Culture war: Film links U.S. Evangelicals to intolerance against gays in Uganda

Rick Klein, Olivier Knox, Richard Coolidge, and Jordyn Phelps
Power Players

Top Line

Are American Evangelicals to blame for a surge of anti-gay sentiment and violence in Uganda?

Roger Ross Williams, the director of the new documentary “God Loves Uganda,” told “Top Line” that American Evangelical missionaries are contributing to a raging culture war over homosexuality in Uganda, where just a few years ago a law was proposed that prescribes the death penalty for certain homosexual acts.

“All the Evangelicals I followed told me they feel like they've lost the culture war here in America as marriage equality has passed state by state, the recent Supreme Court rulings, but they are winning in the global South and especially in Africa and Uganda,” Williams said.

Williams’ documentary looks specifically at the prominent ministry in Uganda by the American Evangelical group known as the International House of Prayer (IHOP).

“They don't do any humanitarian work,” Williams said. “They don't build schools or hospitals or help people. … It's a numbers game, convert souls, and that's it.”

Ministries like the International House of Prayer, Williams’ said, are preying on a vulnerable population.

“Uganda is a very vulnerable population to the sort of prosperity gospel and that message,” he said. “They're poor, they're sick, and you come in and you say we're going to cure you, we're going to heal you. It works.”

And their Evangelical message, which teaches that homosexuality is a sin, is inadvertently contributing to religiously-fueled, and sometimes violent, intolerance against the LGBTI community in Uganda.

“For a lot of these young people, it is a time to have an adventure, but for the poor African listening to this, they think that’s how it should be,” said one Ugandan minister, who believes American Evangelical ministry is having negative effects on his country, in the film.

When contacted about this story, the International House of Prayer responded with an official statement of their belief about the sanctity of marriage and said the documentary provides misinformation about their ministry.

"The IHOPKC leadership team upholds the New Testament view of the sanctity of sex in the context of marriage between one man and one woman,” the statement said. “However, we strongly oppose victimization or violence against any sector of society that disagrees with the biblical view. We honor the dignity and rights of all who differ from us."

Recently back from a tour to promote his film in Africa, Williams said his film has sparked a conversation that he hopes will lead to increased tolerance and acceptance for the LGBTI community in Africa.

“It was amazing, because the people from the LGBTI community came out in public for the first time and addressed the faith leaders and said, ‘You've made our lives miserable,’” Williams said of a screening of the film in Malawi. “And some of the faith leaders, they stood up and they said, ‘You know what, we take back what we've said about you. We've never met a gay person, we thought they were monsters.’”

And while Williams said he doubts he’ll be “welcome back at the International House of Prayer,” of which his film is critical, he hopes his film will cause American Evangelicals to reconsider how they minister abroad.

For more of the interview with Williams, including how he says U.S. aid to Africa has also been affected by Evangelical zeal, check out this episode of “Top Line.”

ABC News’ Alexandra Dukakis, Gary Westphalen, Melissa Young and David Girard contributed to this episode.