The blood of the lamb is not on the hands of the religious right, instead it is the blood of dead GLBT Ugandans. Viscous, thick, gobs of blood drips to the ground, pews, and open bible pages; splattering and covering any surface below. I can’t help but envision scenes of misguided Americans raising their hands in worship in a hyped up emotional environment. At first things seem normal until you see the blood covered hands, a potentially unintended consequence of the ignorance and misguided intentions of the perpetrators. If you are horrified at some of these visuals and descriptions as I write in this opening paragraph, than I’m certain the eighty-three minute film God Loves Uganda will horrify you just as much.
Director Roger Ross Williams has crafted a documentary that almost feels like a horror film, where the good intentions of a few, has long lasting, devastating consequences on others. The film tells the story of the evolution of the climate in Uganda from its former politicians that embraced sex education among the people, to the more modern, rigid, American religious right influenced, pro-abstinence, anti-gay, anti-contraception religion infiltrated government. HIV and AIDS have been issues among most of Africa and for a time it seemed like progress was happening as more and more efforts were given to public campaigns on condom use for protection. After George Bush’s ascension to the American throne, international diplomacy on AIDS issues changed, also during this time different American organizations began to evangelize the country in many different ways.
The film follows the efforts of the parachurch organization The International House of Prayer that is headquartered in Kansas City Missouri. The organization is as conservative and charismatic evangelical as you can get. They have partners and branches all over the world and are turning towards Uganda as the “pearl” of Africa, Lou Engle, a prominent leader of the organization claims that it holds that name for a reason. A group of passionate young people are about to embark on a trip to Uganda to spread the good news of Jesus to the locals and help the local IHOP group with some service projects at the same time. Young couple Jesse and Rachelle Digges run the local operation in Uganda and seem to be chipper and energized for the task at hand. They seem to be genuine and truly concerned for the people of Uganda, it is shocking to hear them at points say they don’t really know what is happening in the country, but only what they hear on western news, when asked about the kill the gays bill that is moving around in the Ugandan parliament.
It is obvious America is influencing the Ugandan church when we meet Robert Kayanja, a mega church pastor of the largest church in the country, is a mirror image of similar set ups that happen all over America. Other church leaders in Uganda spout the talking points that must be coming from somewhere, that gays are out to recruit young children and sodomize them, that these acts are of course an abomination to God, and that they must be legally discouraged from engaging in these acts. Therein lies the birth of the Uganda Anti-Homosexuality Bill, a piece of legislature written and supported by many of the politicians and church leaders of the country who are directly influenced by factions of the religious right in America. One such member confesses that money to Uganda triples once the Anti-Homosexuality Bill begins building popularity and support.
The voice of reason comes from Rev. Kapya Kaoma, a refugee of sorts who now leads an Anglican church in Boston, but spent many years in Uganda standing up for GLBT men and women, and faced such persecution at the brewing hatred that he had to flee the country for his safety. He would leave with key footage of religious nut ball Scott Lively leading the charge on educating key Ugandans on the “Gay Agenda” and its dangers. Everything the man says is steeped in false notions and lies, and since he can’t get an audience in America, he has a mass, less educated audience willing to hear him say things to riel them up for battle. It was absolutely ludicrous to see photos of hardcore, rare sex acts shown to people in church and using threats of these acts against their children to get them motivated to support their cause.
One of the most poignant scenes in the film is when a prominent gay man serving people in the GLBT community through education, awareness and support ends up murdered, at his funeral a group of younger gay-identifying men are in tears and one clamors up and vocalizes his fear that they could just come for him next. He is right, that is exactly what the people want to do. He is painted as a child rapist and molester, he is painted as second class, painted as an enemy to society, and where does all this trickle down from? Follow the money. Follow the money. I was impressed with the Ugandans who knew what was happening and did their best to stand up for the beliefs despite the unpopularity and threats to their families.
It is inevitable that some will paint this film as being propaganda and merely out as a film with its own agenda. As someone who spent three years of my life at a very similar organization to IHOP and now identifies with the GLBT community, there isn’t any misrepresentation happening in this film. IHOP leader Lou Engle looks crazy, because he is brainwashed with rhetoric that holds no base in love, and instead is based in fear. Brainwashing is rampant in thought reform groups like IHOP, where there is an ultimate goal, but their participants must be trained, and broken in to adhere to the groups tenants first, before they can be unleashed to perform their tasks on the world. If anything this horror-like documentary can maybe remind people that shouldn’t love be at the center of all of our decisions? The problem is that it is tough for groups like these to change positions as they could and probably would lose funding from sources - so instead of having a good long look in the mirror and changing directions, just keep running with what is accepted and keep the money flowing.
I feel for the IHOP participants that genuinely want to make a difference, but yet they show up to some remote people who have nothing in their lives and just expect to tell them about Jesus, pray for their salvation and leave. Those people would be better off with tangible needs met, and having a loving presence consistently in their lives. My missions experiences were generally of the same format and function- in and out, get a memory and positive experience story that I can take home and motivate someone else to come back and do the same thing.
Despite the rampant homophobia, and downright ignorance of many of the parties involved, I have hope that this bill will fade away, and that sex education will return as the primary tool to fight HIV and AIDS. Abstinence only education should be illegal and it is a film like God Loves Uganda shows why: mix religion with ignorance and you get a big fat giant mess of crazy pills. I took too many crazy pills in my mid twenties and don’t have time for that. Right now the world needs love, real love. As Jesus himself said, we will know them by their fruit, and if their fruit has no love, its pretty obvious then where that fruit belongs. In the trash.
God Loves Uganda is beginning to open nationwide. Look for it near you.