How US Evangelicals Inflame Hatred of Gays in Africa

The director of the documentary God Loves Uganda talks to The Root about the role American Christian conservatives are playing in criminalizing homosexuality on the continent.

Anti-homosexuality activists march through the streets of the Ugandan capital, Kampala, on March 31, 2014, in support of the government’s stance against homosexuality. ISAAC KASAMANI/AFP/Getty Images

Roger Ross Williams: When I approached IHOP, I said I wanted to talk about the anti-homosexual bill, the influence of American evangelicals and they immediately said, ‘You’re part of the gay agenda; why should we do this?’ I said, I’m not part of the gay agenda. I may be gay, but I’m a filmmaker and I’m going to let you speak for yourself and if you believe what you believe in, if you believe this is biblical truth, then you need to stand up for your beliefs. And they totally agreed with that. 

TR: Why is Uganda so important to evangelical groups like IHOP?

RRW: Because Uganda was the perfect storm, because Uganda had [one of] the highest HIV/AIDS rates in Africa [in the early ’80s], because Uganda was devastated by [then-President Idi] Amin and civil war and it was a vulnerable population. The Pentecostal movement was underground because Idi Amin outlawed it. When Amin fell [in 1979], and Bickle and these guys were there, [the Ugandans] welcomed them because they brought in money and resources. [The evangelicals] have invested incredible resources in that country and they realized they could create their nirvana; they could create their perfect Christian nation. 

TR: It seems as though this bill has helped fuel an escalation in anti-gay violence in Uganda. Is there something cultural in play?

RRW: There’s two reasons: One is that what Scott Lively and what the Americans said is, that homosexuals are there to recruit children and, as Scott Lively says in the film, their ultimate goal is to wipe out society. Culturally, when someone comes in and threatens your tribe and your family, you kill them, you go to war, and that’s what they see this as—this force from the West is coming in to destroy their families and destroy their society.

The other thing is it’s political. Ugandans are frustrated. They have a corrupt government and they use it as a way to take out their frustrations. It’s scapegoating. It’s what happens in any genocide—people dehumanize and demonize a certain group and they take out all their frustration on that group of people. And that’s what’s we’re seeing happening in Uganda right now.

TR: What effect will the law have on HIV/AIDS in Uganda?

RRW: Devastating. The Ugandan government has already raided a clinic that provided [services to AIDS patients]. It’s devastating because what the law says is that you can’t serve that community. It’s going to be devastating.

TR: Like IHOP, there will be those who say because you’re a gay man, you do have an agenda. What do you say to that?

RRW: I don’t put words in anyone’s mouth. In the film I’m just a fly on the wall. It’s up to the viewer to decide what they think or what they feel about what anyone is doing. I don’t have any judgment myself and that’s important to me as a filmmaker.