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Uganda's anti-gay death law

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William Crawley | 10:53 UK time, Friday, 4 December 2009

Outrage_UgandaHC_Protest.jpgThe Ugandan government says their new anti-homosexuality bill seeks to strengthen "the nation's capacity to deal with emerging internal and external threats to the traditional heterosexual family." The bill's language ("committing the offence of aggravated homosexuality") reads like a bad joke, but there is nothing funny about a law that sponsors the execution of gay and lesbian people.

Remember: this is not a debate about the rights and wrongs of homosexuality in the eyes of the public. This is a debate about a proposed law that would permit the Ugandan state to execute any gay or lesbian person if they repeatedly engage in same-sex sexual relationships. Homosexuality has always been illegal in Uganda. This new law will increase the penalties for homosexuality to include judicial killing.

Some public commentators in Uganda have spoken out strongly and clearly against this homophobic legislation, describing it as distinctly un-Christian, but others have offered stridently homophobic commentary that sounds like something from a Nazi-era pamphlet. Andrew Brown, writing in The Guardian, describes the new law as a "gay witch hunt" and asks why English Anglican leaders have been so publicly silent.

An online petition urges the Archbishop of Canterbury to call on Ugandan Anglicans to oppose the bill.Ruth Gledhill has been told that Rowan Williams has been making private but intensive efforts to oppose the bill.

The Anglican Church of Uganda's position on the bill has outraged churches in the west. While opposing the death penalty, the Ugandan Anglican leadership says "homosexual behaviour is immoral and should not be promoted, supported or condoned in any way".

Ugandan Anglican Bishop Joseph Abura, from the Karamoja Diocese, has hit back at western Christians who have challenged the bill. His article merits a moral health warning: his words will be regarded as extremely homophobic by many people. He writes:

"Homosexuality and lesbianism is now being exported to the rest of the world, to Africa and Latin America, and elsewhere. They want to coerce African parliaments like the Ugandan one to condone and legitimize the vice. They want it to become a virtue. God forbid. But, should lesbianism and homosexuality be left to thrive and invite God's judgment upon the world? Can't this illness like HIV/AIDS be fought? AIDS/HIV is not against the Bible and the Word of God, but homosexuality does because it is spiritual. Why accept to compromise and destroy self and entire human race? Yes, God punishes sin, He punishes all sin. "The wages of sin is death"" (Romans 6:23), eternal death. The world then has to be punished."

It is important to understand that, although the west has increasingly given legal protection to lesbians and gays in the past thrity years, in many African cultures homosexuality is widely seen in starkly negative terms as a thread to traditional and tribal values. That is why Bishop Abura regards any comment from western churches or governments on this question as a form of cultural aggression. "Christianity in Africa is under attack by Gays and Christians in Europe and the Americas, " he writes. "Africans do not need Europeans to teach them what the Gospels say ... The vice of homosexuality through the necessary laws in place can be checked."

Veteran Catholic journalist John Allen has questioned the silence of Uganda's Catholic bishops in the face of this homophobic onslaught. 40 per cent of Uganda's population of 32 million are Catholic.

The bill was introduced in Uganda's parliament by David Bahati, who describes himself as a "born-again Christian". Some evangelical leaders in Britain and the United States have written to oppose the bill, including leading Christian ex-gay ministries such as Exodus International, and the legislation has been attacked by human rights campaigners, foreign policy experts, and parliamentarians around the world.

The intervention by Exodus International is particularly important, since this is an organisation that offers ministry to encourage gay people to step away from homosexuality. Don Schmierer from Exodus has written to the Ugandan president in opposition to the proposed law. He writes:

"While we do not believe that homosexual behavior is what God intended for individuals, we believe that deprivation of life and liberty is not an appropriate or helpful response to this issue. Furthermore, the Christian church must be a safe, compassionate place for gay-identified people as well as those who are confused about and conflicted by their sexuality. If homosexual behavior and knowledge of such behavior is criminalized and prosecuted, as proposed in this bill, church and ministry leaders will be unable to assist hurting men, women and youth who might otherwise seek help in addressing this personal issue."

Commentators agree that the anti-homosexuality bill is likely to pass into law soon. Some critics have described the bill as a mandate for gay genocide. Read the proposed legislation for yourself and decide for yourself if that seems like an overstatement.


  • Comment number 1.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 2.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 3.

    Ian -- Conservative evangelicals are not being demonised as Nazis. There is a massive difference between a traditional Christian who sincerely believes that homosexuality is sinful and campaigners in Uganda who want to see gay people executed. The law under debate in Uganda sponsors execution; that's what this post is examining, not the wider question of homosexuality and what Christians should believe about homosexuality. I don't know of any conservative evangelical leader in Northern Ireland or in the Western world would would support executing gay people.

  • Comment number 4.

    WC, thank you for clarifying your post.

  • Comment number 5.

    I don't know of any conservative evangelical leader in Northern Ireland or in the Western world would would support executing gay people.

    Haven't some members of the DUP called it an abomination though ? Hasen't there been a feeling that some of them have been less than enthusiastic in condemning homophobic attacks in the province ?

  • Comment number 6.

    Private efforts on the part of so public a figure as Rowan Williams, however intensive, are a wholly inadequate response to this barbarism. To take cover behind a judicious leak displays moral cowardice of the highest order. I am tempted to take a leaf out of my evangelical friends' book and ask is this what Jesus would do?

    The moderators do not allow me to express my opinion as to the origin of Bishop Abura's religion but I cannot conceive that it has anything to do with Christ. Rowan needs to challenge him, publicly rebuke him, and repudiate his message without ambiguity. 

    The Archbishop's failure to do so is consonant with his general failure to provide any moral guidance on any significant issue where there is not already a pre-existing broad Anglican consensus. On this issue, however, his silence marks a complicity with evil almost on a par with that of the Irish hierarchy when they put the material interest of the institutional church before their duty to care for Christ's flock.        

  • Comment number 7.

    How much longer can the Anglican Church avoid splitting into two separate Churches?

  • Comment number 8.

    Surely not long. Already I would not contemplate receiving Communion from Bishop Abura - nor would I knowingly share in it with him.

  • Comment number 9.

    I have never felt the need before to post a comment, and have registered just for this purpose. The BBC needs to make sure it is clear where it stands on this proposal (just reporting) by the Ugandan government as the reports on the Guardian suggest the BBC is anything but impartial in this.
    As a woman in a civil partnership with 2 kids aged 17 and 8 from a previous relationship with a man, I am outraged that execution could be a legitimate punishment for anyone in a homosexual relationship. My 17 year old college son is an active heterosexual who loves the support he has received from me, my wife and his dad. We all get along and extend the boundaries of what family means through our in-laws, step-laws and wide circle of friends. My 8 year old daughter may well be a boy-loving girly-girl who loves her mums and dad and be a genius at school and hopefully head the UN and put and end to these debates with her un-nerving tact.
    Many Western values - free markets, open capitalism - are worth resisting, but love for one another and family - whatever the form it takes is to be embraced. I post knowing very little of Ugandan politics or culture.
    Although none of us are practising Christians, we live our lives being true and not hurting anyone and would expect more criticism of Uganda from the Church of England.

  • Comment number 10.

    At least Rowan Williams is merely keeping silent. Bloggers may be interested to know that in the Archdiocese of Washington in the US, Archbishop Wuerl recently told the government that if it passed laws giving the same rights to same sex couples as it does to heterosexual couples, the Catholic Church would pull out of the programmes it funds and runs for the homeless and needy families in Washington.

    The threat has caused a major row, that a Church leader would be willing to attack the poor in order to stop gay people having the same rights as straight people.

    For those interested, there is a lot about it in the Washington Post, just google Archbishop Wuerl. A petition is also up and running.


  • Comment number 11.

    Could someone please enlighten me as to the moral difference between the proposed state-sanctioned execution of gay people in Uganda (something I regard as utterly barbaric, by the way) and the actual state-permitted execution of unborn children who have committed the "sin" of having a disability (e.g. even something as minor and treatable as a club foot), which takes place in the West?

    Have a read of this: https://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/article669212.ece

    We hear and read (ad nauseam) "religious" people being pilloried for their views about homosexuality (and some of the criticisms are indeed valid), but perhaps the media should be more logically consistent and vehemently criticise those "non-religious" people who advocate the wanton slaughter of the most innocent and helpless members of our society. Logical consistency and integrity is not a lot to ask, is it?

  • Comment number 12.

    LSV - I have been, unusually for a liberal, a long-time and consistent opponent of abortion. I consider the act of ending the life of an unborn child generally a grave evil. There are, however, in the case of abortion, circumstances which have to be taken into account, possible mitigating factors.

    I can conceive of no circumstances in which judicial execution could be anything other than the gravest of evils. It will always, in all circumstances, be utterly wrong to execute a man for homosexual practice. There are, however, circumstances where we might contemplate ending a life not yet fully started. May I ask if you consider it evil to terminate the life of an unborn child in order to save the life of the mother? If you do your point stands. If you do not you have invoked an invalid moral equivalence.

  • Comment number 13.

    #12 - Parrhasios -

    "May I ask if you consider it evil to terminate the life of an unborn child in order to save the life of the mother? If you do your point stands. If you do not you have invoked an invalid moral equivalence."

    Thank you for your comment and I can understand what you are trying to say here. However, I disagree with your logic.

    If someone were to accept that there are circumstances in which it is morally justifiable to terminate the life of an unborn child (actually let's not use the euphemism "terminate"; let's say "kill"), that does not necessarily mean that that person must accept that all other reasons for abortion are valid. There is such a thing as a moral dilemma. A moral dilemma does not invalidate morality per se, and in fact it is an objective standard of morality which defines the concept of the "dilemma". Two moral laws which normally work together in harmony find themselves in conflict in certain rare situations. Then one has to take the path of the "lesser evil". The decision to implement "the lesser evil" is a moral decision and can only be arrived at through an understanding and acceptance of objective moral principles. Without such objective principles it would be impossible to determine the categories of the "lesser" and the "greater" evil.

    If it can be proven ("beyond reasonable doubt") that two people will definitely die - the mother and the unborn child - but yet the mother's life could be saved if the unborn child is killed, then tragically an exceedingly grave decision has to be made. This decision is motivated - seemingly paradoxically - by the desire to save life and not destroy it, even though one life has to be destroyed. I wish that such situations never occurred, but the reality is that they do occur and someone has to make the call. To suggest that the acceptance of this kind of tragic decision implies a general endorsement of all forms of abortion is, in my view - and with all due respect to you - somewhat simplistic.

    The example I gave was of relatively minor and easily treatable disabilities (if they can even be called disabilities). There is no moral dilemma involved. Therefore I see no reason why my argument cannot stand. There are those who are (quite rightly) indignant at the Ugandan proposal concerning homosexuality, but who seem relatively unconcerned at the plight of the unborn. There is a moral inconsistency in our society concerning this issue, and it is about time this was recognised and addressed.

    To use the rare occurrence of a serious moral dilemma to justify (or fear) a widespread abandonment of morality is poor logic, but this is, sadly, how some people think in our society. It's called "the thin end of the wedge" argument.

  • Comment number 14.

    Sorry LSV - that was a pretty duff argument of mine! Point taken.

    What I ought to have said was that this thread was not really an appropriate place to raise the issue of abortion. While I recognise that such was not your intent, the effect is to divert attention from the horror of this legislation into a wholly separate issue. This vilely anti-Christian legislation should command our undivided attention and undiluted condemnation. I regret the dilution effect arising from your coupling of the issues.

    The best, indeed the only, adequate defence of the Gospel is the attempt to live it.


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