Fresh Faithfuls: Transnational American Christianity and the Politics of Race & Sexuality
Thursday, Oct 08, 2015 - Thursday, Oct 08, 2015 | 4:00 pm - 5:30 pm
691 Barrows Hall
This paper utilizes the 2010 documentary film 1040: Christianity in the New Asia as a lens into the politics of transnational Asian American evangelicalism that seeks to influence formulations of the Pacific Rim as a new site of possibility within the 21st century global political economy. I argue that the film’s discursive imagination leverages American anxieties and hopes surrounding the economic, moral, and political ascendancy of Asia and the perceived decline of the West. 1040 attempts to renegotiate the social positionality of Asian Americans by positing them as the new moral majority—friendly, cosmopolitan bodies that can assure the continued influence of the U.S. in Asia. While the “foreign” element endemic to the construction of Asian America once served as a serious liability—most paradigmatically with the Japanese internment during World War II—the film uses foreignness to explain Asian Americans’ success and continued importance.
However, the film also taps into anxieties over faltering U.S. state power that are deeply imbricated within U.S. evangelicalism, as religious scholars, church leaders, and media pundits have both heralded and feared the rise of “Global South” over the past twenty years. Furthermore, this “foreignness” also teeters dangerously toward earlier constructions of the “yellow peril,” which is why the film must end with another Orient onto which to project American angst. I thus conclude my presentation with a discussion of the film’s treatment of the 2007 South Korean hostage crisis in Afghanistan, where 23 missionaries were kidnapped and held hostage for six weeks. In order to argue that a certain subset group—namely upwardly mobile East Asians—should be considered “civilized,” 1040 pushes the project of Orientalism from the Far East to the Middle East. The film invites its American audience to see “uncivilized” nations such as Afghanistan as a particular burden for Asian Christians to bear. By charting these ideological shifts through the lens of 1040, I hope to describe the confluence of Christian ideology and economic expediency that produces a transnational Asian American identity, and thereby trouble the “naturalized” relationship between Asian American bodies and the future economic, moral, and social possibilities of the Pacific Rim.
Results from the 2012 Election Day marked a historic moment for LGBT individuals in the United States: outcomes from this election cycle saw, for the first time, the passage of same-sex marriage in three states by popular vote. At the same time mainstream U.S. media inundated the American public with celebratory stories and images of LGBT Americans, however, November 6 marked a different occasion for gay rights advocates in Uganda. According to a Ugandan-based newspaper, Member of Parliament David Bahati advised parents in the capital city to watch their children, warning that close to 40 companies were recruiting minors in the gay business. Ironically, Bahati’s remarks were soon followed by a November 12 statement that announced the re-tabling of the Anti-Homosexuality Act (AHA), notoriously known as the “Kill the Gays” Bill, which Bahati himself first introduced in 2009. As stated by a small minority of gay rights activists in the East African country, “A vitriolic homophobia is rising in Ugandan society, pointing to the meteoric rise of the U.S. evangelical church as a driving force.” However, it is imperative to note that while journalistic accounts regarding Uganda’s AHA commonly attribute the growing backlash against LGBT Africans to a deliberate export of the United States’ own culture wars by far-right Christian groups, attempts to diffuse ideas internationally necessitate the involvement of local actors in target countries. In what follows thus, I explore the narratives present among journalists and commentators who commonly claim that American Christian groups are responsible for exporting U.S.-style culture wars to the African continent. These accounts tend to assume, at least implicitly, that Northern conservatives are manipulating Southern communities for their own ends. While it is undisputed that the linkages among Christian groups in the global North and South has and continues to grow, this argument tends to downplay the agency of Ugandan political elites and subalterns alike, who have their own political, social, and moral concerns regarding the cultural “unintelligibility” of homosexuality.
This paper will explore Uganda’s religious climate surrounding the 2014 Anti-Homosexuality Bill. My main contention is to demonstrate how the connection of salvation and sanctity to a certain moral and political order in Uganda reveals itself through the discourses surrounding the AHA, replete with postcolonial sentiments of Ugandan elites that target queer Ugandans as a threat, “the enemy from within,” to the state’s political legitimacy. I hope to explain how citizenship in Uganda is premised in heterosexual terms and how the bodies of lesbian and gay Ugandans are made visible to bear the brunt of the charge of undermining national sovereignty. This argument may come as no surprise, as homosexual acts are already illegal in Uganda—a remnant of British rule in the country—with punishment of imprisonment for up to 14 years. However, by also analyzing various newspaper articles documenting the ways in which Ugandan politicians and religious leaders justify anti-gay sentiments through appeals to religious language and imagery, I will track a key historical shift occurring in the early 2000s that demonstrates how a politics of morality, oftentimes narrated through heterosexist theological discourse, constitute LGBT sexualities as threats to public morality, African values, national integrity, and sovereignty.
Jocelyn Edwards, “Uganda Anti-Gay Bill Draws Church, Donor Battle Lines,” Thomson Reuters, last modified June 29, 2012, http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/06/29/us-uganda-gays-idUSBRE85ROXR20….