Posted: 12 February 2015
Blog 6 from Rob Dunn
In early 2014, David Cameron stated that Britain should be more confident in its status as a 'Christian country'. I remember his comments caused quite a stir. 'What does the mean?' the public queried, 'the majority of Britons aren't even Christian any more, are we Christian just because the Queen heads the church and there's a few bishops in the Lords'. A good question - Britain's status as a Christian country (whatever that means) is indeed arguable. However, Uganda's is less controversial.
In Uganda the most recent estimate found 85% of its citizens to be Christians. That's 29,628,291 Christians. Whether I go shopping in small corner stalls or Kampala's largest supermarkets, I hear a combination of hymns, gospel music and Western worship music blaring out of the speakers. People frequently address letters to me 'In the name of the Lord Almighty Father God', and as I've mentioned previously, the names of many of the stalls are unmistakeably Christian. Local taxis are emblazoned with bible verses above their windscreens and street corners are often occupied by rather scary pastors, threatening hell to all whom pass.. Although arguable on its Christian rationale, homosexuality, suicide and adultery are all punishable by the criminal law. If you speak to Ugandans, the existence of a God is not a question which even needs asking – 'of course there's a God' they say. This culture is not limited to the poorer or uneducated of society. Uganda's motto is 'For God and my Country' and the President is regularly pictured praying or attending one of Kampala's hundreds of churches. Christianity is near inescapable in modern day Uganda.
So, maybe a country's status as Christian depends on its people, its values, its leader or even its Constitution. I don't know, and I'm not so sure Mr. Cameron did either. However, if a country can be 'Christian', Uganda is probably the closest they come.
The prevalence of Christianity in Uganda's culture has been one of the most intriguing aspects for me of living in Uganda. The main reason for this is its contrast to what we see in Britain today. I would not go as far as to say that Christian's are persecuted in Britain, not by a long way. However, as secularism has risen, the presence of overtly Christian music, comments, teaching or people has diminished in public. Whether this is a good thing or not, that's up to you. Yet, it is the contrast in Uganda which has fascinated me. In many ways, coming to Uganda is like boarding a time machine to 1950s Britain. Nearly everyone sings hymns in school, nearly everyone accepts there is a God; nearly everyone identifies themselves as a Christian.
There is one question I struggled to answer though. If everyone identifies themselves as Christians, if Christianity is so deep-rooted in Ugandan culture, why does Ugandan society face so many challenges which modern British culture does not? In a nutshell, why isn't biblical morality more evident in Uganda? Out of almost 200 countries in the world, Uganda is the 21st poorest. It is rated as 'high' by the US for its crime level and is the 34th most corrupt country in the world. In my work I see the consequences of violent and sexual crime, witness countless of the poor being illegally evicted from land and observe an inefficient and non-empathising court system which seems like it couldn't really care less. I admit that hospitality is more widely offered in Uganda, but colleagues have told me this is more a trait of tribal custom than an application of biblical principles. This made me think: does my experience in Uganda suggest that Christianity doesn't really affect one's behaviour? Does it make things worse?
My conclusion is that the answer to both of these questions is 'no'. Bear with me. As someone helpfully explained to me 'Christianity in Uganda is a mile wide, but only an inch thick'. Millions identify themselves as Christian, but when it comes to believing in Jesus and trying to follow his example, they don't bother. Christianity in Uganda has, sadly, become a tool. It's a way to continue doing what you want and desiring the things you want, but under a pious guise of respectability. The thinking goes: 'I'm a Ugandan, so I'm a Christian, and so God's going to bless me with money/women/men/whatever I fancy', or 'I greet you in the name of the Lord Almighty, Praise Him' so you will be convinced that all my purposes are righteous and honourable. For those of you whom know the Bible, the same thing happened in the New Testament. The Pharisees knew the right words to say and would identify themselves as Jewish to their very core, but their purposes and aims were never selfless or God-focused. Jesus sussed them out pretty quickly.
In Uganda, this has led those whom believe in and follow Jesus to begin identifying themselves as 'born again' (John 3). They do so to show, yes they're Christians, but that they're more than that. They're saying they want to be born again, effectively becoming new people with God-focused desires and actions. This has really interested me, as it's a phrase we seem to no longer need in Britain. Being a Christian isn't cool and it won't win you many friends, favours or jobs. In Britain, if you're not 'born again', why bother with a façade?
So then, is there anything gained in being 'Christian' or a 'Christian country' if people are not trying to follow Jesus? Seemingly; no. Uganda hasn't benefited from culture Christianity and neither has its people.
Fortunately, God doesn't give gold stars for being good or tally up our good deeds, He asks us just to believe in Jesus. A consequence of that belief however should be a willingness to serve those around us. Now, whilst I have without doubt seen some Muslims and 'Christians' seeking to benefit Uganda, I have witnessed an overwhelming commitment and desire from those whom are 'born again' to improve the lives of their neighbours and their country. They are acting in consequence of their belief. I have seen real change as people put themselves second, and put God and others first. This has been brilliant to see.
Maybe you agree with the above, maybe you don't. Either way, I hope you've found it as interesting insight in the stark differences between British and Ugandan cultures as I have.