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Uganda has been at the center of the AIDS epidemic in Africa. This fact has shaped the role that Christianity, and especially the growing Pentecostal movement, have assumed in influencing HIV and AIDS politics and representations. In Uganda (with special reference to Kampala), Pentecostal-Charismatic churches (PCCs (1)) have been filling the public space since 1986. This phenomenon has had an impact not only on the religious landscape, but on the social and political setting, because of the transformation of many of these churches into faith-based organizations (FBOs). (2) Since the turn of the millennium, international flows of money and local forces have combined to fuse political and religious agendas, and the AIDS epidemic has been a powerful spur for PCCs to become more deeply involved in social activities. This phenomenon is particularly evident in four of the largest Pentecostal-Charismatic churches in Kampala, the capital city: Kampala Pentecostal Church (KPC), Makerere Full Gospel Church (FGC), Makerere Community Church (MCC), and Rubaga Miracle Center (MC). (3) These churches have extended and institutionalized activities that engage with HIV/AIDS, for example, programs caring for people living with HIV and AIDS (PLWHA) and for orphans, education about the virus (information and prevention programs), youth projects, schools and counseling facilities. Many of these efforts are directed at children and youth.
Two main factors have contributed to the institutionalization of PCCs around HIV/AIDS activities. First, the HIV/AIDS epidemic itself encouraged a significant theological refocus among Pentecostal churches in East Africa, from an "otherworldly" to a "this-worldly" attitude, from the urgency of saving as many souls as possible in the short term, to long-term programs, with a stress on the future of the country. This took place after 2000, and was perhaps influenced by the Kanungu massacre in March 2000, after which public opinion called for greater governmental control over the proliferation of churches. (4) After this disaster, the Ugandan government made moves to exert greater control over new churches, requiring them to register with the government and apply three different times for renewal of their licenses. (5) Second, the introduction of PEPFAR funds into Uganda from 2004 significantly redirected the country's strategies in the struggle about HIV/AIDS, creating an opening to which Pentecostal churches were ready to respond. From 2004 to 2007, Uganda received about $650 million from PEPFAR, which became the largest HIV-related donor to the country. Much of the funds provided antiretroviral treatment (ARVs) for people living with HIV and AIDS, but a considerable amount was channeled into FBOs working on HIV/AIDS prevention issues, particularly those concerning abstinence and faithfulness. (6)
The paper focuses on two related processes. The first is the transformation that Pentecostal-Charismatic churches have been experiencing in recent years in Uganda, with an increasing involvement in social programs and an institutionalization of their activities. I discuss the interaction between this process and the broader context of HIV/AIDS programs in Uganda, in which PEPFAR funds and political decisions influenced by Christian morality have modified national strategies regarding HIV and AIDS prevention. I then show how the concept of salvation, central to the Pentecostal theology, assumes renewed meanings in this context.
The increasing moralization of Ugandan responses and politics related to the epidemic leads us to the second point: the development of Pentecostal discourses about the need to raise a new generation of "saved" (born-again) people, future leaders for the country. This rhetoric of the "Joseph Generation," developed in different congregations, is a creative way of interpreting the Pentecostal idea of breaking with the past (Dijk 1998; Meyer 1998), with the young people's generation charged with building a new, Christian country, saved both in a spiritual and in a physical sense ("safe," free from AIDS). This project, presented in several Pentecostal congregations in Kampala through training camps, youth teams, and other initiatives and directed at young people, finds a parallel in President Museveni's politics--which, from the mid-1990s, recognized youth as important social actors in the reconstruction of the country after the wars that had marked the 1970s and the 1980s, (7) and in the increasing prominence in Uganda of HIV/AIDS prevention programs that focus on sexual morality, promoting abstinence from sex before marriage and faithfulness within marriage (Human Rights Watch 2005). The notion of the Joseph Generation proposes that a new, morally pure youthful generation will be able to reverse the moral corruption of the parental generation, seen by many young born-agains as responsible for the spread of AIDS in the country, and will thus transform Ugandan society from within. The last section of the paper discusses how the overlapping of different messages--religious and secular--creates confusion among young people, who have to cope with a variety of social, political, and religious forces proposing different solutions to the same problems.
The paper draws upon ethnographic research carried out in Kampala, Uganda's capital city since 2004, in particular on six months during 2005-2007, when I focused on the interrelation between the HIV/AIDS epidemic and the changing religious landscape. I visited several Christian churches (Anglican, PCCs, Roman Catholic), but I conducted research mainly in four Pentecostal churches: FGC, KPC, MC, and MCC. These are all predominantly English-speaking churches, and all but MC are located near the campus of Makerere, the main Ugandan University. Because of the use of English, the congregations are composed mainly of middle-class people and students, though MC has a more variegated audience. I focused particularly on the young, educated members of these churches. The churches are involved in several social activities, especially education, counseling, and care of ill people and orphans, and have a thick weekly calendar of activities, including two to five Sunday services, choir groups, youth teams, Bible-study groups, sports and leisure activities, and cell groups. (8) I took part in a number of churches' activities, became a member of cell groups at FGC, KPC, and MCC, went to "crusades" and other public events organized by born-again groups, and attended conferences and training camps for youth.
Pentecostal Churches in Uganda
Pentecostalism in Uganda has experienced phenomenal growth since the late 1980s, regarding both the number of churches and their size, and it has thus moved from the periphery to the core of the local religious landscape. The first Pentecostal congregations appeared in the country in the 1960s (notably the Full Gospel Church and Elim Church), but in the mid-1980s there were still only a few, with small congregations (Musana 1991). Today, PCCs can be found literally at every corner, and since the early 2000s, they have constructed huge buildings, able to host ten thousand or more people. At the time of my fieldwork in 2005, Miracle Centre, Kampala Pentecostal Church, Full Gospel Church, and Deliverance Church, had already built or were working or planning to replace their old buildings with new and larger ones.
The increasing size of the new church buildings is an index of the financial and social power wielded by PCCs, as well as of their expansion into FBOs, involved in development and social activities, in particular the care of orphans and people living with HIV and AIDS.
The year 2005 saw the start of the program Bye Bye Biwempe, (9) which promoted the construction of stable and permanent churches instead of those easily perishable, built with mud, wood, and bamboo. In the early phases of the movement, biwempe churches were a symbol of pride for the born-again or "saved" people (known locally as balokole, sing. mulokole), because they symbolized the vitality of a religion which presented itself as dynamic and fluid, able to permeate society with its malleable structure, in opposition to the mainstream Christian churches, portrayed as old, static, and far from common people's real needs. (10) Biwempe structures required a constant and common participation of the congregation to build and maintain; believers felt they were deeply involved in the process of raising a new community and making it grow. (11) In the words of G., a 38-year-old mulokole: "The Europeans brought technology, education, hospitals, and churches for free, but we don't feel these churches are our churches. Biwempe churches are ours: we paid for them; we constructed them, bit by bit. We feel these places are our places; there, we feel at home" (G 2007). This is not the case of the new, huge structures: the believer's help in this situation is often limited to financial support.
The construction of permanent churches in Uganda in place of the biwempe ones is an indication of the institutionalization of the PCCs, at least regarding the biggest and most well-established ones. (12) The government bill mentioned above represents an official marker of this process, but …