Tuesday, June 4, 2013

God Loves Uganda

This year's Mountainfilm festival in Telluride, Colorado, was a difficult, stretching experience as usual.  

Films ranged from deaths in climbing Mt. Everest to spectacular video of extreme sports to documentaries on issues such as climate change, hunger, and pollution.  One film was about Tim Hetherington, the photojournalist who produced Oscar-nominated Restrepo (about American soldiers at an outpost in Afghanistan) and was killed in Libya in April 2011, shortly after being in Los Angeles for the Oscar awards.  

The most moving film was God Loves Uganda, which won the award for audience favorite.  It also earned the Grand Jury Prize at the Atlanta and Dallas film festivals and appeared at 17 other festivals including its debut in January 2013 at Sundance.   http://www.godlovesuganda.com/ 

The 90-minute documentary is about how anti-gay evangelicals have created a dangerous situation for LGBT people in Uganda.  There's a bill in Parliament there that (if passed) would put first-time "offenders" in jail and execute those convicted of being "serial offenders."  

Afterward I talked with director Roger Williams and with Anglican pastor Kapya Kaoma, who also identifies as an evangelical but can't travel to Uganda because of his support for gays there.  He was born in Zambia; he and his family appear in the film and now live in the Boston area.

Reverend Kaoma is now affiliated with Episcopal Divinity School, where he is an ethicist and a researcher on the intersection of religion and sexuality.  He founded Political Research Associates (http://www.politicalresearch.org/tag/kapya-kaoma/.  This website provides news reports by email and accepts donations.  There are also opportunities for internships at PRA.  
Left: Kapya Kaoma. Right: Roger Williams

Evangelical Christian activists against homosexuality are interviewed at length in the film:  Lou Engle of the International House of Prayer in Kansas City (IHOP-KC), Martin Ssempa (Ugandan pastor), Scott Lively and Janna Watson (white evangelicals working in Uganda), and others.  

Ssempa had spoken at Rick Warren's Saddleback Church, but Warren has since distanced himself from him.  http://www.godlovesuganda.com/usa-christian-right-exporting-gay-hate-to-uganda/

The film also highlights the wealthy Miracle Temple Christian Center Church in Kampala, which spreads hatred of homosexuals through donations from abroad.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miracle_Centre_Cathedral  

Bush-era funding of abstinence-only foreign aid is another major factor in homophobia in Uganda in the last twenty years.  Once a leader in condom distribution and reduction of HIV exposure in Africa, Uganda now has a rising HIV rate. 

Though the film may come across as anti-evangelical, its director (raised in a Baptist church) made an effort to include Christian supporters of gay rights such as the Reverend Kaoma and Bishop Christopher Senyonjo, a Ugandan activist for LGBT persons.  https://sites.google.com/site/bishopchristophertour/

The film was also screened at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena this spring.  Reverend Kaoma reported that Fuller students were very concerned about the danger to gay persons in Uganda and asked how they could help.  

Watching this documentary is an extreme sport, not recommended for those who have been damaged by right-wing Christian hatred of the LGBT community.  

It was an emotional roller coaster for me, one minute rejoicing to see earnest Christians witnessing to a Ugandan mother in a mud hut but the next minute hearing misguided hatred being preached ("Gays will recruit your children...."  "Homosexuality in Uganda is caused by liberal Western influence.")

Afterward I learned about the "Uganda martyrs," a killing of 22 young men in the 1880s because they refused to have sex with the king, who was homosexual.  http://www.freethoughtnation.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=209:ugandas-homosexual-affair&catid=45:general

I left the Nugget Theater drained, stumbling to a bench outside on Telluride's main street, unable to do anything but look up at the incongruently spectacular mountains.  

After resting a while, I drove home and did my best to get the whole film festival out of my mind.  Eight days later, I can write about it.

Note: Among the evangelical-related organizations that support gay rights is Evangelical and Ecumenical Women's Caucus (EEWC-CFT) at www.eewc.com.

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