Review: ‘God Loves Uganda’ looks at missionaries, anti-gay bill

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While Uganda’s parliament considers an anti-homosexuality bill, which would mandate the death penalty for serial “offenders,” Western-supported megachurches flourish in the African country. Roger Ross Williams’ incisive and absorbing documentary “God Loves Uganda” makes a compelling case for the link between the two situations without connecting all the dots for viewers, and without condemning the young missionaries who flock to “the pearl of Africa” believing they are saving souls.

Williams’ alarm is balanced by his measured observation of a group of twentysomethings from the Kansas City-based International House of Prayer. The Pentecostal Christian group deploys missionaries worldwide, with a special zeal for Africa. The youthful proselytizers’ sincerity is evident, but the film emphasizes that such earnestness doesn’t preclude condescension — their encounters with locals, in which they threaten sinners with hell, are thoroughly dispiriting.

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On the one hand are high-profile extremists advocating persecution and worse; on the other a composite portrait of people who can’t imagine morality that isn’t defined by their notion of God. Two missionary leaders share information that puts an illuminating slant on their passion for the Gospel and their anti-gay sermonizing.

Exploring Uganda’s welcoming stance toward such rhetoric, Williams traces the ensuing dangers: rising HIV rates resulting from the promotion of abstinence instead of sex education; the tabloid outing of homosexuals and the murder of activist David Kato, profiled in the wrenching documentary “Call Me Kuchu.”

The fate of Uganda’s souls notwithstanding, its evangelical pastors are reaping financial rewards. On the evidence of this film, their fear-mongering is an especially toxic brand of demagoguery, and “sharing the good news” is not an act of inclusion.


“God Loves Uganda”

MPAA rating: None

Running time: 1 hour, 24 minutes.

Playing: At Laemmle’s Royal, West Los Angeles.