‘God Loves Uganda’ movie review


Jesse Digges, a missionary trainer and former International House of Prayer student, speaks to a group in “God Loves Uganda.” (Variance Films)
October 24, 2013

You’d never guess the subject matter of “God Loves Uganda” from its innocuous-sounding title. Although the documentary begins as an examination of the work of American Christian missionaries in Uganda, it methodically, and in almost roundabout fashion, circles ever closer to its true target, which is the anti-homosexuality bill currently being considered by the Ugandan parliament. The most controversial feature of the law is a proposed death penalty for so-called repeat offenders.

Just as alarming is the connection that the film draws between the brand of conservative Christianity being imported into the country and this legislative attempt to institutionalize barbarism. One Ugandan pastor, Robert Kayanja, compares homosexual activity to murder. Another, the U.S.-eductated Martin Ssempa, is shown delivering a fiery anti-gay sermon in which he presents graphic images of coprophilia, as if that behavior, along with child molestation, were the norm of gay sex.

Human-rights watchers allege that this religion-stoked homophobia has already manifested itself in an eruption of anti-gay street violence, including the 2011 bludgeoning death of Ugandan gay-rights advocate David Kato.

The film by director Roger Ross Williams, who won an Oscar for his 2010 short “Music by Prudence,” proceeds largely without narration. The Rev. Kapya Kaoma, a Zambian priest and Ugandan gay-rights researcher who fled to Boston because he feared for his life, sets up the film’s central premise: That however well-intentioned, the American Christian missionaries in Uganda have facilitated a climate of hate.

To be fair, most of the young, beaming, well-scrubbed missionaries shown in the film, many of whom come from the Kansas City, Mo.-based International House of Prayer, do not say anything terribly inflammatory, though nearly all condemn the sinfulness of homosexuality activity.

A few, however, go off the deep end, notably Scott Lively, an American anti-gay activist and evangelical minister who has prominently worked in Uganda. The film strongly implies that his talks there on the evils of the gay agenda, beginning in 2009, led directly to the current anti-gay hysteria. Lively is on record as having uttered some mind-boggling stuff, such as that gays were largely responsible for Nazism. Never mind that, in reality, homosexuals were among the victims demonized — and exterminated — by the Nazis.

“God Loves Uganda” starts slowly. And because it avoids the type of facts and figures that one typically sees in documentaries, it’s hard to tell the exact state of things in Uganda. Although some people identify themselves on camera as Muslims, it’s hard to gauge precisely how many Christians there are in the country. From the look of things, it’s a lot. One of the rare statistics cited in the film says that half of all Ugandans are younger than 15, making that (presumably more impressionable) population ripe for conversion.

Whatever the state of homophobia in Uganda — which Kaoma likens to an incipient wildfire — “God Loves Uganda” clearly lays the blame for it at the feet of the American evangelical movement. The movie doesn’t really argue its case, preferring to stand back, in quiet outrage, as the representatives of that movement are shown with the match in their hands.

★★★

Unrated. At the West End Cinema. Contains some sexual imagery. 83 minutes.

Born and raised in Washington, D.C., Michael O’Sullivan has worked since 1993 at The Washington Post, where he covers art, film and other forms of popular — and unpopular — culture.
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