To further my exploration of homophobia and the impact of extremist evangelism in Uganda, I recently viewed Roger Ross Williams’ God Loves Uganda. Unsurprisingly, the Ugandan gay activist, David Kato, whom Williams met prior to Kato’s death in 2011, inspired the film. Kato encouraged Williams to explore the untold story of American fundamentalist evangelism in Uganda. The film addresses the insidious nature of this movement’s aggressive effort to harvest young, unclaimed souls, preaching a gospel of love but disseminating intolerance and hate—mainly toward homosexuals. The juxtaposition of this film with Call Me Kuchu, discussed in a previous post, leads to an exploration of the confrontation between the Western construction of homosexuality and Ugandan-adopted Evangelism, a proxy war of ideology.
Like Call Me Kuchu, the story of God Loves Uganda lacks a narrator and is told entirely through interviews and hidden camera footage. Unlike Kuchu, however, the majority of the interviews are of the missionaries and faith leaders themselves. Much of the film is told through interview footage of Lou Engle, senior leader of The Call. The International House of Prayer, a major exporter of missionaries to Uganda, hosts this televised prayer program. Engle projects IHOP’s vision and his faith, his hopes for the “Pearl of Africa” and the future of Evangelism. The great subtlety of the film’s presentation is its reliance on footage and first-person accounts from the evangelical perspective. This leaves the viewer to form an individual interpretation of the morality or ‘rightness’ of the missionaries’ work. To viewers and critics alike, the portrait it paints is an unsettling and, at times, frightening one—a frank presentation of the ethically misguided and culturally ignorant Evangelical agenda in Uganda.
Upon release, the film was likened by right-wing critics to Jesus Camp (which was similarly unflattering for the American Christian fundamentalist movement) and dubbed “evangelophobic”—a term which, given the film’s exploration of the very real and violent homophobia proliferated by this movement in Uganda, can only be called ironic. Kuchu focused specifically on the backward social messages being espoused in Uganda, and the extremely negative climate this has created for homosexuals in particular. God Loves Uganda explores somewhat broader issues. A major takeaway of Williams’ documentary is the misuse and misappropriation of aid (money and funding) to impoverished countries like Uganda in the name of a religious movement. Engle, Martin Ssempa, and others at the helm of the fundamentalist Christianity in Uganda (both white and black) have grown immensely wealthy from their leadership. Preaching salvation and moral righteousness in the name of God, they amass incomes and followings that could have been used to alleviate the poverty, disease, and ignorance that plagues Uganda and other Sub-Saharan nations.
In exploring the effect that this movement has had on Ugandans, we must once again assess the differences between African and Western nations. More than anything, the former are defined by poverty. Despite the economic progress of some of these nations within the last decade, Uganda and other nations are still (rightly) perceived as monetarily and structurally inhibited as compared to developed Western nations. Aside from this, there is a strong sense of traditionalism and community in African countries. This is either attributed to historical tribalism or to values implanted during the colonial period—usually of a religious nature. In God Loves Uganda it is evident that a strong sense of faith and a traditional need for faith allow for extremism to take hold much more quickly and intensely than it might in other nations. This is perhaps even unanticipated by the exporters of this faith. In my experience as a Westerner visiting the nation, the intensity of Ugandans’ belief was surprising. In my estimation, it stems from a need for hopeful attachment, a noticeable side effect of poverty.
-- Atosa Gharispoor