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"God Loves Uganda" - explores the scary side of exporting religion

God Loves Uganda


If it wasn’t a documentary, “God Loves Uganda” could easily be a horror movie. Roger Ross Williams’ film explores the ramifications of combining ignorance with hatred, indoctrination, and intolerance. This may seem surprising since the subject matter is American missionaries bringing the good word to Christians in Uganda. On paper that is a harmless agenda filled with good intention, but as we all know the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

God Loves Uganda premiere-slide0
Photo by Gareth Cattermole
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One of the film’s main characters is Lou Engle, a senior leader of IHOP (no, not the pancake restaurant), the International House of Prayer in Kansas City, Missouri. The organization has a fair number of members who are very devoted in their mass prayers and aim to spread their values around the world. Jono Hall, their media director, explains they have a huge infrastructure capable of sending their videos to far reaches of the globe. A special emphasis is placed on the African nation of Uganda, which has a large Christian population.

To further help spread IHOP’s values, Engle sends young missionaries to give Bible lessons and hold prayer sessions to the poorest reaches of the country. Wealthy American churches with similar values also send huge amounts of money to Uganda religious leaders so they can also spread their values to their flocks. One such leader preaches in an enormous church and lives in an equally huge mansion thanks to those funds. In all fairness, some of these missionaries do seem to genuinely want to help the Ugandan people and they help build houses of prayers with their own bare hands.

The problem is the values and beliefs they instil and the repercussions they have. Kapya Kaoma, a more moderate Ugandan reverend living in Boston, believes it is not safe for him to go back to his homeland since moderation is not the word of the day anymore. One of the chief values of the right-wing American churches targeting Uganda is the idea of traditional marriage, which in their minds means no sex outside of marriage and especially no gay marriage. In America a demented man like Scott Lively, who said homosexuals are responsible for Nazi Germany, would be laughed out the door. In Uganda he is received in parliament.

Because of the values spread by the American far right, Uganda rejected the idea of condoms embracing abstinence instead. Consequently, HIV cases increase. The idea that homosexuality is a sin is embraced by Uganda leaders, leading to a bill that would punish gay Ugandans with either the life in prison or the death penalty. Seeing a Uganda reverend saying he has “done research” on gay sex and do a photo presentation on its nastiness is almost comical. That is until it is revealed a gay rights leader was later killed in the streets. You reap what you sow.

The American Christian right would probably disagree with this, but as far as documentaries go “God Loves Uganda” is pretty even-handed. Roger Ross Williams is always off-screen and is only heard once in the whole movie. He lets everyone, from the few moderates to the extremists, state their opinions and lets the (scary) facts speak for themselves.

The result is if you hate gay marriage and gay rights, you will love the work of Lou Engle. On the other hand if you are a reasonable human being with half a brain, this will scare the pants off you.

(“God Loves Uganda” is out on DVD and Blu-Ray and is available on Netflix.)

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