15 December, 2009

UGANDA UPDATE: Anti-homosexuality! and the Church

An article in the London Guardian has reported that the proposed Ugandan Anti-Homosexual law is moving  through the legislature and could easily be in force by the middle of February, 2010.

Besides a life and death issue for LGBT persons  --especially gay males,who seem to be the primary targets of the law-- the whole issue has become a major debate on "human rights" and the question of "interference" with other cultures.

Generally speaking, Westerners stand for non-interference in the cultures of other peoples. In the U.S. today we may argue and debate the issue of immigrants maintaining cultural practices and the language of their homelands, but by and large, the government in the U.S. and the majority of our citizens accept "cultural diversity" in principle if not always in practice.

Of course there are well-known exceptions, in which we feel that certain cultural practices are serious violations of human rights and that they  must be discontinued;  for example Western opposition to forced  female circumcision / mutilation because it is a violation of human rights. In other parts of the world, people may agree that no one should interfere in other cultures. They might also agree that some laws or  behavior in another culture violate human rights. But...

Right now many public officials, citizens of note, and the general public in Uganda believe that homosexuality is evil and that to engage in same-sex behavior is, itself, a violation of human rights. They cry out that opposition to the anti-gay  law shows lack of respect for Ugandan culture and social practices. Proponents of the law also claim that pressure from Western nations and groups is inappropriate interference in Uganda and will lead to greater support for the law within Uganda. The extent to which this is true is unknown, but it seems to cause Western leaders to take pause.

Religion may play a central role in how the vote turns out. Uganda is 85% Christian  (40% are Catholic and 35% are Anglicans). Most of the rest are either Muslim or members of tribal religions.

Worldwide the institutional Catholic church is unalterably opposed to any form of same-sex behavior. However it understands gay orientation as a given and not merely "learned." It also claims to oppose any discriminatory behavior against LGBT individuals. Regarding penalties in the proposed law, the popes and the Vatican have strongly condemned torture and capital punishment.

To my knowledge the Vatican has issued no official statement on the Ugandan law. We will discover "where the Church stands" when we hear from or see what actions the Ugandan bishops take. Their commitment to Catholic social justice (which is clear and strong) might lead them, at least, to influence the legislators to mitigate the harsh penalties. On the other hand, as is true with many, many Africans, the African bishops seem to oppose homosexuality on cultural grounds as much as on religious grounds. Whether or how the Vatican or the Ugandan bishops will enter the conflict and what they will do remains open. If they do intervene, they will have influence. I wonder what you think!!

With thirty-five percent of the Christian population in Uganda, one might expect the Anglican church to play a major role here. Unfortunately, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, has been very quiet. He and the Anglican Communion are nearly a shambles  regarding GLBT issues. The majority of institutional Anglicanism in the UK, U.S., Canada, and Australia, accept gays, welcome them into the church, and usually support same-sex unions as well as gay priests and bishops. In fact, there are two openly gay Episcopal bishops in the U.S. However in the U.S., UK. and large, westernized commonwealth countries, there is a conservative and growing minority who oppose gays in ordained priestly ministry, especially as bishops, same-sex marriages or unions blessed by the Church and there even remains  opposition to women  priests.

The Anglican bishops in Uganda, and much of Africa oppose the same things that the conservative minorities do in places  like the U.S. (This is one reason why many conservative Episcopal groups in the U.S. are seeking union with African dioceses). The Ugandan bishops attempt to justify their position on the basis of protecting traditional culture and a theology fitted to agrarian life. Unless churches in Canada, Australia and the UK can bring pressure on the Anglican bishops in Uganda, there is little hope that they will influence oppositions to the bill. One fear remains, that this "outside" pressure could turn the local bishops toward greater support for the law.

With the exception of a few individuals, one  can expect almost the entire Muslim community to support the law. In fact a number of Muslim and conservative Anglican and Catholic bishops have entertained the idea of cooperating in support of opposition to homosexuality, if not the entire bill.

As reported in another article in the Guardian,.a very significant event took place. Conservative anti-gay Christian leaders from the U.S.met with Bahati, just weeks before he authored the anti-gay bill. The well-known anti-gay leaders at the meeting included: Scott Lively, Don Schmierer, and Caleb Lee Brundige. At this conference, "...they pledged to 'wipe out' homosexuality." This being the case, why is it that these visitors are not considered "interfering outsiders?"

The next two months will be critical. Learn more about what is happening in Uganda and its implications the the world. Figure out how you can influence the outcome. If you have any specific ideas or actions, put them in a comment.  "If you want peace, work for justice."

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