Christians ‘demonised’ in scary documentary
AMONG many activities that will take place around the world to mark World Humanist Day on June 21, Swiss freethinkers are screening a documentary that has enraged evangelical Christians, particularly in the United States, where God Loves Uganda was released to critical acclaim last year.
Described here as “the most terrifying film of the year”, God Loves Uganda premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January, and was shown nationwide on PBS channels in the US last month. It has also just been released on DVD.
Directed by Academy Award winner Roger Ross Williams, the documentary examines the relationship between American evangelical churches, their missionaries and anti-gay laws in Africa, like Uganda’s so-called “kill the gays” bill.
John G Stackhouse, Jr, writing for Christianity Today, accused Williams, who is gay, of “demonising” conservative Christians.
The film in fact largely fails to give us a proper explanation for why these evangelicals do what they do. There is no attempt to explain to the audience the Biblical basis for a conservative Christian understanding of sexual ethics, and only a few statements of their more general missionary mandate.
What we do get is lots of footage of their worship, especially in its more extreme modes. There is something unsettling, even creepy, about a black filmmaker depicting white (and black) charismatic Christians speaking in tongues, writhing on the floor, and otherwise acting in strange ways with no explanation at all.
If a white filmmaker had shown scenes of black Africans in similar modes but dressed in native costumes, we might well accuse him of racism, or at least of failing in the primary job of the documentary filmmaker: to make his subjects intelligible, let alone sympathetic.
In fact, these people seem unfathomable – even actually mad. To depict them thus is the functional equivalent of demonizing them … but ‘demonizing’ is precisely the crime of which they are repeatedly accused in this film in regard to homosexuals.
But the simple truth, Mr Stackouse, is that many, if not all, of these American evangelicals who travel to Africa are indeed as crazy as shithouse rats and their behaviour cannot in anyway be rationalised.
Take Scott Lively, for example, whose insane book The Pink Swastika blames the rise of Nazism on gays, and Lou Engle, one of the founders of the International House of Prayer (IHOP), a charismatic Christian clown whose ravings have earned him an entry in the Encylopedia of American Loons.
After the release of the film, Engle who was at the forefront of calls for Uganda to enact draconian anti-gay legislation (which it has since done) laughably declared:
This from a man who is shown in God Loves Uganda at an anti-gay rally in California where he warned that allowing same-sex couples to get married would unleash “sexual insanity” and a spirit “more demonic than Islam”.
In 2011, he organised an event in Detroit that was pitched to local pastors as a unity event for people of faith to pray for Detroit’s economy when its actual purpose was to “invade Dearborn” and convert followers of “demonic” Islam to Christianity.
Said Andre Banks, Executive Director and co-founder of All Out:
The world has never had an up-close look at how anti-gay animus is exported from the United States to places like Uganda. God Loves Uganda shows us how the US culture war is being shipped wholesale to Africa, sometimes unknowingly, but always with disastrous consequences. The film should be required viewing.
The film also raises urgent questions for American people of faith who care about justice and human rights. The large majority of churches in the US raise money to do good in their communities and abroad. But this film makes clear that we must each be certain that our contributions at the collection plate are not going, directly or indirectly, toward supporting laws that call for the death of gays and lesbians.
Roger Ross Williams won the 2010 Academy Award for Best Documentary (Short Subject) with his film Music by Prudence and is the first African American to win an Oscar for directing and producing a film. God Loves Uganda was produced by Julie Goldman and Motto Pictures.
Since the film was released in 2013, Williams has continued his advocacy for justice for LGBT people in Uganda. He served as grand marshal at last year’s San Francisco’s Pride.
In March, he appeared in Los Angeles with Ugandan activist Clare Byarugaba. During that appearance, Williams described Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni as
A dictator using the LGBT community as a scapegoat.
The President’s goal, he said:
Is to distract the public from the real issues, corruption and survival, and turn them against a vulnerable population on which they can take out their frustration.