomically dependent upon the people of our church, There is something in that, but it does not quite get to the root of the matter. I cer- tainly could easily enough get more money than I am securing now, and yet I catch myself weighing my words and gauging their possible effect upon this and that person. I think the real clue to the tameness of a preacher is the diffi- culty one finds in telling unpleasant truths to people whom one has learned to love. To speak the truth in love is a difficult, and sometimes an almost impossible, achievement. If you speak the truth unqualifiedly, that is usu- ally because your ire has been aroused or be- cause you have no personal attachment to the object of your strictures. Once personal contact is established you are very prone to temper your wind to the shorn sheep. It is certainly difficult to be human and honest at the same time. I'm not surprised that most budding prophets are tamed in time to become harmless parish priests.

-Reinhold Niebuhr, 1924, Leaves From the Notebook of a Tamed Cynic

What the neocons want from Ukraine

Originally published at http://wagingnonviolence.org/2013/12/neocons-want-ukraine/

With the world turning its eyes toward Ukraine, numerous questions are being asked. What do protesters want? What is at stake for international politics? Neoconservative John Bolton, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations for the Bush administration, has already put his two cents into the conversation. In the Los Angeles Times, Bolton argues that what is currently happing in Ukraine is proof that NATO should have been expanded in 2008 at the Bucharest summit:

Thus the West collectively made a terrible mistake at the NATO summitin April 2008 by not placing Ukraine (and Georgia) on a clear path to NATO membership. Had we done so, the question of EU economic relations would doubtless have been more easily resolved. Ambiguity over Ukraine, leaving it in a no man’s land between Russia and NATO, obviously didn’t lead to Ukrainian stability, domestically or internationally. And the same vital question for Kiev’s citizens abides: Is their future with the West or Moscow?

Is the push toward the EU just a step to integrate Ukraine into military alignment through NATO? There is undoubtedly an array of opinions among the protesters, but the question for someone like Bolton is not “what do the protesters want?” but “what do the powers-that-be want?” Historically, EU membership has been a step toward NATO membership, and it is also clear that the draft of the Association Agreement that the protesters seem to support includes military cooperation. Article X, section one, says:

The Parties shall explore the potential of military-technological cooperation. Ukraine and the European Defence Agency (EDA) will establish close contacts to discuss military capability improvement, including technological issues.

The right-wing think tank the Heritage Foundation has also released a policy statement on the situation in Ukraine. The author of the report, Dr. Ariel Cohen, senior research fellow for Russian and Eurasian studies and international energy policy, writes that the United States should “stand with the Ukrainian people” as part of a broader struggle against Moscow. Cohen recommends that the United States

increase coordination of Ukraine policy with its European allies, including an offer of a comprehensive economic reform package, such as a technical assistance program to repair the ailing economy, a significant increase in trade with Europe and the U.S., and the IMF loan.

Those concerned about seeing a protest movement turn into an excuse for an expansion of NATO military power ought to be vigilant against neoconservatives seeking to use the protests to justify their worldview in the wake of the failed military adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan. Activists in the United States, if they are concerned about the outcome of the protests currently underway in Ukraine, ought to defuse these attempts by neoconservatives to write their own narrative into the story.

Are Ukrainians taking the streets for neoliberalism?

Originally published at http://wagingnonviolence.org/2013/12/ukrainians-taking-streets-neoliberalism/

Debates over nonviolence and its connection to neoliberalism are nothing new, but the current wave of civil resistance in Ukraine makes them seem especially pressing. This past Monday, protesters created a blockade around the main government building in the biggest public rally in the country since the Orange Revolution of 2004 and 2005.

What is the cause? President Yanukovich abandoned the Association Agreement and a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement, which would integrate the country further into the European Union. In doing, it would allow European capital greater access to Ukrainian companies by reducing trade barriers. One step closer to the EU, however, means one step away from Russia, and it appears to be due to Kremlin pressure that Yanukovich backed away from the deal. The protests, therefore, seem to be staking out a position against Russian influence, but in favor of neoliberal economic policies. Today, Ukranian president Viktor Yanukovich flew to Russia to meet with Vladimir Putin as protesters continued to defy police.

In an article for The Independent, opposition leader Arseny Yatsenyuk is quoted saying that “Ukraine has woken up in a different state after Yanukovich refused to sign in Vilnius. It is no longer Ukraine.” He compared his country’s current direction to that of autocratic Belarus.

Ukraine would not be the first country in the region to experience trade liberalization as the result of protests. According to the Index of Economic Freedom, a scale for free-market principles created by the Heritage Foundation, a U.S. right-wing think-tank, the 13th most liberalized market in the world is Estonia, one of the participants in the Singing Revolution of the late 1980s and early 1990s. In fact, Estonia and fellow post-revolutionary state Poland are, according to the Index, “among the world’s 10 most improved.” Estonia boasts low tariffs, a corporate income tax of 21 percent, a mere 38.2 percent government ownership of the gross domestic output and a regressive flat tax on personal income.

In their recent article, which provoked a rich discussion on this site, Sean Chabot and Majid Sharifi argue that nonviolent resistance in the tradition of theorist Gene Sharp often leads to trade liberalization. It’s a tradition that emphasizes opposing political authoritarianism (e.g., the EU over Moscow) rather than opposing the dangers posed by unrestrained capital. Chabot and Sharifi contend:

Sharpian scholars usually fail to mention that victorious strategic nonviolence has consistently produced political systems favoring global neoliberal capitalism, the prevailing imperiality in the twenty-first century.

Not all agree with Chabot and Sharifi. On WNV‘s recent blog post about the relationship between Sharpian nonviolence and economics, Stephen Zunes commented that, although it may not be a sufficient condition for a progressive government, political liberty may be a necessary one:

Free elections and political liberty do not guarantee a progressive government or a just society. However, without individual liberties and accountable government, building a just society becomes virtually impossible. Democracy affords a political opening whereby a democratic left stands a chance of challenging the excesses of national and global capitalism.

As we seek to understand the uprising in Ukraine and draw lessons from it, some questions remain that resonate with resistance movements around the world. Is Ukraine’s ongoing civil resistance the kind that Chabot and Majid Sharifi warn against? Does the movement have to choose between Western trade liberalization or Putin-style authoritarianism? Or is there something it can do to confront both at once?

Progress in Ohio Despite the Government Shut Down

Originally published at http://www.peaceissexy.net/progress-in-ohio-despite-the-government-shut-down/

Ohio has long been one of the political battle ground states. Every election cycle, the Buckeye State turns into a scene of ideological trench warfare. On the Republican side, the party is dominated Rockefeller Republicans  (Republicans which have (1) center-right views of economics but reject the far-right, (2) are typically culturally moderate to left-wing, (3) and are middle class to upper-class.)  who control the capitol of the Buckeye State, Columbus. The Columbus Dispatch, one of the biggest newspapers in Ohio, is largely controlled by the Republican Party but it’s also one of the most pro-homosexual rights newspapers in the entire mid-west of the United States. In fact Ohio’s Rob Portman, a Republican Senator, is one of the main advocates for gay rights in Ohio. Though these Republicans largely have no fear of the homosexual community, Rockefeller Republicans are very well known for protecting middle class interests. Their attempts at voter registration reforms and using underhanded methods during campaigns are fairly well known. The infamous anti-union Senate Bill 5 is perhaps the “crowning achievement” of their efforts since their victory for the governorship.

On top of this, the federal government shutdown and the resurgence of the Tea Party movement has Ohio political climate up in a storm. Regardless, a major victory for the working-class is seemingly right around the corner in Ohio. The current topic of debate is not Obamacare or even the shutdown, it’s Medicaid expansion and even the hardline Rockefellers are favoring it. According to the non-partisan Health Policy Institute of Ohio, this initiative would add roughly 25,000 jobs to both the public and private sector, save the state of Ohio 1.8-1.9 billion dollars by 2022, and cover 300,000 more Ohioans, including demographics that fell through the cracks in the past. Given these figures, it is clearly a win-win. Ohio can actually save money and cover more people with health insurance.

Ohio study

As noted before the Republicans in Ohio are hardline Rockefellers, but there is considerable cooperation for passing this bill so far and there remains no major opposition besides a few fringe Tea Party groups. In fact, Governor John Kasich fully supports the effort to expand it and many other Republicans are following suit. Of course there is more ground to cover, but it’s more than possible to cross. Kasich’s anti-union Senate Bill 5 in Ohio several years ago was a tough battle between Ohio’s Democrats and Republicans and he gave no ground and refused to compromise. One can only hope that he will put the same kind of effort behind the upcoming debate over Medicaid expansion.

Only last week, with the state director for Working America (the segment of the AFL-CIO that represents un-unionized workers), I met with the Republican representative of my district and discussed the issue. We delivered petitions and tried to sway the representative to support the bill. The legislative staff was more than happy to see us and we found much common ground on the debate. Peace, even during the federal government shutdown, is more than possible in Ohio.

Ohio cracks down on grassroots organizing, causing an unlikely coalition

Originally published http://wagingnonviolence.org/2013/12/ohio-cracks-grassroots-organizing-causing-unlikely-coalition/

 

Grassroots organizing is under attack in Ohio. The state’s Republican majority recently enacted measures under Ohio Senate Bill 193 that make it virtually impossible for third parties to function. The measure takes full effect at the end of January 2014.

In 2014, a new barrier for new party-formation petitions will be created; a requirement to have at least .5 percent of the total vote from the state’s last gubernatorial election, which amounts to about 27,000 votes. By the end of the year, all new party-formation petitions must have at least 1 percent of the electorate, and signatures must include at least 500 registered voters from eight of Ohio’s 16 congressional districts. All office holders and volunteers for a minor political party (e.g. petitioners, county officials and campaign organizers) must also have voted in that same party’s primary within the last two years; this deals a strong blow to organizations like the Green Party and the Libertarian Party, which have active cross-membership with other political parties. Due to deadline changes, minor parties may not even have a 2014 primary. Minor parties must create a body of three to five members to nominate candidates, and the secretary of state must approve of them. Each of the parties must receive at least 3 percent of the statewide vote in order to stay on the ballot. The law ensures that many thousands of people will become less able to express themselves politically in Ohio.

Third parties affected by the new rules are claiming that they’re being unfairly targeted because Ohio is often highly contested in national elections. The biggest small party in the state is the Libertarian Party, which regularly steals only a tiny portion of Republican votes — but that tiny portion can make a difference. One percent can sway an election in a battleground state.

Each of the main minor parties has released a statement.

The Green Party:

The Ohio Green Party has been a legally recognized political party since 2008, has shown increasing voter support in both elections and party registrations, has two sitting elected Green officials in Ohio, and is currently running five candidates for local offices across the state. This unprecedented outlawing of fully functional and legally compliant political parties shows the legislature’s increasing distaste for democracy and democratic institutions.

The Libertarian Party:

The bottom line is that the John Kasich Re-election Protection Act would disenfranchise every Ohio voter by taking away their right to vote for a candidate for governor other than a) John Kasich, a governor who has miserably failed the state of Ohio and betrayed millions of fiscal conservatives who expected him to follow Ohio law and oppose Obamacare, or b) the nominee of the other big-government party who is promising to double down on most of Kasich’s failing policies.

The Constitution Party:

Senate Bill 193 for 2013, proposed in mid-September by Cincinnati Republican State Senator Bill Seitz, is one piece of scary legislation making any other Halloween monster seem tame by comparison. This is a bill designed to permanently eliminate all political parties except Republican and Democrat from existence beginning in 2014.

Both the Green Party and the Constitution Party have joined the Libertarian Party in bringing the bill into court. The Green Party was officially added to the case on December 4, after the ACLU’s motion to intervene on the behalf of the organization was granted by Federal District Court Judge Michael Watson. This alliance between libertarians, leftists and socially conservative constitutionalists could prove formidable in the fight for grassroots movements to have a voice in the electoral system.