The audience trickled in serenely on a sunny Wednesday evening in May. The sleek, remodeled SF Jazz Center was the venue. This was a calm surrounding, to be juxtaposed with the images on screen.
“God Loves Uganda” is a film which explores an emerging war in Africa. It shows an assault which has not yet seen too many civilians fall victim. But more bloodshed is inevitable if the current path continues.
This documentary portrays the key role that the US Christian right has played in undermining LGBT rights in Africa. Directed by Academy Award winner Roger Ross Williams, it seeks to highlight the dominance Evangelical missionaries have in Ugandan society and the power they hold over its communities.
The film charts the roots of Uganda’s “Kill the Gays bill” from the capital Kampala to a center of Christian fundamentalism in Kansas City, Missouri. The International House of Prayer, led by Lou Engle, views Africa as the “fire pot of spiritual renewal” and have focused attentions on sending missionaries, mostly groups of young people, to preach their message there. In countries like Uganda, with 85 percent Christians and a median age of 15, their word has greatest leverage.
Portraying the ever-growing tide behind their movement in Uganda, the documentary shows the efficiency at which Evangelicals not only pass their values onto local Christians but also convert non-Christians with apparent ease. This successful moral transfer is most chillingly exposed in scenes from the country’s parliament where the majority of politicians cheer and applaud legislation being read for the first time. This law is one that would mean the death penalty for repeat LGBT “offenders.”
As far as the film’s protagonists go, Reverend Kapya Kaoma, an Episcopal minister, is most prominent and acts effectively as a narrator throughout. As an academic, exiled in Boston for fear of returning to his homeland of Zambia with his young children, he has researched the influence of US Christians in Africa. The documentary simply puts his experiences and findings into picture.
“There is a temptation to say that missionaries are bad. There are good missionaries out there doing great work. The biggest problem, just as it is in US politics, is not standing up and confronting someone when you know they’re doing something wrong,” Kaoma told 429Magazine at the screening of “God Loves Uganda” in San Francisco.
Kaoma recalled words from Ugandan activist Victor Mukasa.
“Homophobia kills. But silence also kills.”
“As long as these good missionaries who are out there are not standing up, they are giving legitimacy to the lies,” said Kaoma.
Even Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni has acknowledged he once knew a gay chief who did a “pretty good job.” Kaoma says Museveni’s problem is articulated as the “promotion of homosexuality,” direct language of the American Christian Right. The extent to which these groups have governments in their grip is not limited to Uganda either.
“A young couple, aged 19 and 21, in Zambia are in prison. Their crime is living together in the home. The country’s Vice-President was asked ‘why are you doing this?’ He said if we don’t arrest these boys, we’d be in trouble with the evangelicals.”
Kaoma noted the difficulties for people coming to the aid of those in danger as “the hate has already been planted.” Victories of marriage equality from state to state in the US are being demonized on the conservative media, which beam into Africa. US progressives must take an interest and stand in solidarity with the at-risk activists to develop and empower them, said Kaoma.
“I am nothing compared to the young African LGBT activists out there. Those guys have risked everything because they believe they’re ready to die. Running away is not a solution; they’ve already made up their mind. They are prepared to be handed over, they are prepared to hand themselves over.”
Over two years have passed since activist David Kato was murdered in Uganda. According to Gitta Zomorodi of the American Jewish World Service, an organization campaigning on this crisis and which organized the film’s screening in San Francisco, both positives and negatives have emerged since Kato’s Death.
The country’s Daily Monitor newspaper recently covered a piece in Kato’s village, speaking with members of his local community in a “humane and positive” way.
“The flip side of all this attention to the Anti-Homosexuality Bill is that it has created a discussion in Uganda that never existed before,” Zomorodi said. “It’s been an instigator for people to come out. People in Uganda are realizing they know someone who’s LGBT.”
Kato’s death served as a “wake-up call” and a “rallying cry” for the LGBT community to take their security seriously. His two-year anniversary was also marked by protests.
“It sparked some really ugly things. There was a rally by religious leaders at his graveside,” Zomorodi added.
Some of the final images in “God Loves Uganda” evoke a similar picture and sentiment, but they are bittersweet. They show Kato’s actual funeral ceremony being interrupted by a large section of vocal protestors.
Unflinchingly and calmly, Bishop Christopher Senyonjo, an LGBT ally and hero of the film, takes the crowd to Kato’s grave to pay their respects. His message to a deceased friend: “God loves you.”