No good reason for silence

Andrew Brown of the Guardian rejects the arguments of church officials, American and English, who think they should keep silent about the anti-gay legislation currently before the Ugandan parliament:

We can’t know whether the protests of Anglican leaders outside Uganda will make the bill more or less likely to pass. There is a history in recent years of nationalist thugs in the region using western support for gay rights to increase their own popularity as homophobes. This has happened in a church context both in Malawi and Zimbabwe, and it might very well happen again in Uganda. So it is possible to argue quite reasonably in favour of doing nothing, or quiet diplomacy as it is known in the trade.

But I don’t think these arguments are in the end convincing, and for three reasons. The first is that the situation could hardly be worse. If nothing is done, the bill will very probably pass. So the worst that any intervention could accomplish is to fail to prevent what we are trying to stop, rather than bringing it about. The second is that the Anglican church of Uganda is not really part of the same communion any longer as the Church of England. It was one of the driving forces behind the Gafcon meeting last summer. The third, and the most important one, is that the Church of England needs to retain some connection with the generally accepted morality of the nation around it. These days, killing gay people for having sex is no longer regarded as a moral act. It may be that the Ugandan church will excuse itself by saying that it cannot flout Ugandan public opinion. But why should the Church of England be allowed to flout English concepts of decency by acquiescing with its silence in this crime?

Among the debateable assumptions informing the silence on both sides of the Atlantic is that those who won’t speak have a deep knowledge of Ugandan politics and a precise understanding of how any statement from them would play out. If you accept this version of events, you may believe that the relevant church leaders are bravely standing up to activists in their churches who would force them into rash behavior. If you do not accept it, you may believe that what these leaders are doing is eroding their credibility with their supporters and undermining their moral authority to speak out on other issues.

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