Posted January 20, 2014 by D. K. Holm
Portlanders can pop up in the weirdest places: on vacations in obscure locales; on bestseller lists; on America’s Most Wanted; and lately in the documentary God Loves Uganda, about the enterprise of fundamentalist Christians “degayifying” that African nation.
The Rain City weirdo who makes a cameo appearance in the film is Scott Lively. Long time Portland residents will recall that back at the turn of the century, Mr. Lively was the spokesman for the Oregon Citizen’s Alliance, run by Lon and Bonnie Mabon. The OCA was one of several ad hoc organizations behind the notorious anti-gay Measure 9. (1) One of Mr. Lively’s liveliest actions was to physically assault filmmaker Catherine Stauffer – in a church. Ms. Stauffer’s lawyers, Brent Foster and Thane Tienson, eventually brought crippling judgments against the OCA and its shadow organization, the United States Citizens Alliance (USCA). Details can be found here for starters.
For the past six years, Mr. Lively’s anti-gay rhetoric has been ideologically thriving in Uganda, where the evangelical public speaker has lectured against gay practices, with the result that the Ugandan government has debated and recently passed an anti-homosexuality law, also known as the Kill the Gays Bill. Such laws in modified form are not unique in Africa, where several sub-Saharan nations have such restrictions, but the Uganda law stood out for its death sentence provision, and the relentless outing of public figures as gay in newspapers supporting the law. Mr. Lively has not endorsed the capital punishment element of the law.
Directed by Roger Ross Williams, an African-American with roots in the Baptist world, God Loves Uganda is a calm presentation of the setting, the chronology, and the ideology, with the Lively clones given much opportunity to state their case. Dissident voices, some in exile in the United States, are given their due, but Mr. Williams both wants to understand where the anti-gay people are coming from, and also let them hang themselves on their own words as they look possessed by the evangelism that illuminates their eyes in frozen glee. The film features interviews with Lou Engle, an evangelical shown in some candid public speaking footage, the Reverend Jo Anna Watson, a once-conflicted or “tempted” lesbian who is seeking to eradicate homosexuality in Uganda with boots on the ground, and Jono Hall, who seems to be the organization’s spin doctor, all of them members of the International House of Prayer (IHOP), which sends teams of missionaries into Uganda to deliver the “good news.”
Uganda: Isn’t that the country that Idi Amin Dada ruled for many cruel years? What the documentary seems to suggest is that there is a continuity between the long gone despotic Dada regime and the reactionary postures of the country folk, city Christians, and the elderly. Mr. Williams lets the people both pro and con, the country, and the inserted news footage speak for itself, but there is an icy outrage stitched into the film, particularly in a scene in which in a tent revival speakers illustrate the dire, black-leathern practices of the homosexual, with graphic images and gay underground lingo, with cuts to the shocked hand-to-mouth gaspings of the audience. The tendentiousness of the minister’s descriptions also speaks for itself.
God Loves Uganda is straightforward reporting, with the filmmakers apparently not wishing to feed the flames with Michael Moore-style devices, which as it happens, makes the first half of the film seem at times almost to be a product of IHOP. Still, the practices of missionaries and western ideologues in Uganda may come as news to many people, and Mr. Williams does a good job of mapping the landscape.
(1) One of the peculiarities of Oregon is that while “No on 9” lapel buttons were prominent in the three “big” state cities, “Yes on 9” buttons were highly visible on the coast, in the farmlands, and across the desert.