Interview with Missionaries of Hate correspondent, Mariana Van Zeller

Tonight at 10pm eastern time, Current TV’s Vanguard series premieres the documentary, Missionaries of Hate: The American Architects of Uganda’s Anti-Gay Bill. If you are interested in the relationship between evangelicals in America and Uganda, you need to see this documentary. Journalist Mariana van Zeller interviewed Martin Ssempa, David Bahati, Scott Lively and many other figures related to the Anti-Homosexuality Bill.

Earlier today, Mariana took time to answer some questions I asked regarding her reporting from Uganda.

Throckmorton: What did you want to find out in Uganda?

Mariana van Zeller: What piqued our interest initially was the question of whether some American evangelicals had an influence on this anti-gay bill. What were American evangelicals doing in Uganda giving a seminar about how Africans can protect themselves from homosexuality? Of all the great work Christian groups are doing in Africa, this just seemed so out of left field.

We definitely explore the American influence in the piece, but by the time we arrived in Uganda the fallout from the seminar was well underway and I think what we wanted to accomplish was to take viewers inside this story and capture the mood of the country. While we were on the ground, the campaign to push through the legislation was really heating up and immediately we began following the bill’s biggest cheerleader, Pastor Martin Ssempa. He’s a very charismatic guy — a real performer — and has a strong following among young people. At the same time, we wanted to show what it was like to be gay in Uganda, particularly in this very charged, anti-gay climate.

WT: What was the biggest surprise to you in your reporting?

MvZ: I was surprised that given the climate in Uganda, gay men and women were willing to speak with us at all. And I was surprised just how far Ssempa would go to try and prove his point. I never thought the first time I’d see hardcore gay porn would be in church.

WT: What did you want to get in the documentary that just didn’t make it due to space or some other reason?

MvZ: There was interview with a retired Anglican Bishop who’s been maligned for the work he does ministering to gays in Uganda. His church has essentially ostracized him and ahead of one of these anti-gay rallies, people hung posters for the event outside of his office. It’s silly, but when you see people taunting an old man you can’t help but feel bad. And it shows that the campaign wasn’t just against people who were homosexual, but those who were accepting of them or at least openly dealing with them.

Also, we did a lot of reporting on the potential cost to public health if a bill like this were to go through. Many health professionals were concerned about what can happen in a country with HIV rates like Uganda if you make it an offense for a doctor to speak candidly with his or her patient about sex.

WT: Did Martin Ssempa or other Ugandan supporters of the bill discuss the fact that so many evangelicals in the US and around the world have denounced the bill? If so, how did they account for so little evangelical support outside of Uganda?

MvZ: Yes. Ssempa thinks American Evangelicals are “wimpy”. In the piece, he specifically calls out Rick Warren. In his mind, Rick Warren is inconsistent in his stance on homosexuality. What I found interesting is that in the face of all these American evangelicals denouncing the bill, Ssempa decided to step us his campaign, at least for a while. But I will say that despite all these denunciations, this bill and campaign still has an American face on it in Uganda, at least to the country’s gay and human rights community. They all point to that March conference as a turning point, a spark. What they’d like to see is one of these big American pastors go there in person and denounce this bill.

Currently the bill is stuck in a Parliamentary committee. However, it could resurface at a later time or in pieces in other legislation. One question I should have asked Mariana is if she has heard from Martin Ssempa recently. He seems to have gone silent. I wonder why?

Watch Mariana’s reporting tonight at 10pm on Current TV.

Here is another personal account of Mariana’s experience in Uganda:

For all my posts on Uganda, click here.

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  • Lynn David

    Bishop Christopher Senyonjo, who is the “retired Anglican Bishop who’s been maligned for the work he does ministering to gays in Uganda,” has been featured in some recent posts by Jim Burroway on Box Turtle Bulletin.