A gay Academy Award-winning documentary filmmaker from a religious family heads to Uganda to investigate how Evangelical churches are feeding the deadly anti-gay environment in that country. What could possibly go wrong?
In this interview, Roger Ross Williams describes his motivation for the project, titled “God Loves Uganda,” what he experienced while making it, and some of the surprising hope-giving moments that were part of his time in Uganda.
The film will be broadcast later this year on PBS’ “Independent Lens” series. Hundreds of church screenings are planned nationwide: learn more at www.godlovesuganda.com
RUSH TRANSCRIPT: Roger Ross Williams[REV. DR. C. WELTON GADDY, HOST]:
US taxpayers unwittingly propping up a deadly anti-gay atmosphere in Uganda. American Evangelical leaders blamed for helping incite an environment that spawned the Bahati “kill the gays” bill. Now, anti-gay conservative religious leader Scott Lively is charged in court with fomenting this inhumane environment.
Beyond those kind of headlines, Roger Ross Williams’ new documentary film, “God Loves Uganda,” presents some of the less famous, but equally significant parts of this tragic and still – unfortunately still-evolving story. And I’m very pleased to have Mr. Williams join us now on State of Belief Radio. Welcome, Mr. Williams![ROGER ROSS WILLIAMS, GUEST]: Thank you. Great to be here. [WG]: Please talk about the documentary project. What was the story you set out to tell, and why this story? [RW]: Well, I really set out to tell the story behind the headlines, and what was inspiring lawmakers like Bahati in Uganda to try to pass this “kill the gays” bill. And as I began to dig deeper, I learned that Uganda is the number one destination for American missionaries, and I learned that there were certain churches – though certainly not all missionaries, a lot of missionaries are doing great work in Uganda – but there were certain missionaries preaching intolerance, and what struck me was that on the ground, there were missionaries that believed that gays were possessed by demons, believed all these things – and they were really going door-to-door and pushing this sort of intolerance. And besides the Scott Livelys, who were doing it at a higher level, there’s an army of people preaching this kind of intolerance. [WG]: Roger, we all know what we’ve read in the papers, what we’ve heard through various media, and that’s bad enough, in itself. Did you discover, along the way, some things that you didn’t know were going on, or expect to be going on, that shocked you about this story? [RW]: Yeah, some of the stuff I discovered – you know, some of the stuff I discovered I didn’t even put in the documentary, because it was very damning; but there are some religious leaders in Uganda – there’s the obvious outspoken ones like Martin Ssempa and Julius Oyet, but I also discovered that they were planning, in a meeting, like, taking the law into their own hands, so to speak: that they were saying the government wasn’t moving fast enough, and they would have to go out and go door-to-door and round up gays themselves. And that was pretty shocking. And that was filmed by Rev. Kapya Kaoma, who was undercover in some of those meetings. [WG]: Good grief. Who is benefitting from the ongoing anti-gay campaigns there? I mean, why does it keep on… Somebody’s getting something out of it. [RW]: Well, Martin Ssempa has a television show on Ugandan television, and on his television show – in the film, we have a clip from his television show – his guest was David Bahati. And he asked Bahati exactly that. Bahati said that donations from America tripled once they introduced the “kill-the-gays” bill. So there are a lot of American organizations who are behind this, and are tripling their donations to churches in Uganda that support the bill! And Ssempa and Bahati said that on television in Uganda. [WG]: My gosh. I wish I didn’t know that. [RW]: I know, it’s very sad. [WG]: So when you draw the dotted line, who in the United States bears responsibility for this? [RW]: Well, the main responsibility has to lie at Scott Lively. Because Scott Lively is ground zero in this, in that, you know, the famous conference that he had in Kampala, teaching them about the threat of homosexuality – but Scott Lively did more than that. You know, he addressed the parliament for five hours; he also went on Ssempa’s television show, and he said, “It is important that you guys create legislation to stop gays who are trying to come in here and take over your country, and take over the world, and destroy society as we know it.” And those were his words. So they took him very seriously, even though he’s an extremist in America, and not taken seriously, and doesn’t even have a church in America, he was taken very seriously there because he represents America, he represents hope and wealth and everything that America represents, and they don’t differentiate between one Evangelical from another. So he gets the same attention that someone who is coming there to do good would get. [WG]: Are there high-profile faces of people in the United States that have been helping him shove this agenda in Uganda? [RW]: He has gotten support from a number of very fringe organizations. I think that a lot of the high-profile American religious leaders like Rick Warren have distanced themselves, and have come out with statements agains the bill. But it’s almost like an underground flow of money, and you can’t really track that, because churches don’t have to say where their money’s going. So there’s money flowing – we know that Ssempa, we know that Oyet is connected, he’s one of the writers of the bill, he’s connected to College of Prayer in Atlanta, they have fundraised with him – he’s one of the most vocal – I mean, he said, on tape – he held the Bible up and he said, “This Bible says that gays must be killed.” I don’t know where it says that in the Bible, but that’s what he said. [WG]: OK, I’ve got to change just a little bit and ask, are there heroes in this story? [RW]: There are heroes in this story. There are people like Bishop Christopher Senyonjo, who are standing up to this level of intolerance and preaching a message of inclusiveness, and that God’s kingdom is open to everyone. He’s one of the few voices – I think you’ve had him on your show – he’s alone out there in his battle, really, there’s very few voices – but he’s standing up, and he has a church that invites everyone to come on Sunday, and he’s fighting against all of this. [WG]: Yeah. Well, I guess it’s inevitable that in a situation like this, there are so many misunderstandings about what really is going on, and what the situation in Uganda really is like. Can you sort out any of that for us? I mean, what are the major myths that you hear that you could help us explode? [RW]: The myth is that homosexuality did not exist in Africa; that it was brought in and promoted by organizations like the United Nations and UNICEF. Both Bishop Christopher Senyonjo and Kapya Kaoma who did the study on Uganda – you know, the king in Uganda hundreds of years ago was openly-gay! There is a long history that there were people who are homosexual and who are African. So it’s not something being introduced by the West; it’s something that’s been there, it’s part of life. And that’s a myth that’s been heavily pushed by the anti-gay movement in Uganda. [WG]: Well, let me ask you this, and I’m going back, now, to pick up on something you’ve already said, but is it close to the truth to say that the real concern about this movement in Uganda is not a moral concern, but a financial concern? [RW]: Yes. There are, as you see in my film, there are pastors who are profiting greatly from this, who are living in mansions, who are flying in private jets, and who are – because they’re taking the money directly from America, in order to create this sort of “nirvana,” so to speak – the culture wars that are being fought in America are being lost, and a lot of American Evangelicals in my film, even Lou Engle, he’s like, “We’ve lost the culture war here, but we’re winning in Africa! And we’re gonna support that.” So a lot of money is flowing. And this is about money; this is also about a distraction from the real issues going on with corruption, it’s about the government distracting people and creating a bogey man, creating a common enemy. [WG]: If this thing gets solved, as we hope and pray and work to see it happen, where do you see solutions coming from? [RW]: I see solutions coming from everyone who goes to church and who puts money in the collection plate, and who gives to help to do good things in Africa, to help feed the hungry, to help house the orphans – that they question where that money goes. They question their pastor, they question their church, and they say, “We want to make sure this money is going to good, not bad, not evil.” If Americans all questioned that that money is not going to fund the Martin Ssempas or the Julius Oyets or the real hate-mongering pastors, then if their money is cut off, then that’s it – they’re cut off. [WG]: Yeah. I think I know the answer to the question of why you made “God Loves Uganda,” but I have another question related to that: what did making this film, “God Loves Uganda,” do to you? [RW]: Well, you know, I grew up in the Baptist Church. My father is a religious leader in the Church, my sister is a pastor, it’s the family business! And I’ve always been fascinated by the power of faith and religion for both good and evil. But what I wanted to do is, I wanted to understand – as a gay man, I wanted to understand – what drove people to hate me so much that they wanted to kill me? And I went right into the fire, and what I did was, actually… The walls that separated me from the people who were actually preaching hate against me sort of broke down. As we got to know each other, we got to understand each other more. And I actually got to understand them, and I became friends with a lot of the people in my film – even the really evil, anti-gay pastors in Uganda. You know, I would sit down and have meals with them, and I couldn’t, really, in the beginning tell them that I’m gay. And I would say to them – they’re like, “You’re our friend, Roger,” – and I would say, you know, “Have you ever met a gay person?” They were like, “No! We wouldn’t know what we would do if we meet a gay person.” They later found out, and they welcomed me into their homes, still! So we sort of came closer together, and it sort of gave me a little glimpse that there’s hope that it doesn’t have to be this sort of us-versus-them fight against each other; that we can come together and live together in peace. [WG]: Yeah, it’s a lot easier to hate someone that looks vague to you; but if it’s a person sitting in front of you, it’s pretty different… [RW]: Yeah. [WG]: Should I have known right away that you were Baptist when I saw your name, Roger Williams? [RW]: No… [WG]: OK, I just wondered if that had anything to do with it… Look, I do want you to do one other thing: please talk to our listeners about where and when they can see your film. [RW]: Yes. The film will air on PBS, on Public Television, on Independent Lens; and if you go to PBS.org, or GodLovesUganda.com, go to our website, there will be information on when… We don’t have the airdate yet, because it’ll probably be later this year, but if you go to GodLovesUganda.com, there will be information on where you can see it. And also, we’re going to be doing community screenings at churches all across America. We have hundreds of churches across the country who want to bring this film, and have a discussion about this film. So we’ve got tons of community screenings set up that are going to be happening. So if you go to out website you can find out which church in your area is going to be screening that. And we’re also going to be screening at theology schools across the country. [WG]: Roger Ross Williams is the director of the new documentary, “God Loves Uganda.” Please keep your eyes open for your chance to see it. If you lose the contact with him that he just gave you, that information, come to the State of Belief website and we’ll help you find him and find information on the film.
Mr. Williams, thank you so much for being with us on State of Belief Radio, and I also thank you so much for doing the good work that you’re doing.[RW]: Thank you. Thank you.
State of Belief is based on the proposition that religion has a positive and healing role to play in the life of the nation. The show explains and explores that role by illustrating the vast diversity of beliefs in America – the most religiously diverse country in the world – while exposing and critiquing both the political manipulation of religion for partisan purposes and the religious manipulation of government for sectarian purposes.
Each week, the Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy offers listeners critical analysis of the news of religion and politics, and seeks to provide listeners with an understanding and appreciation of religious liberty. Rev. Gaddy tackles politics with the firm belief that the best way to secure freedom for religion in America is to secure freedom from religion. State of Belief illustrates how the Religious Right is wrong – wrong for America and bad for religion.
Through interviews with celebrities and newsmakers and field reports from around the country, State of Belief explores the intersection of religion with politics, culture, media, and activism, and promotes diverse religious voices in a religiously pluralistic world.
Author of more than 20 books, including First Freedom First: A Citizen’s Guide to Protecting Religious Liberty and the Separation of Church and State, the Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy leads the national non-partisan grassroots and educational organization Interfaith Alliance and serves as Pastor for Preaching and Worship at Northminster (Baptist) Church in Monroe, Louisiana.
In addition to being a prolific writer, Dr. Gaddy hosts the weekly State of Belief radio program, where he explores the role of religion in the life of the nation by illustrating the vast diversity of beliefs in America, while exposing and critiquing both the political manipulation of religion for partisan purposes and the religious manipulation of government for sectarian purposes.
Dr. Gaddy provides regular commentary to the national media on issues relating to religion and politics. He has appeared on MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show and Hardball, NBC’s Nightly News and Dateline, PBS’s Religion and Ethics Newsweekly and The Newshour with Jim Lehrer, C-SPAN’s Washington Journal, ABC’s World News, and CNN’s American Morning. Former host of Morally Speaking on NBC affiliate KTVE in Monroe, Louisiana, Dr. Gaddy is a regular contributor to mainstream and religious news outlets.
While ministering to churches with a message of inclusion, Dr. Gaddy emerged as a leader among progressive and moderate Baptists. Among his many leadership roles, he is a past president of the Alliance of Baptists and has been a 20-year member of the Commission of Christian Ethics of the Baptist World Alliance. His past leadership roles include serving as a member of the General Council of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, President of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, Chair of the Pastoral Leadership Commission of the Baptist World Alliance and member of the World Economic Forum’s Council of 100. Rev. Gaddy currently serves on the White House task force on the reform of the Office of Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.
Prior to the fundamentalist takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), Dr. Gaddy served in many SBC leadership roles including as a member of the convention’s Executive Committee from 1980-84 and Director of Christian Citizenship Development of the Christian Life Commission from 1973-77.
Dr. Gaddy received his undergraduate degree from Union University in Jackson, Tennessee and his doctoral degree and divinity training from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.