Hidden Perspectives

Bringing the Bible Out of the Closet

Interview with Dr. Susannah Cornwall


When Hidden Perspectives was at the Cinema, showing the epic, God Love Uganda, we were lucky enough to have Dr. Susannah Cornwall on the discussion panel along with Dr. Adriaan Van Klinken and Dr. Katie Edwards.
Everyone at the movie showing and the following discussion felt that it was an interesting, educational and extremely worth while experience. As a follow up, we asked Dr. Susannah Cornwall a few questions, which will give you an insight into the movie God Loves Uganda, if you weren’t there, and will give you plenty to think about whether you were there or not. See below for the interview questions and answers.
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1. How did you feel the discussion panel went after the showing of God Loves Uganda?

Whilst Adriaan, who’s an expert on African Christianities, had seen the film a couple of times before, I, like most of the audience, was seeing it for the first time. I was glad that there was a chance for people to share their reactions while they were still fresh, but it was also good to have Adriaan there as someone who was able to give some more context and help us situate the film among the broader situation. I would have liked to hear more from members of the audience about whether they were shocked, saddened, surprised or confused by what they’d seen. I visited Uganda in 2003, whilst the “ABC” (Abstain, Be faithful, use Condoms) campaign for sexual health and protection against HIV was still in full swing, prior to the main push for US-funded abstinence-only programs. It was interesting to see what had and hadn’t changed over the past ten years. 

2. What do you think people took away from the discussion panel?

As the discussion went on, I think what became clear was that none of the panellists was completely persuaded by what seemed to be the main thrust of the film. We were all a bit suspicious about the presentation of US-based evangelical missionaries as “baddies” who were imposing an anti-gay agenda, and Ugandans as naive, vulnerable people who were easily swayed by their rhetoric. Actually, it seemed that several of the American groups and individuals shown had no real knowledge of the proposed Anti-Homosexuality Bill, and weren’t preaching against homosexuality as part of their work (though nor, I think, would they have been particularly in favour of it). As I said in the panel discussion, what seemed to be missing was the place of British Christians and churches in the discussion. After all, if there are indeed latent and overt anti-homosexual feelings in much of Ugandan society, and if homosexuality is indeed understood as an “un-African” Western imposition by some people, it’s worth asking what the role of British Christian missionaries of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was in that. Uganda was a British protectorate from 1894 to 1962, so, in a postcolonial context, it’s worth asking what the legacy of British political influence continues to be for people in Africa and in Britain alike. This is especially significant given that the Church of Uganda is part of the Anglican Communion and has the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, as its head, and there continue to be questions about what the relationship of the worldwide Anglican churches to the Church of England should be – including when it comes to questions about issues such as sexuality.

3. What are your thoughts regarding the passing of the anti-homosexuality bill?

It’s very sad, though not really surprising, that the bill has now been passed into law. It’s worth noting that homosexuality already was illegal in Uganda, and something for which you could be imprisoned for up to 14 years. The difference now that this new law has been passed is that you could face life in prison. However, the bill also originally stipulated that “persistent” homosexuals could be sentenced to death, and that’s not part of what’s actually been passed into law. But Uganda is still not an easy or hospitable place in which to be an LGBT person: as noted in God Loves Uganda, there’s still fairly frequent violence toward LGBT people there, and many people believe that the murder of activist David Kato in 2011 was an anti-gay hate crime. I hope that international pressure will lead to the swift repeal of the new law, but I also hope that it’s clear to the Ugandan government that there is plenty of opposition to it from within Uganda and elsewhere in Africa, as well as in the West.

4. Can you give us a sneaky preview about your upcoming projects or book?

I’ve recently started a new job at the University of Exeter, where I’m researching how accounts of personhood in Christianity, Islam and Judaism influence teachings about and responses to people with variant sex or gender (e.g. intersex, transgender, and genderqueer people) in those faiths. My next book is due to come out with Palgrave Macmillan US early in 2015, and it’s an edited collection called Intersex, Theology and the BIble: Troubling Bodies in Church, Text and Society. Most of the chapters are based on papers that were presented at a conference on intersex which I chaired at the University of Manchester in March 2013. We’re asking why intersex seems troubling to some people of faith, and what unquestioned assumptions might be “troubled” or disturbed by it. We note that intersex people’s bodies have often been understood as troubling medically and socially, and have been surgically altered and hidden away as a result – even though intersex people themselves often describe their bodies, and their experiences of being sexed, in very positive terms, and some intersex Christians understand their intersex as a special gift or blessing from God. In the book we suggest that there are other kind of “bodies” that need to be troubled, namely institutions such as the medical establishment and religious groups, and the bodies of knowledge about sex, gender and sexuality which often don’t leave much space for broader accounts of what it is to be a person.

Author: Hidden Perspectives

A research project within the Sheffield Institute for Interdisciplinary Biblical Studies (SIIBS) at The University of Sheffield.

3 thoughts on “Interview with Dr. Susannah Cornwall

  1. Pingback: Interview with Dr. Adriaan Van Klinken | Hidden Perspectives

  2. Great humanity and outreach Sussnnah. Through grass roots to peer reviewed, research to revaluing – what is right with the world were so many are wronged.

  3. Great humanity and outreach Sussnnah. Through grass roots to peer reviewed, research to revaluing – what is right with in a world when so many are wronged and that ‘wronging’ of others then perpetrates torture, incarceration and death, loving the awareness that variables within humanity exist, as opposed to fearing them is surely a human godly or spiritual absolute!!!! Surely….

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