Can it be true that the apple-cheeked Midwestern evangelicals who send their money, their teenagers, and their last-century sexual mores to Uganda genuinely see no link between their fervently anti-gay, anti-condom preaching and that country’s movement to make homosexuality not just illegal but punishable by death?
The toothsome young Pentecostals in Roger Ross Williams’s involving, upsetting God Loves Uganda claim not to, and as does their earthly leader, Lou Engle, of Kansas City’s International House of Prayer, one of those megachurches that looks like a series of rec rooms laid out in a Nordstrom. Engle, too, insists that IHOP’s mission and its grandiose satellite church are merely coincidental with the Ugandan Parliament’s “Kill the Gays” bill, introduced in that country’s parliament in 2009.
But Williams shows Engle taking the stage to speak at Ugandan events where local religious leaders have just endorsed the bill. He’s cagey, but his young followers seem merely naïve, like they haven’t quite recognized that rhetoric that falls on deaf ears at home—that God detests sex with a condom, outside of marriage, or within the same gender—is taken so literally in Uganda that “known homos” get outed in the newspapers, with home addresses listed. They even turn up murdered.
Meanwhile, Pastor Robert Kayanja, of a Kampala megachurch modeled on Engle’s, preaches an American-style prosperity gospel—and has willed himself into becoming one of Uganda’s five richest citizens, all thanks to the spirit stirring Kansas Citians with money to burn. Kudos to the filmmakers for so adeptly laying out the history of American evangelicals’ Ugandan mission, and for noting that HIV infection rates there have gone up since the abstinence-only education started.