This past weekend I saw a screening of “God Loves Uganda”, a documentary from Roger Ross Williams that premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2013. The movie follows the efforts leaders of the International House of Prayer (IHOP), Kansas City, MO to spread Christianity, change African culture with values from the conservative American right and promote the Ugandan Anti-Homosexuality Bill (aka “Kill the Gays Bill”).
I viewed the film at the activist and blogger conference Netroots Nation. [I viewed the film for a second time as part of The Reformation Project in Kansas City, KS, 9/ 18.] As a Christian, the film’s depiction of evangelical Christians and their careless interaction with the African culture embarrassed me. I was compelled during the public engagement time after the film to distance myself from the IHOP-type, religious right pedigree of evangelical Christian shown in “God Loves Uganda”.
The film follows several characters:
- Rev. Kapya Kaoma — An Anglican priest from Zambia who now works within the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts. He was on a panel “Intolerance Abroad” at the conference. He pointed out the the new battlefield for the American culture wars was Africa. (And the Eastern Bloc nations and Russia) Because the religious right has lost their hold in the US, they have set their sites on other nations. Rev. Kaoma was forced to flee Uganda when he came to investigate the abuse of the Bible as a weapon against the human rights of Ugandans. Rev. Kaoma says “religion is being used to damage and even kill gay people”.
- Bishop Christopher Senyonjo — religious leader and LGBT rights activist from Uganda. Senyonjo served in the Church of Uganda, becoming a Bishop in 1974. His titles were later revoked for his work within the LGBT community in Uganda.
Lou Engle –A prominent leader of the Evangelical Christian Right, co-founder of “The Call” rallies. Engle focuses on abortion,homosexuality, prayer and fasting. He lives in Kansas City and is in the leadership of IHOP. He publicly prays with his eyes closed and rocks, a lot. Lou Engle says the goal is to raise “one million new messengers to reach 1 billion souls and raise 1 trillion dollars” in Africa. He calls Uganda a “fire pot of spiritual renewal and revival that is very exciting to me”. IHOP leadership has a desire “to send them (Ugandans) values that work”; this is done with little consideration of the existing culture.
Rev. Jo Anna Watson –She has been traveling to Uganda as a missionary since 2002. Rev. Watson spend three months at IHOP in 2009 where she received a “word” that she would “marry a black man” and interpreted that to mean a whole country. At one time she says she was “healed of her sexual brokenness” of being attracted to women and that took “a long time, a long time”. She mentors and trains Ugandan religious leaders and asked Lou Engle to come to Uganda with “The Call”.
- Jesse and Rachelle Digges –These former students of the IHOP Bible School moved to Uganda in 2008 to establish the Digges Mission Base where they trains and mobilizes missionaries. They regularly return to the US to raise funds. They lead “an army of young people with Bibles, not guns. Fifty percent of Ugandans are under 15 years old. We can multiply ourselves in the youngest and they can reach people.”
- Pastor Robert Kayanja — founder and Senior Pastor of “Miracle Centre Cathedral” in Kampala, Uganda with a capacity of over ten thousand. His church was built with American money. Kayanja has hosted prominent American religious leaders and endorses the work of conservative American missionaries in Africa. He is one of the top five wealthiest people in Uganda and lives in a mansion with servants.
Pastor Martin Ssempa — Ssempa is a Ugandan pastor, activist, and founder of the Makerere Community Church. He leads the fight to “kick sodomy out of Uganda”. Ssempa’s tactics to horrify people about the dangers of gay people include using pornographic videos showing fisting, rimming and scat. (Yeah, look it up. He depicts this as “typical” gay sexual behavior.) He shows these videos in churches and publicly calls for the eradication of homosexuality in his country. He further warns his congregants that Barack Obama “wants to bring homosexuality to Africa”.
- Pastor Scott Lively — Lively is an American fundamentalist pastor and author (The Pink Swastika — a revisionist book showing the gays as the perpetrators and designers of the Holocaust; Why and How to Defeat the “Gay” Movement – a how-to in taking over a community “for God”). Lively is an anti-gay speaker whose testimony to the Ugandan Parliament helped inspire anti-gay legislation.
Lively deems himself an expert from “20 years of observing” and the possessor of comprehension of gay people “that few people have understood”. He warned the Ugandans that “the gays have taken over the UN and now they have come to Uganda to recruit your children.He is currently standing trial in U.S. Federal Court on charges of inciting the persecution, torture, and murder of gays and lesbians in Uganda. One of the lead councils on the trial was also at the “Intolerance Abroad” panel.
- Jono Hall –The Director of Media at IHOPU. The IHOP Media Team, led by Hall, streams 24/7 live prayer, broadcasting more than one million hours of video each month to 170 nations around the globe. In one scenes in Uganda, Hall leads joyful, young and well-intentioned IHOP missionaries in a van singing praise music. It quickly transitions to “witnessing” opportunities when the van stops for food vendors. There was zero attempt to establish relationship or assess needs. The vendors were selling chicken and the maniacal missionaries were selling Jesus. I was so uncomfortable having these scenes define the heart of evangelical Christians.
The danger of the unfiltered message about gay and transgender people coming from Western conservative Christian evangelists and missionaries is that it is delivered to people that will take the law into their own hands. Anti-gay rallies, persecuting man-hunts and attacks are common responses.
The religious right cannot get traction for their anti-gay message in the US, our culture is shifting, but in Uganda, the religious right gets a massive social, religious and legal response.
“God Loves Uganda” is like “Jesus Camp” in Uganda lead by white, western, fundamentalists whose words and opinions powerfully impact the people and incite hostility against gay and transgender Ugandans.
Here are some positive actions you might consider:
- Do not fund International House of Prayer. I had been a supporter of their video ministry. Who doesn’t want access to 24 hours of praise and worship on video? When I called a few years ago to cancel that subscription, I cited Engle’s work in Uganda; the phone agent did not understand my complaint. In fact, they still call several times a year asking for a donation. IHOP does very good work with sex trafficking and child justice, but their work in Uganda endangers the innocent lives of gay and transgender people.
- Host a screening of “God Loves Uganda”. Faith leaders need to understand the violence and intolerance that are offshoots of the good works done in the name of God.
- Spread the word and the trailer. It’s important that people become aware of the film and the important issues it highlights.
- Join the Social Circles: Facebook, Twitter and the mailing list.
OPENING OCTOBER 11, 2013 NYC and around the US:
- New York: Bow Tie Chelsea Cinemas (formerly Clearview Chelsea) on October 11th.
- Los Angeles: Laemmle Music Hall 3 on October 18th
- Washington, DC: West End Cinema on October 25th
- Nashville: Belcourt Theatre on October 25
- Seattle: SIFF Film Center on November 1st
- San Francisco: Roxie Theater on November 1st
- For other nationwide screenings, see screening page