Anti-gay law mandates mob violence, says maker of God Loves Uganda

'God Loves Uganda', photo: archive of One World

Among the highlights of this year’s One World festival of human rights documentaries is God Loves Uganda, a gripping film revealing how right-wing Christians – including LGBT opponent Scott Lively – campaigned successfully for anti-gay legislation in the African state. Ian Willoughby spoke to the Oscar-winning director of God Loves Uganda, Roger Ross Williams, and asked him why the Kansas-based International House of Prayer had targeted Uganda in particular.

'God Loves Uganda',  photo: archive of One World
“Well, it’s many churches, not just IHOP. And Uganda, because Idi Amin, who was a Muslim, outlawed Christianity. So the Evangelical movement was underground and Uganda was sort of like the perfect storm, because when Idi Amin fell, it was sort of a ripe opportunity to go in.”

Did the Evangelicals actually influence the law? I know they pushed for it, but would the Ugandan Parliament have arrived at that legislation anyway?

“No... You know, homosexuality existed in sort of ancient times in Uganda and there was a thriving gay community with gay bars.

“But when Scott Lively went to the Parliament and addressed it for five hours, saying that the homosexuals were coming to recruit their children; he said, you need to create legislation to stop this, and that’s what really started this whole bill.”

Do [these groups] push for the same kind of legislation in the States? Or do they dare push for that kind of legislation in America?

“No. Every Evangelical leader that I talked to said that they were frustrated with the Culture Wars in America and that Uganda, Africa and the Developing World was now the new centre of Christianity, as [International House of Prayer leader] Lou Engel says in the film.”

Towards the end of the film there’s a moving scene when the gay rights activist David Kato is killed. At his funeral, the pastor directly blames the American Evangelicals for his death. Do you share that view?

“Absolutely. I think when you sort of preach this hatred, when you preach that the Kingdom isn’t open to everyone, but even go beyond that and say that you have to stop homosexuality, it gives people a mandate to go out and create acts of violence.

“That’s why today, since the law was recently passed, gay people are being beaten. This is mob justice, it’s not the government. The government’s arresting people, slowly, but it’s mobs that are going out and beating people.”

So the government is kind of giving the mob free reign to do what they like?

Roger Ross Williams,  photo: Ian Willoughby
“Yes. They’re mandating homophobia. They’re mandating violence. They’re saying, we have to wipe LGBT people out of our country, we have to wipe them out, so people are doing that.

“It also creates a scapegoat. It gives people somebody to vent their frustrations on. The real problems are corruption, food and water. They can’t protest against the government, but they can go out now and beat up a gay person.”

How did the US Christian right, in particular those people portrayed in the film, react to it?

“They weren’t too happy with the film. But we tried to create a dialogue with them and with Evangelicals all across America and the world for that matter.

“I’ve gone to many churches and screened the film. We have requests from over 1,000 churches. I’ve talked at seminary schools.

“It’s created this real dialogue in the faith community. You know, no Christian wants someone to be killed in the name of the Bible, and it’s up to Christians to speak out against it.”