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Monday, May 5, 2014

DVD Review: God Loves Uganda

God Loves Uganda is a powerful and disturbing documentary about the effect of United States evangelical missionaries on the people and policies of Uganda, particularly involving a proposed law criminalizing homosexual activity.

It opens with a bit of voice over: “I love Uganda…But something frightening is happening that has the potential to destroy Uganda. And it is coming from the outside.” The film then traces the source of the troubles, going to Kansas City, Missouri, to a place called International House Of Prayer. The sign outside the building says, “24/7 Worship & Prayer For Global Harvest.” Inside, people are jumping with their hands up to the ceiling, while a Christian rock band performs on a stage.

And we meet some of the folks involved with this church, including Lou Engle, who says he is excited about the religious possibilities in Africa, and Jono Hall, the media director who talks about how they broadcast their sermons, which reach 160 to 170 nations regularly. The film actually has footage of a meeting of the Uganda Missionary Team.

Balancing this perspective is Rev. Kapya Kaoma, who went to Uganda to research the Christian Right. After supporting gay rights there, he had to flee the country and has not been able to return. American evangelicals have built churches across Uganda, as well as Christian universities, schools and orphanages.

We are treated to footage of the Miracle Center Cathedral, Uganda’s largest church. And right away we see the similarities between the service there and that of the church in Kansas City. It’s eerie. The film also interviews Pastor Robert Kayanja, who is thankful to the United States because it was U.S. money that built the church. And we soon see why he’s thankful. There is a shot of the exterior of his residence, and it’s a gorgeous mansion (that shot, by the way, is positioned right after a shot of people putting money into a basket at the church).

The Christian religion seems pervasive there. There is footage of people preaching with megaphones to those stuck in traffic.  There is also a series of shots of signs for shops, places with names like Party For Jesus Shoe Maker And Repair, Holy Face Of Jesus Pharmacy, and Born Again Brokers. It’s so ridiculous as to first seem hilarious. Except no one there is laughing.

And we also meet the missionaries who travel from Kansas City to Uganda. These are mostly young people, including Jesse and Rachelle Digges, a couple that married at the age of eighteen. Rachelle says: “There is a very strategic position that Uganda is in. Fifty percent of the population is under fifteen years old. This is a youth nation. What Jesse and I could do is so limited, but we can multiply ourselves in these young people, and they can reach multitudes.” And we see the missionaries leading children in songs about Jesus.

The film doesn’t jump right into the subject of homosexuality. It sets the stage first, giving the background information about the U.S. missionaries and introducing us to many of the people involved. The film also provides information on the abstinence programs there (when George W. Bush forced his way into the presidency he cut all funding, except for those programs preaching abstinence). So we’re basically up to speed when the film turns to the subject of a bill which would criminalize homosexual acts, the proposed punishment being death for repeat offenders.

Scott Lively, a pastor, preaches against homosexuality, saying “We need public policy that discourages homosexuality.” He is a guest on Spotlight, a television program there, and on that show he spouts the belief that gay people recruit children. Insane stuff, to be sure, but stuff that is listened to there. Lively was actually able to address Parliament and help create policy, resulting in the anti-homosexuality bill.

Lou Engle says, “If you throw God out of the picture, then everybody has rights to do anything, and you get moral chaos, and that’s really what’s going on, I think, in our nation.” He was a supporter of Proposition 8 here in California, which outlawed gay marriage, but was eventually overturned because it’s unconstitutional.

This entire film is completely engrossing. One segment that stuck out for me is part of an interview with Joanna Watson, one of the few older missionaries there. She says that when she was in her twenties, she was “involved in acting – you know, that whole scene is full of homosexuals.” She continues: “I had some male friends, and we would go to the homosexual bars and dancing…I really started to be attracted to other women. I am one been healed from sexual brokenness, and it took a long time.” No surprise there. It’s so sad, really. Here’s a lesbian who is denying a core aspect of herself, and instead wrapping herself in layers of warm, comforting hypocrisy. Earlier in the film she says that God wants homosexuality stopped. She clearly hates herself.

That’s a shame. But that’s a personal issue for her. The problem is that people like her are causing policy to be implemented which will destroy lives. And, as one of those interviewed in the film says, “The Americans, when they preach hate here, they forget that they are preaching to people who will just take the law into their hands.”

Bonus Features

The DVD includes quite a bit of bonus material. The first is “Out In Malawi,” footage of a screening of the film which brought together gay people and religious folks. It’s definitely worth watching. “The Pastor Wars” has information about how the money involved in religion leads to one pastor accusing another of being gay. “Gospel Of Intolerance” has more footage with the missionaries, including Joanna Watson (here identified as Jo Anna Watson). And there is footage from the question and answer panel at the Sundance Windrunner Forum. All of that totals approximately twenty-five minutes.

There are also a few deleted scenes, including footage of Bishop Christopher Senyonjo touring the U.S., as well as a scene of Joanna Watson conducting her fundraising and talking a bit about her life and marriage. The deleted scenes are approximately ten minutes.

God Loves Uganda was directed by Roger Ross Williams, and is scheduled to be released on DVD on May 19, 2014 through First Run Features.

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