From Seoul to Manila: Transnational Religious Protests against “Born This Way”?

From Seoul to Manila: Transnational Religious Protests against “Born This Way”?

Christians and Muslims unite in new bid to silence Lady Gaga.” This was one of the top 10 religion headlines announced by the Pew Forum during the week of May 18 through 24, 2012.  The news was a response to the cancellation of Gaga’s concert in Jakarta, Indonesia, due to “security” reasons after receiving strong warnings to call off the show from a conservative Muslim group called the Islamic Defenders of Front, and Filipinos’/Filipinas’ protest against Gaga’s scheduled show in Manila. This was not so surprising, given that Gaga was already greeted by conservative Korean Christians who publicly protested against her “Born This Way Ball” tour in Seoul. Unexpectedly, however, the groups that led the protests in the Philippines were fundamentalist Protestant Christian groups, whose roots can be traced to a fundamentalist Baptist organization in the United States.

Reuben Abante, a bishop of the Lighthouse Bible Baptist Church (BBC) and secretary-general of Biblemode Youth Christian groups, led protests against Lady Gaga’s show in Manila. The origin of the Lighthouse BBC in the Philippinesgoes back to its connection with two American Baptist missionaries, Frank Hooge and Boyd Lyons, who were sent by the Baptist Bible Fellowship International (BBFI) in the late 1940s and 1960s, respectively. The BBFI, a transnational mission organization that has sent missionaries to Asia and Africa, believes in a “supernatural Bible…, a supernatural Christ… Who will one day return in supernatural glory to establish a supernatural kingdom on the earth.” The Lighthouse BBC in the Philippines shares the same “Articles of Faith” with the BBFI.

One mutual motivation behind the protests by these conservative/fundamentalist religious groups in Seoul, Jakarta, and Manila is their concern regarding the spread of “unhealthy” and “lewd” sexual culture, including pornography, nudity, and homosexuality, which will presumably destroy sexual morality of their respective nation. Furthermore, conservative/fundamentalist Christian groups in South Korea and the Philippines have condemned Gaga’s songs and performances as “satanic,” “idolatrous,” and “offensive to Christianity.”

Religious fundamentalism is a contested term and heterogeneous in its historical emergence, form, and manifestation, as well as in the ways proponents see this concept interacting with other forces such as nationalism, globalization, militarism, and even with feminism. Yet, religious fundamentalist movements share certain features, such as their detrimental effects on women’s and LGBTQ rights. Religious fundamentalist movements have also accompanied a “vigorous promotion and enforcement of gender roles whose explicit intent entails the subordination of women.”[1] Control and regulation of sexuality and rigid gender binarism are at the center of religious fundamentalism, which is indispensable for heteropatriarchy. Moreover, as feminist scholar Amrita Basu has pointed out, although transnational networks of religious fundamentalists often use the language of localism, and present themselves as local, community-based movements, they are clearly the product of transnational forces.[2] It would be interesting to further probe the extent to which local protests against Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” tour in different Asian cities, for their stated reason of protecting “sexual morality” in their nation, shed light on transnational conservative/fundamentalist religious alliances.

Gaga’s tour has provided an occasion for religious conservative/fundamentalist groups to protest in various contexts where the local meets the global. Religious fundamentalist groups’ resistance against women’s and LGBTQ rights will continue as long as their ways of controlling and regulating sexuality and gender roles and relations are questioned and contested, thereby causing religious conservative/fundamentalist groups to feel threatened and challenged in their goal of maintaining power and control via heteropatriarchy. It could be Gaga again or it could be any person or any group that religious conservative/fundamentalist groups will target at any time if s/he/they challenge the “religion of the insecure.”[3]

Those who are critical of such religious fundamentalists’ protests against Lady Gaga’s performances in these nations have made cases in favor of Gaga based on freedom of expression, freedom of religion, and LGBTQ rights, thereby pointing out hypocrisies in such protests. While it is necessary to emphasize the importance of various articles of freedom that are supposed to be endowed to each individual as basic human rights, it is equally important not to present “gay rights” solely as a marker of civilization, which has been the case when the United States has invoked the rhetoric of women’s and human rights to justify U.S.-led wars. Such conflation can lead to framing “otherwise modern” Asia  simply as a site of intolerance, backwardness, and uncivilization—as opposed to “gay-friendly” and “civil” Western society—without critically examining how religious fundamentalist movements cut across national borders and interact with global capitalism, military imperialism, heteropatriarchy, and masculinist nationalism.

* The source of the photo:

[1] Courtney W. Howland, ed., Religious Fundamentalisms and the Human Rights of Women (New York: Palgrave, 1999), xi.

[2] Amrita Basu, “Women’s Movements and the Challenge of Transnationalism.” [accessedAugust 21, 2006]

[3] Lady Gaga, “Born This Way.”