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Foiled in the United States, Anti-Gay Evangelicals Spread Hate in Africa

Oscar-winning director Roger Ross Williams on his new documentary, "God Loves Uganda."

| Tue Jul. 9, 2013 5:00 AM EDT

MJ: Your film captures Ssempa showing his congregation gay porn to educate them about the vileness of gay sex. Do other religious leaders share his methods?

RRW: He is famous for it. Other pastors are equally extreme. I saw footage of a well-known pastor named Julius Oyet holding a Bible and saying, "This book says homosexuals should be killed." I've interviewed Solomon Male as he demonstrated how gays have sex. In my New York Times op-doc, you see Pastor Male roll up a paper and point to his ass to show how they insert the penis into the anus. He goes on to explain how "everything comes out." If you ask me, they are all a little too obsessed with anal sex. It's all so absurd—you can't really make this stuff up. Right now Ssempa is raising money to pass the bill. He is very active on Twitter, and uses social media to promote hate.

 

MJ: Bishop Christopher Senyonjo and David Kato are, in different ways, martyrs for Ugandan gay rights. What kind of support exists for people like them who are excommunicated or rejected by the church?

I saw footage of a well-known pastor holding a Bible and saying, "This book says homosexuals should be killed."

RRW: There is very little support for the LGBTI community [the "I" stand for "intersex"] compared to the other side. Thankfully, human rights organizations such as the RFK Center have supported activists like Frank Mugisha and SMUG [Sexual Minorities Uganda], but there is not widespread support for faith leaders like Senyonjo. The fundamentalist faith community is light years ahead of the progressives in Africa. This has to change if we are going to make any progress. If the battle in Uganda is lost, then the outcome will be felt across the continent. Gay Africans must speak up and let everyone know they are there, they have always been there, and that they are not going away.

There is a great project called "None On Record: Stories of Queer Africa" where the African LGBTI community document and tell their own stories. I think that is the legacy of David Kato—there has to be a civil rights movement led by queer Africans challenging the Martin Ssempas of the world. We used to march in the streets of New York in the '80s saying, "We're here, we're queer, get used to it." Africans need to do the same thing.

MJ: The film shows IHOP rallying thousands of American supporters behind California's Proposition 8. How involved is the church in domestic politics?

RRW: IHOP has 1,000 full-time employees, a $30 million per year operating budget, and their global prayer room is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Kansas City. They count among their members very powerful leaders from the Christian right, the leaders of tea party rallies, and the speechwriter for Sarah Palin. I think they have a clear mandate to change America from a political perspective. Mike Bickle himself told me you cannot separate politics from the Bible.

"Uganda can greatly benefit from American evangelicals if they separate the Scott Lively extremists from the Rick Warren-type of moderate evangelicals."

American Christian politicians like Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) are obsessed with Uganda because they can win the culture war there that they see themselves losing here in the US. They see Uganda as a religious experiment. Sen. Inhofe is part of the Washington organization known as "The Family," and they count many politicians as their members and throw the National Prayer Breakfast every year. Every recent president has attended that breakfast. The author of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill in Uganda is the Ugandan representative of "The Family," and he not only attended the US prayer breakfasts, but throws his own version in Uganda. It's all well documented.

MJ: Have ordinary Ugandans benefited from the presence of American evangelicals?

RRW: American evangelicals have done great work in Uganda. They have provided food and shelter to millions of orphans, built schools, and administered health care. They helped make Uganda an economic success story in Africa. Uganda can greatly benefit from American evangelicals if they separate the Scott Lively extremists from the Rick Warren type of moderate evangelicals.

MJ: What affect do you think the Supreme Court's recent rulings will have on evangelicals in Uganda?

RWW: The American evangelical community, fundamentalists, have all said it's game over in America, but we're winning in the Global South and in the developing world. While people are celebrating in America, we are winning the battle in the rest of the world.

MJ: A film like this urges people to act. What do you hope your viewer's response will be?

RRW: If the audience wants to get involved, they should go to our website and sign up for our newsletter. We will be asking our audiences to engage in different ways, including writing to their local congressmen and screening the film in their church.

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