The battle is the Lord’s: Christian nationalism and the fight for gender and sexual justice

The following is a guest blog post by Anima Adjepong, author of Afropolitan Projects: Redefining Blackness, Sexualities, and Culture from Houston to Accra. Beyond simplistic binaries of “the dark continent” or “Africa rising,” Africans at home and abroad articulate their identities through their quotidian practices and cultural politics. Amongst the privileged classes, these articulations can be characterized as Afropolitan projects–cultural, political, and aesthetic expressions of global belonging rooted in African ideals. This ethnographic study examines the Afropolitan projects of Ghanaians living in two cosmopolitan cities: Houston, Texas, and Accra, Ghana. Anima Adjepong’s focus shifts between the cities, exploring contests around national and pan-African cultural politics, race, class, sexuality, and religion.

Happy Book Birthday to Afropolitan Projects: Redefining Blackness, Sexualities, and Culture from Houston to Accra, officially on sale today!

In July 2021, a group of eight members of parliament in Ghana introduced a bill titled the Proper Human Sexual and Ghanaian Family Values Bill. The bill’s introduction was the culmination of years of right-wing organizing by religious groups working under the banner of the National Coalition for Proper Human Sexual Rights and Family Values. Since its founding in 2013, the Coalition’s primary argument has been that an “international LGBT agenda” is undermining Ghana’s cultural and moral values. Bringing together Christian, Muslim, and Traditional religious leaders, the coalition has tapped into the power that religion holds over the large majority of Ghanaians. Despite their historical differences, these groups have united to help secure Christian ideologies in government, with the goal of curbing the inclusion of LGBTQI Ghanaians. 

Although Ghana is technically a secular state, Christian groups have long held sway over the government. The encroachment of Christianity into state operations was further cemented with the current president’s announcement in 2017 that his government will construct a national cathedral next to Parliament. President Akufo-Addo, who ran on the campaign slogan, “The battle is the Lord’s” has, like presidents before him, strategically used Christianity to court powerful Pentecostal and Catholic groups who, in turn, incite their congregations to vote. The intimate relationship between Christian groups and Ghana’s government has entrenched fundamentalist Christian ideas in the state’s operations and curtail opportunities for the advancement of progressive social agenda. This consequence is not exclusive to Ghana, as we see Christian ideologies playing out in proposed state laws in the United States, and around the world. 

Akoben, the Adinkra symbol for vigilance. The Akoben or horn of war symbolizes preparation to fight. 

Christianity’s dominance in Ghana is a colonial legacy that continues to shape Ghanaian ideologies about freedom, justice, and culture. Christianity’s introduction to the territories now known as Ghana came through missionaries, who arrived in the 19th century. Missionaries’ relationships with colonial authorities, coupled with the changing economic landscape, offered opportunities for restructuring Indigenous practices in ways that facilitated domination. A profound legacy of Christian domination has been the suppression of expansive ideas about gender and sexuality, which were culturally accepted amongst the Ga-Dangme, Akan, Ewe, Dagara and other Indigenous populations. Groups such as the Coalition are taking advantage of this colonial legacy to argue a cultural history of binary gender and heterosexuality that is simply not true. 

Scholars, Indigenous priests, and lay archivists have shown us how in the non-Western world, cultural traditions, which include spiritual practices, engaged expansively with gender and sexuality in ways that challenge Western patriarchy and compulsory heterosexuality. Yet, fundamentalist groups such as the National Coalition have taken advantage of Christianity’s deep psychic roots to advance a program of social control in the name of cultural preservation. Ana-Maurine Lara has used the term “Christian coloniality” to describe the long-lasting implications of this form of domination on ideas about gender, sexuality, and ultimately, citizenship. Lara’s analysis offers a clear articulation of the relationship between Christianity, ultranationalism, and the battle over who counts as human. By clarifying this relationship, new inroads can be made to counter the colonial legacy of Christian domination. 

The implications of religious groups taking over government operations are dire. From the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol in January 2021, to global gender conspiracy theories advanced by Christian groups, and renewed anti-LGBTQ legislations around the world, the rise of religious nationalisms erode democracy and undermine opportunities for equality and justice. Advocates for gender and sexual justice are already mindful of how religious fundamentalism entrenches these inequalities. However, strategies for employing spirituality as a counter to fundamentalism remain underdeveloped. Taking a cue from President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, who claimed that their battle is the Lord’s, activists might consider including Indigenous spiritual practices as part of their arsenal against Christian nationalist domination. Just as our ancestors before, including Queen Nanny, invoked African spirituality in their fight for freedom from colonialism and enslavement, activists today can find value in returning to these practices in the battles they face.  

Anima Adjepong is assistant professor of women’s, gender, and sexuality studies at the University of Cincinnati.