Less than a day after Uganda criminalized homosexuality, a newspaper has already published the names and photos of 200 “top homosexuals” and President Yoweri Museveni repeatedly called gay people “disgusting” in an interview with CNN. This deteriorating situation has captured the attention of Christians speaking out against LGBT discrimination worldwide through the lens of Uganda.
America released this week’s editorial early under the title “When the Law is a Crime,” specifically addressing Uganda’s anti-gay law. Referencing Pope Francis’ famous statement “Who am I to judge?” in light of the violence and discrimination that inevitably results when such laws emerge, the editors write:
“It is especially disturbing that such legislation is immensely popular in predominately Christian countries like Uganda, where 40 percent of the population is Roman Catholic and the Catholic bishops have sent mixed signals about the legislation. When the bill was first considered in 2009, Archbishop Cyprian Lwanga of Kampala, speaking on behalf of the Catholic bishops’ conference, said it was ‘at odds with the core values’ of Christianity. When the bill was reintroduced in 2012, however, the Uganda Joint Christian Council, which includes Catholic, Anglican and Orthodox bishops, expressed support for the bill…
“The church’s vigorous support for traditional marriage, moreover, must be accompanied by advocacy for the human rights of gays and lesbians in equal measure. This is required by the church’s own teaching. Indeed, a growing number of Catholic leaders have offered unqualified support for the decriminalization of homosexuality…
“We add our voice to this swelling chorus. Pope Francis has described gay people as ‘socially wounded’ because ‘they feel like the church has always condemned them.’ Catholics must examine how we contribute, perhaps even inadvertently, to a culture of fear and shame…The church must oppose violence against gay persons and should strongly advocate for the decriminalization of homosexuality. No one should be subject to a criminal penalty simply for being gay. If laws like these do not constitute the ‘unjust discrimination’ against gay people that the church rightly denounces, then what possibly could?”
Jesuit priest James Martin added his own commentary on Facebook, accompanying a graphic from AllOut. He spent time working in East Africa, visiting Uganda, and speaks highly of the people there. Still, he remains clear that these laws are intolerable:
“These new laws are part of a general pattern of oppression in Africa today, where in 38 countries homosexual activity is a criminal offense…The Catholic church in Africa has so far done little so far to protect their gay and lesbian brothers and sisters from violence…
“Archbishop Desmond Tutu has rightly compared these laws and these attitudes to early anti-Jewish laws in Nazi Germany. They can also be compared to the kind of dehumanizing rhetoric that precedes and accompanies war and genocide. (During the Second World War, the Japanese were called ‘vermin’ by many Americans, and in the Rwandan genocide, Hutus were ‘cockroaches’ by many Tutsi.)
“Every Catholic, every Christian, every person, should oppose these laws. Every Catholic, every Christian, every person is called to love their brothers and sisters–straight or gay. Period.”
Expanding on this idea, Rev. Paul Raushenbush, a Baptist minister who is a senior religion editor at The Huffington Post, claims that precisely because Christians have contributed to LGBT oppression, either through action or indifference, we must be part of the liberation now. This extends beyond Uganda’s borders, and he notes the common thread from Uganda to Kansas to Russia is “Christian complicity.” He writes:
“Those of us who are Christian have to add to and embolden these voices with our own. Christians should make sure that their churches, friends and denominational leaders have a chance to meet and talk to LGBT people and understand how being targeted by these laws makes us feel. Christians should take to their own Facebook pages and other social media and stand with LGBT people.
“Religious leaders on every level must directly speak out against the complicity of Catholics, Orthodox and Protestant Christians in the targeting of God’s LGBT children. Pope Francis, I’m talking to you. It is time for you to use your prophetic voice and speak out against use of violence and for the full equality of LGBT people. All of those on Twitter should reach out to @Pontifex using #PopeSpeakOut
“Recent events around the world show us that sitting on the sidelines is no longer permissible — especially for Christians. We cannot let others speak for Jesus. Our faith is being used to do serious harm to LGBT people. Showing love for our neighbor today, as commanded by Jesus, means stepping up and standing in solidarity with our LGBT sisters and brothers around the world.”
In a statement reported on the GLAAD blog, DignityUSA’s executive director Marianne Duddy-Burke said:
“Our hearts and souls are joined with the people of Uganda, especially those whose lives and liberty are threatened by this horrific injustice. We pray that the majority of people, law enforcers, and those in government will continue to live in the recognition that all people embody the Divine, and pledge renewed vigor in working to overturn such discrimination. We call on the people and officials of the Catholic Church worldwide to recognize that such laws perpetrate violence on the entire body of Christ, and to lead efforts to repeal this and similar laws.”
Even National Catholic Reporter‘s Michael Sean Winters, who is sometimes critical of LGBT political issues, is strongly condemning Uganda’s law:
“It is a measure of a humane and Christian civilization that small minority groups have their human dignity protected. There is no straight line from Uganda to the death camps [of the Holocaust]. There is no line at all, just as the situation in Arizona is not like that in Uganda. But, what unites them is this: The Christian Church must learn how to promote family life without attacking the human dignity of gay men and women. That is foundational. It is a sin to do otherwise. The gravity of that sin differs from culture to culture. I do not expect Africa to embrace Upper West Side values tomorrow or anytime. But, the Church must proclaim the dignity of each and every human person in all places and at all times if we are to be true to our most basic dogmatic beliefs.”
If you’re looking to raise your own voice, please participate in #PopeSpeakOut. Send an email or a tweet to Pope Francis and encourage him to condemn Uganda’s anti-gay law and all efforts to criminalize homosexuality worldwide. You can find more information by clicking here.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry