Year Released: 2013
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 90 minutes
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The movie opens like a love letter—and there’s a lot to love about Uganda, including the beauty of the land and the dignity of its people. However, a voiceover warns, there’s an ominous threat creeping in from the outside.
Danger comes in the form of American evangelical Christians on a mission to spread conservative biblical values in Africa. In the wake of civil strife, poverty, and disease, foreign missionaries arrived, offering to build schools, educate children, and provide medical relief. However, director Roger Ross Williams contends that this assistance comes at a price.
Of the American missionaries operating in Uganda, the International House of Prayer—or IHOP—is one of the most prevalent. A well funded, tech savvy organization, IHOP excels at galvanizing the youth to spread the Good News. A film crew accompanies the latest batch of teenagers on their trip to Africa. The kids themselves seem like good kids: wide-eyed, zealous, eager to change the world. They paint buildings, cook, sing songs, play with the children, and, most of all, preach.
However, when the organization’s leaders appear before the camera, things get a little dicey. The spokesman for IHOP proclaims an adamant anti-gay stance; another top mentor says prayer cured her lesbian tendencies. Of course, they are completely entitled to these beliefs as part of their faith. But here’s the argument that Williams creates: taught strict biblical law by their elders, the young evangelists spend two or three months in Uganda spreading anti-gay rhetoric, then return to America when their work is done. But the seeds they have planted in Uganda grow rotten fruit.
Currently, the Ugandan parliament is considering a bill that has garnered wide public support. If found guilty of chronic homosexuality, by law a person may be put to death. One newspaper published a list of the “Top 100” known homosexuals and their supporters—complete with home addresses. The film captures the funeral of at least one gay man who was bludgeoned to death, and at his service, protesters heckle the mourners and the presiding minister condemns the man’s soul to hell.
No doubt, there needs to be global awareness about this alarming issue. However, I often found myself craving more concrete information as opposed to anecdotal stories. We know of at least one hate crime related death, but how pervasive is the violence? What percent of the population actually supports the bill?
Additionally, Williams goes out of his way to portray IHOP members as fools, focusing on their holy-rolling and proselytizing in a way that smacks of dismissive mockery. Likewise, the film states that Africans believe the Americans implicitly, which insinuates that the people by and large are incapable of independent thought, an assertion that struck me as faintly patronizing.
Matters of faith are inherently complex issues, and a more rounded presentation usually makes for a more compelling argument. That said, God Loves Uganda is disturbing to the core.
Posted on January 21, 2013 in Reviews by Jamie Tipps
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