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Christopher Senyonjo says he was excommunicated from the Anglican church in the early 2000s, but continues his ministry and activism. (Crispin Buxton)

'God Loves Uganda': How Religion Fueled An Anti-Gay Movement

by NPR Staff
Oct 12, 2013 (All Things Considered)

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Director Roger Ross Williams won an Academy Award in 2010 for his documentary short Music by Prudence.

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Four years ago, a bill was introduced in Uganda's parliament that would criminalize same-sex relations. The Anti-Homosexuality Bill has not yet become law, but it has drawn international attention to the animosity against gays in the African nation.

In the documentary God Loves Uganda, director Roger Ross Williams traces the bill's origins to the American evangelical missions in Uganda.

"American evangelicals have done a lot of great work," Williams tells All Things Considered weekend host Arun Rath. "But it's a certain type of fundamentalist evangelical ideology that came in there and basically instilled in a lot of the young people in Uganda this message that biblical law is above any other law."

The film traces the missionary efforts of the International House of Prayer (IHOP) and follows a group of young people on a trip to Uganda.

"I think that the young missionaries in the film are really innocent and well meaning. They are just the foot soldiers, as I like to call them," Williams says.

He believes that powerful evangelical leaders have a larger agenda:
"Everyone I've talked to in my film has said, 'You know, look: America's lost.' As marriage equality has passed, America is lost to them, but they are winning the war in Uganda.

"And they believe that this war will be won by eradicating what they believe is sexual sin, and that means homosexuality. And that message gets translated very differently in an African context."

Bishop Christopher Senyonjo became an advocate for LGBT rights, when he began counseling young homosexual men who were being persecuted by their churches and families. "When I talked to these young people, they were so worried," he says. "And they didn't know really what they were, actually, because of the way they were being treated in our community. And I said, 'Accept yourselves as you are.' "

Senyonjo says his church urged him to condemn the men but that he refused.

"I believe this is the call, which God has called me to bring the good news to LGBTQ people," he says. "That they also were created by God, made in the image of God, which a number of our churches don't like to say."

Senyonjo was excommunicated by the archbishop of Uganda in the early 2000s, but has continued his ministry and activism. He says there are times when he's been fearful for his life. In 2001, he stayed in the U.S. for six months.

"But I felt God wanted me to go back," Senyonjo says. "I've been harassed, but people are coming to know that what I'm trying to do is not really something which should make someone regarded as an enemy of our nation."

Although Uganda's Anti-Homosexuality Bill has stirred up major controversy, many activists and observers believe that it will not be brought before parliament for a vote. Senyonjo says the legislation has been a "blessing in disguise."

"This bill, I think, has helped us to understand that we are not all heterosexuals," he says. "There are different human sexualities which should be respected."

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