Uganda. It’s a country I didn’t know much about until the 1990’s. In the early 1990’s, Uganda became something of a model for risk-reduction education for the transmission of HIV. In 1991, roughly 15% of the adult population was infected with HIV. The number of people dying from complications due to AIDS was overwhelming. Uganda was the first African nation to voluntarily organize a massive safer-sex campaign that included the distribution of condoms. At that time, it seemed to me that Uganda was a forward looking country.
Twenty years later, and … well, times have clearly changed. With a majority of the population under the age of 15, Uganda – a former British colony that gained independence in 1962 – has become a very regressive nation. While there is a strong anti-colonial sentiment in the country, Uganda has once again been colonized. But this time, the colonizers are not the British. Instead, the colonizers are Evangelical Christians from the United States.
Government corruption in Uganda is a significant problem. In its corruption, a few leaders have become wealthy while economic development for the country languishes. There’s a chronic lack of education, health care, and food for the majority of Ugandans. Yet, Evangelical Christian groups, like the International House of Prayer in Kansas City, MO have spent well over a billion dollars sending young, specially trained missionaries to Uganda to bring the message of their fundamentalism to an impoverished, suffering people. The government of Uganda has welcomed the missionaries, who help to keep attention away from government corruption. The missionaries are focused on an agenda that has led to the criminalization of homosexuality, imposes subjugation of women, and teaches intolerance for any beliefs that do not match those of the missionaries.
Among those from the United States who have instigated a religion of hatred in Uganda is attorney Scott Lively. Lively’s religious-political involvement began as a leader in the ex-gay movement. Lively has made a variety of claims that are lively, to say the least. His claims include that President Barrack Obama is gay and that the Biblical flood of Noah was caused by wedding songs for gay weddings. Lively, who is being charged with crimes against humanity by a Ugandan human rights group, is believed to be the author of Uganda’s anti-homosexual laws and is believed to have influenced the writing of the anti-gay laws in Russia.
Chronicling the tidal change brought about by Evangelical Christian missionaries from the US, the documentary, God Loves Uganda, presents interviews with leaders and missionaries from the International House of Prayer. Missionaries are filmed during their training and followed while they work in Uganda. The documentary presents the missionaries openly talking about their hatred for gay and lesbian people and the need to “save” the people of Uganda from what these missionaries understand as evil. These statements are made while the well-fed, comfortably housed missionaries are surrounded by impoverished, hungry Ugandans.
Several weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend a screening of God Loves Uganda at Atlanta’s Interdenominational Theological Center (ITC). ITC is a seminary sponsored by six predominantly African-American denominations. Following the screening, those present expressed their anger and frustration at the re-colonization of African based on a white Evangelical Christian fundamentalist perspective. In addition to profound theological disagreement, the seminarians expressed their frustration at the way these missionaries continue to decimate African culture.
The PBS series, Independent Lens, will air God Loves Uganda on Monday, May 19. In my opinion, the movie is of critical importance not only because of the impact Christian fundamentalists are having in Uganda but also because it helps to make clear the elaborate levels of organization that are essential to the Christian fundamentalist agenda. Too often, liberal people are simply willing to say things like, “Everyone has the right to their own beliefs and opinions.” Yet, the cult-like strategy employed by groups like the International House of Prayer is much more than just personal belief. Instead, innocent people are being denied basic human rights and losing their lives because of a so-called “religious” agenda.
In the end, I find that God Loves Uganda to be a significantly critical movie for our time. It makes clear the role of Evangelical Christianity not just in the United States but for global politics, economic development, and human rights.
© 2014, emerging by Lou Kavar, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.