Anti-Homosexuality Bill Divides Ugandan and American Christians
The proposed anti-homosexuality legislation in Uganda has created tension between American Christians who have condemned the legislation and Ugandan Christians who don't want to see homosexuality become an acceptable practice.
Several American pastors and leaders have condemned legislation in Uganda that, if passed in its proposed version, would punish homosexual acts between adults—including touching "with the intent of committing the act of homosexuality"—with life imprisonment. The punishment for "serial offenders," homosexual sex with minors or the disabled, or homosexual sex while being HIV-positive, is death.
Rt. Rev. Dr. David Zac Niringiye, assistant bishop of Kampala in the Church of Uganda, says that American Christians should not make such public pronouncements on the bill.
"The international community is behaving like they can't trust Ugandans to come up with a law that is fair. No! No! That is not fair!" he told Christianity Today. "When the Western governments or Western churches or Christians speak loudly about the legitimacy or illegitimacy of this bill, you actually begin to fuel the idea that homosexuality is the product of Western culture."
Without giving his position on the bill, Niringiye said that it attempts to make the law consistent, since raping a minor is punishable by death. Sexual assault is currently defined in the law as between a male and female, he said. Homosexuality and adultery are already considered crimes.
The reaction from Christians in America creates tension for Ugandan Christians, says the Rev. Dr. Christopher Byaruhanga, professor of historical theology at Bishop Tucker School of Divinity and Theology at Uganda Christian University.
"You see there's a kind of imperialism and a kind of relativism from the West," said Byaruhanga, who is doing a fellowship for a year at the John Jay Institute in Colorado Springs. "They don't understand our ethics in the country of Uganda and they are trying to impose what they believe."
Katharine Jefferts Schori, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, issued a statement of concern about the bill, urging the United States government to "grant adequate access to the U.S. asylum system for those fleeing persecution on the basis of homosexuality or gender identity."
"If the head of the Episcopal Church says anything on the bill in Uganda, you think anybody would listen to her? She is already in consecration with someone who is openly homosexual," Byaruhanga said. "Anything that comes from this end has no credibility because of what is going on in the Episcopal Church and what is going on in the American society as far as homosexuality is concerned."
Bloomberg reported last week that the death penalty and life imprisonment will be dropped from the bill. The Church of Uganda has not taken an official position on the bill, and Niringiye said the church expects to give a statement to parliament by January 20.
Saddleback Church pastor Rick Warren condemned the proposed legislation in an "encyclical video" on December 10, where he said, "I oppose the criminalization of homosexuality."
"As an American pastor, it is not my role to interfere with the politics of other nations, but it is my role to speak out on moral issues," Warren said. "It is my role to shepherd other pastors who look to me for guidance, and it is my role to correct lies, errors and false reports when others associate my name with a law that I had nothing to do with, completely oppose, and vigorously condemn." (A spokeswoman for Warren said he is declining to do any interviews on the topic.)