Directed by: Roger Ross Williams.
Written by: Benjamin Gray & Richard Hankin & Roger Ross Williams.
I firmly believe that the vast majority of missionaries – even those ones documented in Roger Ross Williams’ excellent documentary God Loves Uganda – have the best of intentions. For me, an agnostic (or atheist depending on what day you ask me) I would prefer to simply live and let live – meaning basically that I won’t try to convince you that my beliefs are correct, and you don’t try to convince me your beliefs are correct, and we’ll get along just fine. Still, I understand that some people’s religion requires them to “spread the word” to others – and I’m respectful of the people who come to my door and pass out their booklets, or the numerous people who accost me on the streets of Toronto. I don’t think they’re doing any harm. But the people who have gone to Uganda are, in fact, doing harm to people. Evangelical churches like the International House of Prayer (or IHOP) have donated millions of dollars to Uganda to help them build schools, churches and infrastructure – and have undeniably improved the lives on many in Uganda. But in preaching their beliefs, they have also done harm to homosexuals living in Uganda. I think it’s possible to believe that homosexual is wrong – even if I vehemently disagree – and still be respectful. But in Uganda, there is a bill that would criminalize homosexuality to the extent that they can be jailed for life or even executed for being gay. This legislature has its roots in the Evangelical churches in America – and the people who are responsible are either lying or keeping themselves deliberately ignorant of the facts of this bill.
God Loves Uganda is the second of two documentaries released in 2013 about the bill – the other one, Call Me Kuchu – concentrated on gay activists in Uganda. I thought the subject matter of that film was extremely important, but the execution of the documentary left a lot to be desired. God Loves Uganda covers some of the same ground but also different ground as well. And as a documentary is a far better film. If you’re only going to see one of these films, I would recommend that film be God Loves Uganda.
Director Roger Ross Williams strategy in the movie seems to be to provide his interview subjects with enough rope to hang themselves with. We never really hear him pushing his interview subjects too much – except perhaps late in the film when he asks two young missionaries directly what their thoughts on the bill are, and they blame the Western media, not their own work, for misrepresenting the bill. They don’t even know what’s in the bill, they say, which is odd, since the drafter of the bill, and the religious community in Uganda, are not shy about telling you about it – and it’s pretty much exactly the same thing as the Western media who have “misrepresented the bill” say. But that’s the exception – for the most part Williams simply asks for their side of the story, and finds that most of them are all too willing to tell them what they think. If you agree with them, it’s possible to walk away from the movie not overly upset. If you disagree with them, then the film can be downright chilling.
I really don’t have a problem with missionaries going to Africa to help the people there who need help – and if that means they feel the need to share their religion, then so be it. But I cannot help but think that many of these Evangelical churches are hurting as much if not more than they are helping – not just in terms of gay rights, but also in terms of AIDS. The AIDS rate dropped in Uganda during the 1990s, when aid from the Clinton administration supplied condoms to the people of Uganda, who had a large scale advertising program about the benefits of condoms. But under George W. Bush, things changed. Uganda could only get aid if they agreed to “abstinence only” education – which doesn’t work anywhere – not in America, and not in Uganda. The AIDS rate has gone up again, but to the government of Uganda that’s worth it because it means aid they desperately need from the West.
God Loves Uganda is one of those documentaries that leaves me sad, mad and more than anything just shaking my head. How any reasonable person could believe that much of what has happened in Uganda makes sense is beyond me. Uganda has a long way to go in terms of gay rights and other social issues. As God Loves Uganda makes clear, so do parts of America.