“Jesus Camp” Goes to Uganda

I look forward to serving as the lone respondent to the local showing of a documentary that has already received notice in the American press (as a simple Internet search will show): “God Loves Uganda.” Produced and directed by Academy Award-winner Roger Ross Williams, here’s what the website of the DOXA Film Festival says about it:

God Loves Uganda

Filmmaker In Person

Roger Ross Williams, USA, 2013, 83 mins

SATURDAY MAY 11 | 12:00 PM | VT

God loves Uganda so much that he sent a religious army to defend it, but ironically, the major foreign threat to Ugandan solidarity are the spiritual soldiers themselves. With unprecedented access, the film follows a group of young missionaries-in-the-making to dusty pulpits in Africa, where they sing, pray and shout about Christian Fundamentalism to anyone who will listen. Evangelist Lou Engle is one of the ringleaders of this crusade and creator of The Call, which brings tens of thousands of believers together to pray against sexual sin. At first, Engle and his bible-thumping minions come across as well-intentioned but misdirected do-gooders. However, tolerance dissipates when they start preaching about the evils of sexual immorality in a country plagued with AIDS. As an American-influenced bill to make homosexuality punishable by death wins widespread support in Uganda, tensions mount and an atmosphere of murderous hatred takes hold.

God Loves Uganda records the culture clash between enthusiastic Midwestern missionaries and world weary Ugandans. It features a heartbreaking interview with gay activist David Kato shortly before he was murdered and tells the moving story of Bishop Christopher Senyonjo, a minister who was excommunicated for being tolerant and promoting peace. Shocking, horrifying, touching and enlightening, this film makes you question what you thought you knew about religion. -TW

A scalding appraisal of the Christian missionary movement in Africa, God Loves Uganda has a ferocious mission of its own: to portray American evangelicals as arrogant and deluded, yet dangerously effective in their suppression of sexual freedoms. It’s strong, headshaking stuff… — Variety


Well, that sounds like a good way to shake up a Saturday, doesn’t it? And, as readers of this weblog might anticipate, I expect to add a bit of both salt and pepper to the event myself as I wonder aloud about how representative these evangelicals are of “American evangelicals” or “American conservatives” en masse, as they are routinely identified throughout the movie; about whether the insinuation of massive cultural conspiracy is the best way to understand evangelical involvement in African missions; about whether this kind of charismatic (not “Fundamentalist”) Christianity is so very foreign to native culture on that continent (when it is, in fact, sweeping across sub-Saharan Africa); and about just what North American audiences are to make of all this—and do about it.

If you’re inclined, send up a prayer that the event will be helpful to everyone who attends and that I will play a useful part in it. If you’re available, come on along—and celebrate all the love and affirmation and acceptance and inclusion I expect to receive as I start talking….

UPDATE: Here is a review based on the remarks I gave at the showing.

UPDATE 2: Here is a response by one of the IHOP leaders to the film.


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9 Responses to ““Jesus Camp” Goes to Uganda”

  1. Charles

    “and celebrate all the love and affirmation and acceptance and inclusion I expect to receive as I start talking….”

    haha…don’t feel like you need to throw pearls to the swines.

    • John

      Well, Charles, I expect there will be some of that, alas. But my main concern in such participation is to offer a genuinely alternative–which is to say, both plausible and attractive–point of view. I hope I can speak the truth (at least as I see it) in love, and thus do at least some audience members some good. And who knows? I might both edify the director and be edified myself.

  2. DJ

    When the doc was shown in toronto at our Hot Docs Festival I knew I wouldn’t be able to stand watching it because clearly it would be trashing the American Christians one way or another i.e. I knew nothing about the missionaries for better or worse but could see that it was going to be bad press for evangelicals, so I can imagine what you will be facing, John. I will pray that your loving and humble manner in front of a hostile audience will honour Christ.

    • John

      Thanks very much, Sister DJ. I think God was there this afternoon, and I do pray for Brother Roger, the producer/director, that his pain and creativity will also be directed by the God who loves him to peace–even peace with the family from whom he is now apparently alienated.

  3. John

    Although I no longer consider myself a christian, I was actually concerned for your sake what sort of reception you would receive at today’s forum given the subject matter. I had imagined that the audience would be a lot more hostile. Kudos to you on articulating your comments in a thoughtful manner. A reminder to me to not paint all christians with too broad of a paint brush. That said, I am quite sympathetic to the persecution that homosexuals in Uganda face. I am ever so grateful that I live in a country where we can agree to disagree without either of our lives at stake. But that’s only b/c brave women and men went ahead of me a number of decades ago to fight for their right to be heard and seen. I hope that other christians will come forward like yourself to dialogue in a thoughtful manner. I respect what you had to say today.

    • John

      Thank-you, Brother John, for these kind words. I was touched, as I’m sure you were, by the testimony of pain, fear, and ostracism Brother Roger bore to us today in his comments and in his film. Indeed, the film makes more sense to me now as a kind of testament to his own experiences in his family’s big American church at least as much as it speaks of Uganda.

      I appreciated also the range of responses in the audience’s questions. Some clearly were not interested in engaging one or the other of us, but merely wanted to promote their own views. But most seemed more or less respectfully concerned for the issues the film raises, and that is how it ought to be, of course.

      Again, thanks for taking the time to write. This wasn’t much fun (!), but it seemed important to do, and your kind of response certainly confirms that decision.

    • DJ

      I suspect that as a woman in fundamentalist christian circles I tasted some of the pain that homosexuals have felt, and like you, I am forever grateful to the heroic women and men before me who won freedom for me and my sisters. What’s happening in Uganda is evil, as is the oppression and torture of women in so many countries. The church has allowed and committed such disgraces that although I have found God in Christ to be trustworthy, I, too, often find it hard to call myself a Christian.

  4. DJ

    Dr. John, I am relieved and joyful that the session on “God Loves Uganda” went well enough. Sadly, many reps of religion seem more concerned with the “speaking the truth” part of godliness than with the “in love” part. It sounds like you were able to offer compassion and I’m so grateful!

  5. Dan

    I thought it might be of interest that a book coming out next month includes a chapter on sex education in Malawi, in which the author, to quote from the introduction, “finds unexpectedly that … church sexuality education was far more open and sex-positive than secular alternatives, which tried to motivate people to safer behaviours through fear of disease. Church education focused on the joys of living, and recognized the power of sexual desire and how difficult it is to abstain from sex – although they still called for ‘brave Christians’ to take this ‘arduous path’ until marriage.”

    Not the same country, I know, but still a similar context to Uganda.



    PS: I have to declare an interest, in that I work for the publisher of the book, so I have omitted any details in case it appears I am trying to use your site to advertise.


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