| Uganda's anti-gay law riles U.S. 12/10/2009 |
By David Waters
As Episcopalians in America were electing their second gay bishop, their Anglican cousins in Uganda were embroiled in controversial legislation that would would put those bishops in prison for life, or condemn them to death.
The legislation being considered by the Parliament of Uganda, which
outlaws "any form of sexual relations between persons of the same sex,"
punishable by life in prison or death, threatens to further divide
Episcopalians, some of whom have left the U.S. church and aligned with the Anglican Church of Uganda and other anti-homosexual African communions.
It's also putting other U.S. religious leaders, from Jim Wallis to
Rick Warren, in the unusual position of commenting on political matters
in other nations.
U.S. Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori issued a statement of concern
about the Ugandan legislation: "The Episcopal Church joins many other
Christians and people of faith in urging the safeguarding of human
rights everywhere. We do so in the understanding that 'efforts to
criminalize homosexual behavior are incompatible with the Gospel of
Jesus Christ,'" Schori wrote.
The Anglican Church of Uganda has not taken an official position on
the legislation, although church officials have said they could not
support the death penalty. But Anglican Bishop Joseph Abura of Uganda condemned opposition to the bill.
"Christianity in Africa is under attack by Gays and Christians in
Europe and the Americas," he said. "Africans do not need Europeans to
teach them what the Gospels say ... The vice of homosexuality through
the necessary laws in place can be checked."
Homosexuality already is illegal in Uganda: The Penal Code bans
"carnal knowledge of any person against the order of nature," with a
possible penalty of life imprisonment, but prosecutions are rare
because the standard of proof requires that offenders be caught in the
act. According to Foreign Policy magazine, the proposed legislation
would make it easier to catch and prosecute offenders:
"In addition to outlawing 'any form of sexual relations between
persons of the same sex' with penalties up to life imprisonment, the
proposed bill criminalizes attempted homosexuality, the aiding and
abetting of homosexuality, and promotion of homosexuality -- each
carrying a possible prison sentence of seven years. Failure to disclose
an offense is also punishable by a fine and three years in prison. And
anyone with knowledge of crimes committed is obligated to report them
to the authorities within 24 hours. The legislation also creates a new
category of offense, 'aggravated homosexuality,' which is punishable
with death. The latter crime would include having homosexual sex with a
minor or someone with a disability or having homosexual sex while HIV
positive (the bill makes no distinction about whether offenders must be
knowingly infected to qualify.) "
In addition to Episcopalians, other U.S. religious leaders also are taking sides (or not) on the Ugandan legislation.
Monday, 64 Catholic, mainline Protestant and evangelical leaders (including Jim Wallis abut not Rick Warren) expressed their "profound dismay"
about the bill. "This bill is an affront to human dignity and offensive
to Christians around the world who take seriously Christ's command to
love our neighbors as ourselves," said Thomas P. Melady, a former U.S.
Ambassador to Uganda and the Vatican who signed the statement
coordinated by Catholics in Alliance and Faith in Public Life.
Meanwhile, megachurch pastor Rick Warren, who church has extensive AIDS ministries in Uganda and other African nations, declined to condemn the legislation.
A request for a broader reaction to the proposed Ugandan
anti-homosexual laws generated this response: "The fundamental dignity
of every person, our right to be free, and the freedom to make moral
choices are gifts endowed by God, our creator. However, it is not my
personal calling as a pastor in America to comment or interfere in the
political process of other nations." On Meet the Press this morning, he
reiterated this neutral stance in a different context: "As a pastor, my
job is to encourage, to support. I never take sides."
Should Christian leaders in America "interfere" in the political
decisions of other nations? Or are Christian leaders called to speak
out about moral and biblical issues everywhere, no matter where they
happen to live?
Update: A prominent member of the Ugandan Anglican church, Canon Gideon Byamugisha,
has joined condemnation of the anti-homosexuality bill, saying it will
breed violence and intolerance. "I believe that this bill [if passed
into law] will be state-legislated genocide against a specific
community of Ugandans, however few they may be," he said.