God Loves Uganda, the 2013 documentary by Roger Ross Williams releasing today on DVD and airing tonight on PBS’s Independent Lens, sheds a much needed light on the ongoing struggle for the heart and soul of Uganda. Framed by the infamous Anti-Homosexuality Act of Uganda, the documentary provides a sobering exploration of the American evangelical mission to impose right-wing Christian values on Africa.
The film offers a ground-level view of the struggle taking place in Uganda through looking at Kansas City’s International House of Prayer (IHOP) and its “God-given call” to bring the Gospel message to the people of Uganda. The Christians of IHOP are on fire for God, eager to spread the Good News of Jesus and to train Africans to continue spreading that news far and wide.
The passion and excitement of IHOP’s workers is palpably sincere. But, as this film deftly demonstrates, the shortsightedness of their work, and the practical outworking of their faith, is cause for great alarm. Their well-meaning naïveté gives implicit support to the vicious hatred of people like Pastor Robert Kayanja, Pastor Martin Ssempa, and Pastor Scott Lively, “Christian” leaders who share a near-frothing obsession with eradicating homosexuality. These men see homosexuality as an abomination that must be eradicated, and Uganda—nearly half the population of which is under the age of 15—as fertile ground to plant and grow that message. So they have spared no measure of zeal teaching Ugandans that homosexuality is a sinful, depraved lifestyle that must be fought at all costs; that President Obama, the United Nations, UNICEF and myriad other secular organizations will stop at nothing to promote their “homosexual agenda”; that laws criminalizing homosexuality and imposing severe penalties on homosexuals must be passed and enforced. God Loves Uganda shows these so-called men of God spreading their toxic, life-destroying message through the preaching of virulent sermons filled with graphic imagery of homosexual pornography, and by (gee, what a surprise) collecting massive amounts of money in support of their cause.
Countering these messages of anti-gay revilement is the thoughtful commentary of exiled Ugandan Anglican priest Kapya Kaoma, who continues to work valiantly to expose the American-supported evangelical agenda in Uganda. We also see the work of Ugandan LGBT activist Bishop Christopher Senyonjo and hear some of the final words of murdered gay activist David Kato. It is at Kato’s funeral that Bishop Senyonjo offers these words of hope:
The whole world has got its eyes on Uganda because of what has happened to David Kato. David’s death is a result of the hatred planted in Uganda by U.S. evangelicals. But I have known these people who are LGBT, I respect them for what they are and I believe they are going to heaven. Like you others, they are going to heaven. Please don’t be discouraged. God created you, God is on your side.
At the time God Loves Uganda was completed, the Anti-Homosexuality Bill was still under consideration by the Ugandan Parliament. It has since become law, with devastating consequences: this past year has seen a tenfold increase in violence against gay and lesbian people in Uganda.
God Loves Uganda is a powerful indictment against the priorities and activism of imperialistic right-wing American evangelicalism. It forces us to confront the meaning and relevance of the Great Commission and the real-world consequences of Christianity’s theological convictions. Uganda is an ideological battle ground that’s causing real blood to be spilled, real lives to be lost. Williams’s film is nothing less than a war documentary, capturing the opening battles of a conflict that is only just beginning.
Dan is the Executive Editor of the Unfundamentalist blog. He is a writer, graphic designer and IT specialist. He lives in Montana, is married and lives with two cats.