With so much attention on Russia’s anti-gay laws and legislation, including bans on Russian Vodka, it has naturally drawn attention away from the looming anti-gay laws, imprisonment, and hate crimes ending in death, that are occurring in Uganda, and all over Africa for that matter. Much of this hatred, and this anti-gay agenda has been spawned by the evangelist leaders here in the states. The documentary, “God Loves Uganda” by Roger Ross Williams delves deep into this frightening, and growing problem that has formed in Uganda.
Why has so much focus by Evangelists from places like Kansas City, Missouri, particularly, IHOP (International House of Prayer) been on Uganda? One my speculate that the Evangelical movement, that was ever present and popular in the 80’s and 90’s lost momentum with so much scandal, that they needed a new audience, so why not go to developing third world countries, that are innocent to spread their word. Williams and his crew were allowed into IHOP to film, particularly on a group of young missionaries preparing themselves to head to Uganda, to spread the Christian message, that the only way to be saved is to bring God into their daily lives. “God Loves Uganda” shows the power and money of conservative evangelists to spread their word on a global platform. IHOP streams 24/7 live prayer, broadcasting more than one million hours of video each month to hundreds of nations around the globe. Key players like Lou Engle (Evangelical Christian Right prominent leader), Pastor Robert Kayanja (Prominent endorser of American missionaries in Uganda), and Pastor Martin Ssempa (Proposes Legislation that endorses death penalty for Homosexuality), are featured in the film as bringing their strong leadership, and influence of anti-gay propaganda to Uganda.
The film shows how evangelical money and ties to the U.S. are fueling this conservative anti-gay sentiment. Leaders like Pastor Kayanja and Pastor Ssempa are extremely wealthy, with Pastor Ssempa dividing his time between Uganda and his other home in Las Vegas. They distance themselves from President Obama’s support of equality, while aligning themselves with outdated Bush policies, that call for abstinence before marriage. This conservative agenda does not promote or believe in the use of condoms, and the film actually states that HIV and AIDS rates have naturally increased.
“God Love Uganda” does shed light on a few unsung heroes, like Rev. Kapya Kaoma and Bishop Christopher Senyonjo. The latter was recently
present at the New York screening of the film along with director, Roger Ross Williams, and Ugandan LGBTI activist, Pepe Onzelma. Bishop Senyonjo has been a LGBTI rights activist in Uganda, but had his title revoked by the Ugandan ministry after having affiliation with LGBT groups and peoples. In 2012 he received the Clinton Global Citizen Award, which hailed his “visionary leadership” in the fight for human rights in Uganda. After the screening, Bishop Senyonjo spoke stating that God called him to do this work. He further stated that no one should be persecuted for being who they are, ‘God wants us to know no persecution”. “Heterosexuals are not going to heaven for being Heterosexuals, and Homosexuals will not be denied entering heaven.” Bishop Senyonjo envisions the development of what he calls an Equality Center in Uganda. Currently, young people that are suspected to be gay, or come out as gay, are kicked out of their homes with no support or refuge. This Center would have rooms and offer a safe place, including a chapel. He believes that this center is important and would let these youth know that God loves them. The concept reminded me of the work that the L.A. Gay and Lesbian Center is doing in Los Angeles.
Director, Roger Ross Williams just finished a 12-city tour screening the film in Africa. He is optimistic about the future of Uganda pertaining to LGBTI life. After showing the film in Malawi, there was a discussion after the screening. In the audience were 100 pastors and religious figures, and 40 LGBT people. A pastor had stood up ranting and raving about how homosexuality was wrong, and how it was clearly stated in the Bible. A Malawin married woman stood up and said she had been married to a man for years, but she did not love him. Her culture forced her into this marriage, but she had a lesbian lover. She told the audience that she had enough and wanted to be with her Lesbian girlfriend. She called her girlfriend on stage and the two kissed. Afterward, the pastor told the audience that he took back everything he had said.
It’s this optimistic and hopeful attitude that Williams, Bishop Senyonjo and activist Pepe Onzelma share that keep their momentum moving forward. Onzelma is currently working on his own documentary that would be the next chapter following, “God Loves Uganda”. He believes that what is now needed is a dialogue between Ugandans, not from outside voices.
You can see, “God Loves Uganda” tonight on PBS at 10 EST. Follow the film on Twitter: @GodLovesUganda on Facebook: www.facebook.com/GodLovesUganda To keep up and support the work Bishop Christopher Senyonjo visit, St. Paul’s Reconciliation.