The Church of Uganda speaks on anti-gay legislation

The latest edition of Religion in the News, edited by the redoubtable Mark Silk, is now available online. Cafe visitors will be especially interested in two articles about the Church of Uganda’s position on the anti-gay legislation that is still alive in the Uganda parliament.

Mark Fackler presents a well-balanced overview of the conflict between the Ugandan Church and Western Anglicans. An excerpt:

Responsibility for this continent-wide hard line is sometimes attributed to the missionaries who followed British governors into East and Central Africa. But if Victorian condemnations of homosexual practice were so powerful, why were similar condemnations of polygamy so much less effectual? Missionary influence is not a sufficient explanation.

Possessing a deep communitarian impulse and a faith that God actually communicates his will to people and cares about what the church does, Ugandans of nearly all religious persuasions draw the line at sexual practices that human anatomy and village survival seem so clearly to witness against.

Cultural values go deep. Every June 3, a million Ugandans gather at the Basilica of the Martyrs in Namugongo to remember the 26 Catholic and Anglican men who were burned to death in 1886 by King Mwanga II. Among other offenses, the martyrs refused to engage in homosexual practices that had become fashionable and even obligatory at his court.

The missionary movement that established Uganda’s schools and churches did not advocate normalizing homosexuality, and hardly an African theologian does so now. The liberal theologians in the West who have interpreted away the famous seven passages in the Bible condemning homosexual acts have had not a shred of persuasive impact on the African church.

Jesse Masai interviews two leaders of the Anglican Church of Uganda, eliciting a defense of its anti-gay views and an attempt to downplay the effect that a rewritten bill might have.

“The church’s position on human sexuality is consistent with its basis of faith and doctrine and has been stated very clearly over the years as reflected in various documents,” she said. “From a careful and critical reading of Scripture, homosexual practice has no place in God’s design of creation, the continuation of the human race through procreation, or his plan of redemption.

“The Church of Uganda believes that homosexual practice is incompatible with Scripture. At the same time, we are committed at all levels to counseling, healing, and prayer for people with homosexual orientation. The church is a safe place for individuals who are confused about their sexuality or struggling with sexual brokenness, to seek help and healing.”

On the bill itself, she continued, the COU prefers that current law (Penal Code Cap. 120) be amended, clarifying gaps, protecting all parties from uneven enforcement and from the anti-homosexuality bill’s encroachment into family life and church counsel. Currently, the bill outlaws failure to inform authorities of homosexual activity, much as standard criminal law forbids failure to testify concerning wrongful acts observed. Ugandan law protects underage girls from sexual predators, Onapito explained, but not underage boys.

The COU wants the law to protect, not criminalize, confidential relationships of medical, pastoral, and counseling professionals and their clients, she said. An amended Penal Code must, in fairness and for the protection of youth, specify lesbianism, bestiality, and “other sexual perversions” as targeted behaviors. The free marketplace of ideas must have legal boundaries prohibiting material that “promotes homosexuality as normal or as [merely] an alternative lifestyle.”

Onapito added that while the church’s position may be contrary to Western notions of fair treatment for gays, it hardly poses the desperate risk to life and freedom that gay rights advocates fear. There should be no doubt, however, that the COU wants to ensure that “sexual orientation is excluded as a protected human right.”

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