When Ugandan parliament member, David Bahati, introduced the so-called “Kill the Gays Bill” in 2009, many Americans were shocked, including a group of 60 ecumenical Christian leaders who released a statement deploring the bill.
But as Frank Mugisha told Sojourners magazine earlier this year, what is perhaps more upsetting, albeit little known, is the level of influence American evangelicals have had in crafting Uganda’s violent homophobia.
Academy Award-winning director Roger Ross Williams hopes to put this issue front and center with his new film God Loves Uganda, which made its Washington, D.C., premiere Tuesday night at the Human Rights Campaign headquarters.
The film opens with Rev. Kapaya Kaoma, an Episcopal priest from Boston by way of Zambia, who went to Uganda in 2009 to study the relationship between American conservatives and the Ugandan people. What he found was that “religion was being used to demonize and even to kill.”
But when he spoke up, Kaoma was threatened and forced to leave Uganda in order save his life.
For Kaoma, American evangelicals have used the vacuum created after Ugandan leader Idi Amin’s fall as an opportunity to experiment with an ultra-conservative agenda that has become politically incorrect and untenable in the United States.
In a method Bishop Gene Robinson called, after the screening, abusive, racist, and colonial, evangelicals flooded Uganda with hospitals, schools, and “Christian values.”
These imported values have molded Uganda into the violent homophobic nation that makes homosexuality a crime punishable by death.
For example, Pastor Scott Lively, who is currently facing U.S. federal charges for his work in Uganda, taught Ugandans that homosexuals were responsible for things like Nazi Germany, and that because their goal is to destroy society, gay people have unleashed a global strategy of trying to recruit children into their forces.
He became a celebrity in Uganda, and his influence is directly linked the to introduction of the Ugandan Anti-Homosexuality Bill.
The film also features a group of missionaries from the Missouri-based International House of Prayer, well-intentioned people who move to Uganda, desperate to share the saving love of Christ with anyone who will listen, desperate to save Uganda from brokenness.
As part of this effort, one of the missionaries invites Lou Engle – the same man who led 33,000 people in a prayer rally supporting California’s same-sex marriage ban in 2008 – to hold a rally in Uganda.
During the rally, Engle prays that Ugandans would have the courage to “say no to homosexuality” and to take a stand for righteousness.
Not because he hates Uganda. But because he loves Uganda.
Sharon Groves, director of HRC’s faith and religion program, found that to be her favorite aspect of the film.
“I think one of the powers of the film is that it didn’t just get shown through Scott Lively, who’s easy to kind of demonize,” she said. “But the story was told through young evangelicals that … may be on an adventure as the film said, but you got a sense of their humanity – that these are not innately a mean and horrible people – but that they’ve bought into something which has really horrendous effects. And I think we have to look at that.”
And common humanity has been one of the great benefits of those involved in making the film.
Williams, who is gay, said he is now friends with many people at IHOP, including Engle. He no longer believes they are evil fundamentalists out to get him. And IHOP, after seeing the film last week, has decided to work on a statement with Williams about the film and to start “thinking” about their message.
“They said this when I showed them the film,” Wiliams said. “They said ‘We’re never going to change. We believe in our biblical truth and that’s it. But we can embrace human rights.’”
Williams’ next plan is to take the film to churches. After its premier at Sundance in January, Williams said he felt called to a massive church outreach program, and currently, more than 200 churches have requested screenings.
He is optimistic that the film will continue to change lives and perceptions.
“We [now] have this dialogue going that we can continue,” he said.
Dawn Araujo is Editorial Assistant at Sojourners magazine. To book a screening of God Loves Uganda at your church, visit GodLovesUganda.com.