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American evangelicals deadly influence in Uganda

Bishop Christopher Senyonjo, filmmaker Roger Ross Williams and Rev. Kapya Kaoma
Bishop Christopher Senyonjo, filmmaker Roger Ross Williams and Rev. Kapya Kaoma
Bishop Christopher Senyonjo, filmmaker Roger Ross Williams and Rev. Kapya Kaoma

Uganda has emerged as a focal point of US evangelical efforts in Africa. A new film, God Loves Uganda, shows how the efforts to bring Jesus to Ugandans is also spreading hate against gays. Specifically, it has enabled the progress of legislation that will imprison gay Ugandans.

Film director Roger Ross Williams debuted the film at the Sundance film festival earlier this year and it will hit US screens in October. The main character is Reverend Kapya Kaoma, an Anglican priest from Zambia and doctoral candidate at Boston University. His 2010 research paper showed how a new form of evangelism took shape in Africa starting in the 1970s and 80s that impacts the trend of anti-gay laws across the continent.

“African allies of the U.S. Christian Right echo their friends in deriding African and Western human rights campaigners as pursuing a neocolonial agenda,” says the report. “To better support the communities, allies around the world need to be more attuned to the complexity of theological and institutional ties between Africa and the U.S. Christian Right.”

Kaoma issued a range of recommendations including dispelling the myth that human rights advocacy is a form of neocolonialism and making it clear to Africans what the US Christian Right actually stands for. Those shifts coupled with a rights-based progression in individual nations could tip the scale away from bigotry and towards respected rights.

One of the featured players in the film is Massachusetts-based evangelical leader Scott Lively. The Daily Maverick describes one of the film’s scenes:

In his documentary, there is footage of US far-right preacher Scott Lively addressing an Ugandan audience, which was filmed by Kaoma. Writing on a flip chart, Lively instructs his audience that gays are pederasts, that gays were responsible for Nazi Germany, that gays have taken over the UN and that gays are coming to Uganda to “recruit your children”. But, Lively says, “Uganda can be the first country to stop them” if they implement “public policy that discourages homosexuality”.

On that same visit to Uganda, Lively was given permission to address the Ugandan parliament for five hours. It was after this that MP David Bahati introduced the kill-the-gays bill in October 2009. Bahati claims that after the bill was introduced, donations to Uganda from Western churches tripled. In 2010, Uganda’s Rolling Stone newspaper published the names, addresses and photos of “Uganda’s Top Homos” with an exhortation to “Hang them”. Less than six months later, Ugandan gay activist David Kato was murdered in his home.

Lively and Kaoma appeared on Radio Boston together in January. Lively said that his concern was sex tourism and the fact that homosexuality was spreading because outsiders were taking advantage of Ugandans.

Efforts were underway to take legal action against Lively for inciting violence against gays in Uganda. The two men did not see eye to eye as Lively took a defensive stance accusing even the host of mis-portraying his previous comments.

There is a clear effort to make sure that the film does not act as an anti-Christian screed. Rather, the Williams and Koama hope that it raises the attention towards the ways in which some forms of Christianity are having a deadly impact in Uganda.

“The American evangelical movement in Africa does valuable work in helping the poor. But as you’ll see in this Op-Doc video, some of their efforts and money feed a dangerous ideology that seeks to demonize L.G.B.T. people and intensifies religious rhetoric until it results in violence,” explained Williams in a New York Times OpDoc featuring a clip from the film.


About Author

Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]