God Loves Uganda

83 Minutes - Director Roger Ross Williams

“God Loves Uganda”, the documentary which LAWAC screened on Friday, is as much about the US and the culture wars here as it is about Uganda.The film examines the rise of homophobia in Africa, and the extent to which conservative evangelical missionaries from the US have contributed to the anti-gay sentiment. The feature-length documentary focuses on Uganda, where in 2009 the Parliament proposed an Anti-Homosexuality Law which sought to impose the death penalty on gays, and where gay people are regularly singled out for beatings - and worse - on the streets.

Academy Award-winning filmmaker Roger Ross Williams follows a group of young American missionaries from the International House of Prayer (IHOP) in Kansas City as they prepare for their departure to Uganda, “the pearl of Africa” as they refer to it. They embark with a sense of urgency to save “a million more souls” on their mission. Williams shows us how they help to bring education and medical services to the poor in the country - but also how their leaders preach an unyielding message of intolerance toward gays.

The beautifully-shot film veers from picturesque wide shots of the Ugandan countryside at dawn with people moving slowly along rural roads, to tight shots of rush hour traffic in the cities where preachers with microphones shout out their condemnation of sexual immorality to commuters stuck in their cars. The well-meaning if naive approach of the young American missionaries as they interact with Ugandans is shown next to the absolutism of their evangelical leaders back in Kansas - one of whom is filmed with tears in his eyes urging Californians to vote against gay marriage.

In the Q&A session afterwards, Williams said that conservative evangelicals see the West as a society that is in moral decline, as shown - in their minds - by the spread of gay marriage. Their response: “spiritual warfare”…They believe they are in a war to eradicate sin to bring about the second coming of Christ.” Africa they see as a continent that is not yet fatally corrupted, and so full of promise for their message - a “firepot of spiritual revival” as one preacher puts it.

Although the film clearly has a point of view, Williams does not seek to demonize the missionaries. On the contrary he shows them traveling to another culture about which they know next to nothing and bringing with them a set of values that they cannot put into a local context - they believe they are bringing God’s universal “biblical” law. But the footage from the funeral of gay rights activist David Kato, who was murdered in 2011, which shows a conservative pastor decrying Kato and linking him to the biblical story of Sodom and Gomorrah, even as Kato’s friends protest, adequately makes the point. Absolutist ideals can be dangerous, particularly when they are imported from outside.