Ugandan Bishop Pleads With American Christians on Anti-Homosexuality Bill
Several American pastors and leaders have condemned proposed legislation in Uganda that, if it passed in its proposed version, would punish homosexual sex with the death penalty or life imprisonment.
Rt. Rev. Dr. David Zac Niringiye, assistant bishop of Kampala in the Church of Uganda, says that public pronouncements on the legislation from Christians outside of Uganda fuel the debate. "Ambassadors or religious leaders serve us best by not going public, by simply relating to their individual relationships," Niringiye says. "If they have none, they have no legitimacy to speak. They should just be silent." The Church of Uganda has yet to make a statement on the bill and expects to give its official position by January 20. Christianity Today spoke on the phone with Niringiye about the cultural context of the bill and how he thinks American Christians should respond.
How are Ugandan Christians generally responding to this legislation?
This is not just a Christian response. I can certainly say the objectives of the bill have the total support of most of Uganda, not just Christians, but also Muslims and Roman Catholics. It would not be right to talk about how Christians feel. They're all agreed on the objectives. There will be a difference of opinion on the details of the bill.
The second thing I need to say is that it is important to understand that the section on the death penalty seeks consistency in the law. The law on rape in this country (and I am not stating a position, I'm stating a fact) has a maximum sentence of death, particularly if it is rape of a minor. Therefore, there is the idea that the law that is proposed needs to be [consistent] with other laws on the books.
The second thing to say about the contents of the bill is the argument that in the current law, the definition of sex is a male-and-female relationship. The reason why they are including homosexual rape as sexual assault is because in the current law, sexual assault is defined as male and female, either male assaulting female or female assaulting male. That background of the law is very important to understand.
This law needs to be in put in context of the wider constitutional and legal framework that already exists in the laws of Uganda. The background of the law is that there is increasing reporting of homosexual practice. There is definitely a sense that the international homosexual lobby is pushing for homosexual practice to be accepted as normal. Therefore, use the idea of human rights for the protection of minorities. They say that these minorities have a right to this moral choice. It's important to realize that within the culture, homosexuality is not acceptable.
Do you know how Christians are responding to the penalties in this bill?
The point I'm making is that Christians in the country, including other people in the culture, really support the objectives of the bill. When it comes to the issue of the death penalty, there is as much debate over the death penalty as there are different Christian persuasions. The discussion on the death penalty [in this bill] needs to be separated from, Is the death penalty [ever] an acceptable sentence? I am sure there are American Christians or others in the world who will say the death penalty is an acceptable sentence. There will be Christians in Uganda who will say the death penalty is an acceptable sentence. There will be Christians in Uganda who will say no, the death penalty is not an acceptable sentence for any offense.
The Church in Uganda has never given an official position on the death penalty. My considered reading of Scripture and my considered understanding of today's culture is that the application of the Scripture, the application of the spirit of the Scripture in today's time would seem to disallow death as a legitimate penalty for any offense. We will not deny that the Scriptures seem to allow the death penalty. In the culture in which the Scriptures were written it seems that there was an allowance. I would say that in applying the same Scripture today, it seems that the culture is so different from then that we would say [we need] the application of the principle of grace. My view is that the death penalty is not a legitimate sentence for any offense, including murder and so on. But there is no Christian consensus on the legitimacy of the death penalty.