“God Loves Uganda”: The spread of homophobia through western missionaries

By: Natalie Rykiel and Nina Reichwein

You are going to take over the world by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

Lou Engle, a prominent leader at the International House of Prayer (IHOP) in Kansas City.  God loves Uganda

In January 2013, the documentary “God Loves Uganda” premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. In just nine months, the film has gone on to win eight awards and has sparked the interest of audiences worldwide through its exposing of religion and the powerful anti-gay sentiments in Uganda. In the film, director Roger Ross Williams challenges audiences to see the link between the 2009 Anti-Homosexuality Bill proposal, and the overwhelming presence and influence of American missionaries in  Uganda, namely the evangelical group International House of Prayer (IHOP).

Though they may have good intentions in spreading Christianity, IHOP is criticized in the film for its pressure on young Ugandans to condemn homosexuality, and for the group’s proclamation that it should be seen as a “sexual sin.” IHOP has been one of the key fundamentalist evangelical groups to promote the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, first proposed in 2009 by a Member of Parliament, David Bahati.

With a longstanding conservative and religious history and a mean population of just 15 years, Ugandan society appears especially vulnerable to these outside religious influences. Called by some, an “export of homophobia to Africa”, the IHOP views Africa as the “new center of Christianity” as they have lost the battle against same-sex marriage and abortion in the US.

The film opens with a moving interview with David Kato, the forerunner in Ugandan gay-rights advocacy, just a year before his brutal murder. The primary inspiration for William’s documentary, Kato personifies the barbaric violence that has erupted since the 2009 bill proposal and the anti-gay sentiments backed by certain American religious groups. The film also features prominent figureheads, such as Bishop Christopher Senyonjo and Reverend Kapya Kaoma, who have been activists for LGBT rights and freedoms in Uganda since the late 1990’s. Both Senyongo and Kaoma have faced massive discrimination for their human rights work, and at the height of the homophobia outbreak were forced to flee to the US for their safety.

The Legislation

The Ugandan Anti-Homosexuality Bill, also referred to as “Kill the Gays Bill”, is a legislative proposal from 2009 that sought to expand the criminalization of homosexual relations in Uganda. These proposals include the death penalty for gay and lesbian men and women. It also includes various punishments for individuals, companies, and organizations supporting LGBT (Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) rights, and for failing to report homosexuality. Doctors and medical staff are also required to report any “case of homosexuality” within 24 hours, otherwise they to can be found guilty of committing an offense.

By law, homosexuality in Uganda is illegal, as in many other Sub-Saharan countries, LGBT people do not have any legal protection. Furthermore LGBT Africans are held back from accessing health care, and in some places there have been cases of torture and killings. The Anti-Homosexuality Bill was postponed by the Parliament in May 2011, but continues to resurface in national and international debates. Even though Speaker of Parliament Rebecca Kadaga promised to pass of the bill, international pressure would most likely make it fail. This year the Anti-Homosexuality Bill is on the agenda again and Ugandan Parliament is about to debate on this topic behind closed doors.

Consequences for Ugandan people

The bill not only threatens the safety of the LGBT community but also the very social fabric of Ugandan society. Neighbors, family members, and friends would be required by law to report homosexual acts. A betrayal and breach of privacy that, however you see it, would no doubt fracture communities, and could ultimately harm the mental and social well-being for Uganda as a whole.

In addition to the situation described, a growing trend of persecution pushed by evangelists along with homophobic political leaders is moving onwards. Several Western Christian missionaries, as mentioned, appear to be aggravating homophobia and spreading fundamentalist ideas on fighting so called sexual immorality.  The missionaries’ main goal is in converting “the Pearl of Africa”, a term Lou Engle uses to call Uganda, to follow biblical law.

IHOP, the International House of Prayer, is a religious organization based in Kansas City. Since the early 2000’s, the missionaries of IHOP are not only creating schools and hospitals in Uganda, but also promoting dangerous ideas, trying to eliminate sodomy and convert Ugandan people to fundamental Christianity.

The bill is not only a terrible development for the LGBT population, but also for human rights in general. The ban of condoms and outlawing of people to health care in a society hard hit by HIV/AIDS is a dangerous step. CEHURD (Centre for Health Human Rights & Development Uganda) emphasizes its concern on the Anti-Homosexuality bill regarding the health situation of Uganda. In comparison to other countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, which are supporting vulnerable populations with HIV/AIDS treatment services, and which are actually reporting declining rates of new HIV infections, Uganda’s HIV incidence is rising. They see a direct link between the regressing policies and the worsening HIV setting.

Direct health effects

In terms of global health, this climate of homophobia in Africa is not only a major setback and regression in terms of human rights and equality, but it also breeds violence and further exacerbates the HIV endemic. Rather than promoting sexual education and safe practices that could curb HIV rates, advocating for abstinence no doubt halts any progress in HIV preventative efforts.

The documentary “God Loves Uganda” does not necessarily present new information to people who have been following this issue previously, yet it offers strong evidence of and depicts the reality of the madness spread by the missionaries in Uganda.
If you are not yet familiar with the topic, it is sure to be as mind-blowing and disturbing to you as it was to us in our research.

This film is definitely worth a watch!

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