Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Religious Right Around the Globe: Angus Buchan and his Mighty Men

(Click here if you're having trouble viewing the video.)

Republic of Gilead has focused almost entirely on the Religious Right in the United States, since American fundamentalism is what I'm most familiar with. However, right-wing Christianity has a presence across the globe which is every bit as deleterious as it is in the U.S. The role of American fundamentalist preachers in fomenting homophobia in Uganda is well know, and Jeff Sharlet's books (The Family and C Street) have documented the international reach of "the Family." To the north, the Canadian Religious Right is making its presence felt in Canadian society. However, right-wing Christianity is not merely a North American export. Homegrown Religious Right groups are receiving more attention across the globe, and we would do well to educate ourselves about their efforts.

I'd like to start with commentary on Angus Buchan, a Christian evangelist in South Africa whose rhetoric bears remarkable similarities to that of the American Religious Right. Buchan has attracted international attention, with his ministry and Mighty Men Conferences receiving coverage from American Christian media sources such as Charisma and The 700 Club. He has published several books and travels the world with his hearty style of evangelism.

According to the Shalom Farm website, Angus Buchan was a Zambian farmer who moved to Greytown, South Africa and established Shalom Farm with his wife Jill. His autobiography, Faith Like Potatoes, documents Buchan's conversion to Christianity and has been made into a feature film. Buchan's Shalom Farm, in addition to raising livestock and crops, houses the Beth-Hatlaim children's home and hosts Buchan's annual Mighty Men rallies for Christian men. Reminiscent of Promise Keeper rallies in the U.S., the Mighty Men Conferences are male-only gatherings devoted to Christian revival.

Like some right-wing American evangelists, Buchan has reportedly made controversial statements about homosexuality. According to an article in IOL News, Buchan has expressed disapproval of homosexuality, insisting that homosexuals "need help" and that God has changed homosexuals' hearts via prayer. D. H. Lawrence, director of Inclusive and Affirming Ministries (IAM), claimed that friends who once accepted him as a gay man became unfriendly after attending one of Buchan's Mighty Men rallies.

Buchan has also generated controversy because of his position on male "headship" and traditional gender roles. The fact that his ministry and Mighty Men rallies have attracted a sizable following suggests that his patriarchal message has appeal for at least some men. Nicolas Brulliard at the Global Post speculated that Buchan appeals to white South African men because of economic and social upheavals that have displaced them as heads of the family. Tauriq Moosa at the the Indelible Stamp attributes Buchan's appeal to religiosity and feelings of isolation among Afrikaaner men. While the Mighty Men rallies do beseech men to take responsibility for their lives and love their families, Dr. Saronji Nadar at IAM reminds observers that patriarchy is nevertheless entrenched in the Mighty Men message. Belief in male headship and female submission, she argues, is far from innocuous, as it is intertwined with violence against women.

GOD TV archived segments from one of Angus Buchan's Mighty Men's Conferences at his farm in Greytown, South Africa. The gathering was attended by thousands of men, their attention focused on a central stage. Between musical performances, Buchan preached fervently to the audience, with a voice somewhere between an army drill sergeant and the sadhu prophet from Monty Python's Life of Brian. Sprinkled throughout his sermons were deep, guttural amens, followed by fierce, warrior-like amens from the audience. Buchan even taunted women at the 43:51 mark of one segment, saying that they couldn't emit amens as powerfully as the men.

Much of Buchan's message focused on men rejecting pride and serving God, but his boast that the men "will not rest until Jesus Christ is lord in this nation!" sounded very familiar to this American's ears. In one segment, Buchan linked faith to the fate of South Africa, asserting at the 21:24 mark that "The future of South Africa, indeed the world, lies in the hands of the believer. Amen! It lies in your hands and my hands." At the 24:06 mark of that segment, he urged listeners to bring Christian revival into schools and workplaces, a message not unfamiliar to observers of American fundamentalism.

"Everybody in this nation needs to hear what it means to serve the living God. We cannot be quiet any longer, gentlemen. We need to stand up and call sin by its name. We need to make a difference. Jesus took twelve men and he changed the world. I see hundreds of thousands of men and boys in this place. If we get serious this weekend. and we start to blow the trumpet first of all in the house, then in the school, the university, in the workplace, in the mines, in the factories, on the farms, we have got revival."
In another Mighty Men rally segment, Buchan described David's victory against the giant Goliath, attributing David's might to his willingness to serve God. At the 46:31 mark of that segment, he instructed listeners to wait on "men of God" as a show of devotion.

"Young men, you want to be used of God, you go and find a man of God. You carry his suitcase, you make sure that that car is prepared for him. You make sure that he's got food to eat. You wash his clothes. You wash his feet if you have to. Because if you won't, God says 'I won't use you.'"
One of the most striking aspects of the Mighty Men's Conference was Buchan's misogyny. In his concluding speech to a mixed-sex audience, Buchan urged the Christian wives in the audience to submit to their husbands and adopt stereotypical gender roles. For example, at the 24:10 mark, Buchan urged women to forgive their husbands and refrain from criticizing them in public. He blamed broken families on women criticizing their husbands in front of their children.

"Madam, when you come home -- correction, when your husband comes home -- you're going to see a man in the house, you're going to see somebody probably do this [kneels] and ask you to forgive him ... Please forgive him and then help him. Don't correct him in public. I don't care if you've been walking with Jesus longer than him. He's got the holy ghost inside him now ... Never criticize him in front of your children, ever. That's why we've got so many broken families in this country. You break your men down, and then the children have no one to look to. That little boy, that's his hero. Make him a hero unto his children, and you'll see a new nation."
At the 27:55 mark, he instructs women to let their husbands physically discipline their children without interfering. The idea that some women might disapprove of corporal punishment, or that women deserve to have a say in their childrens' discipline was not considered.

"Your husband is a watchman. He will be watching over your house. When he disciplines your children, let him do it. If your children are misbehaving and they don't respect you, and he wants to given them a hiding, let him do it."
Likewise, at the 31:15 mark, he argued that men are to lead religious devotions in their households.

"Madam, your husband is going to be a man of the word. He will lead the devotions in your house. Stand back and let him do it. He will teach the children by example."
Brazenly, at the 39:47 mark, he admonishes women to remain stereotypically feminine and refrain from competing with men.
"Please remain feminine. Don't try and compete with the men. You don't have to. We actually don't want you to. We want you to be feminine and beautiful and petite. Any woman can do that. Let us men be men. Let us protect you. Let us open the door of the car so you can sit in. I can do it myself. No you can't, and you should never do it. These young men know when they take that young girl out for a meal next Friday night, they're paying for everything, aren't you boys? ... We're not into this going-dutch stuff. My wife has never paid for anything in her life. That's why she looks so beautiful. Hallelujah. I'm a poor man, but I'm free, and I've got a wife that loves me. I make the money, she spends it."
Who's "we"? I don't have a problem with women "competing" for jobs, goals, and a place in society, and neither do emotionally mature men in general. Has Buchan considered that some women might not identify with his vision of femininity, or might have goals other than being "beautiful and petite"? Given the choice between having car doors opened for them and being respected as equals by men, most of the women I know would prefer the latter.

In short, Buchan's rhetoric resembles that of many voices from the American Religious Right. His reported words carry messages of nationwide revival, homophobia, and patriarchy, which should concern those who support religious pluralism, LGBT rights, and women's equality. While I do not dispute that Buchan has done positive work through the Beth-Hatlaim children's home, many of his messages are nevertheless negative.

I've brought up this topic to remind my American readers that the Religious Right is not just an American problem. Progressives and moderates should pay attention to the Religious Right in other countries because fundamentalist leaders travel and network internationally (with Uganda and Russia as two recent example). Religious Right voices in other countries deserve attention not only because of their opposition to LGBT rights, women's rights, and church-state separation in their homelands, but because they often compare notes with Religious Right leaders in America. A global perspective on the Religious Right can help us understand the magnitude of Christian fundamentalism, as well as motivate us to forge alliances with progressives and moderates in other countries.

To learn more about Angus Buchan, visit the Shalom Farm website.  

For additional commentary, visit the following links.

National Secular Society: Christian homophobes are spreading their hate in South Africa

Dr. Sarojini Nadar of IAM: Who's Afraid of the Mighty Men's Conference?

Mail & Guardian: The Wrong Kind of Power

The Indelible Stamp: Potato Preacher: A Skeptic's Guide to Angus Buchan


  1. After your recommendation I read about The Family in "C Street" while on vacation a couple of weeks ago. You are right, Ahab. The spread of these patriarchal, misogynist, and homophobic ideas is much more than an American problem. It is a poison that is doing a lot of harm to a lot of people globally. It is hate rhetoric disguised as spirituality.

    It's quite ironic, really, because these so-called Christian men want women who will baby and nurture them, feeding their fragile and thus volatile egos, like second mommies. Yet they want to assume a domineering fatherly role over their wives. I can't imagine a more oppressive and unhealthy relationship.

  2. Cognitive Dissenter -- I'm glad you read C STREET. Jeff Sharlet has done a great job in informing the public about the Family's international machinations.

    You're right. Hateful words put forth as hate are still hateful. And the infantilizing relationships Buchan promotes are unhealthy for both sexes.

  3. Jeff Sharlet had quite an experience touring Temple Square in Salt Lake City last year. He asked lots of questions, and because he is such a mild mannered and good-natured sort, I think he learned more than most people who visit the Mormon headquarters. (Of course he got an earful from us at the Ex-Mormon Conference as well.) I can see how he is able to gain access to some of these inclusive religious societies.

    Thanks for sharing the information on Buchan. The notion that families break up because wives criticize their husbands in front of the kids will stick with me for some time!

  4. Donna -- Someone with a gentle demeanor would definitely have an easier time earning people's trust than someone with a confrontational demeanor. I'm still envious that you got to hear Sharlet speak at a conference.

    Aye, Buchan's takes this "male headship" thing to strange extremes.


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