Angel Collie: rewriting exclusive theological narratives—globally and locally
[Editor's note: We invited several YDS students to offer reflections on the theme "What I Did Over Summer Vacation." Angel Collie '14 M.Div. shared this reflection on his summer working with the gender non-conforming folks in Uganda.]
Read more articles from students:
Joel Bergeland: "Good work, no matter how it ends."
Natalie Blasco: "We are the church of God and we are responsible for one another"
Jordan Scruggs and Dana Capasso: "No longer invisible"
This summer was no 'vacation' in the traditional sense as I worked to complete over 370 hours to fulfill the Summer Ministry Intensive but I loved every hour. Most of those hours were spent working with the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans*, Queer, and Intersex (LGBTQI) community in Kampala, Uganda.
Angel Collie, third from left, with members of Freedom and Roam Uganda
(Photo: courtesy of Angel Collie)
Leaders from the American religious right, including one discredited US scholar who blames the holocaust on homosexuals, held an 'Anti-Homosexuality' conference in Kampala in 2009 and the "Kill the Gays" bill was introduced into Parliament. With its introduction came a time of public humiliation, violence, and the murder of a gay activist named David Kato. The legislation is still pending and being visibly queer in Uganda is dangerous, yet many continue to come together, create community, and live with pride.
I felt bringing a pastoral care framework in an attempt to re-write exclusive theological narratives in Uganda would be effective because the country is overwhelmingly religious. In the most recent census, only 0.9% of as the population identified as non-religious while 82.6% identified as Christian. This "on the ground" reality of religiosity has been a breeding ground for Western Evangelical missionaries' importation of homophobia and transphobia with few dissenting voices. As a Christian convicted in the belief that God loves and affirms the lives of queer and trans people, I felt called to bring that news here.
In Uganda it is commonly believed that homosexuality is a Western phenomenon, yet a brief history of the country makes it evident that homophobia, not homosexuality, is the Western import. For this reason, I believe the first step towards change is a new theology.
For my internship, I worked with two organizations: Freedom and Roam Uganda (FARUG) and St. Paul's Reconciliation and Equality Center (SPREC). One of the most transforming experiences of my time in Uganda happened during lunch at FARUG with a young transgender man. He began to ask me about my own experience as a transgender person, stating he just couldn't imagine how I could ever be trans and Christian. He was shocked I could be in Divinity school or even be welcomed in a church. He had heard loud and clear in Uganda no church would ever accept him.
In fact, when he went to a trusted pastor for care about his gender identity he was called out in front of the church and they tried to exercise the "male demon that has possessed him." Indeed, in his mind it was the church that hated him and backed hateful legislation, like the bill that proposes his death. During this conversation it was clear he had few "role models" or "transcestors" (trans ancestors) that provided new possibilities or support for him. I will never forget his reaction when he learned that there are gender non-conforming people, such as eunuchs, like him that are celebrated and included in Christian scripture.
There are many examples like the one above all over the world. While we in the US marked a milestone by celebrating marriage equality, globally, our work is far from done. Uganda is a lesson in fighting for a movement that acknowledges we have more work to do. I'm thankful that YDS is a place where we can learn, explore, and are supported to take up the call to "do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God"—locally and globally.