Should American Christians Care about Gays in Uganda?
For one reason, American Christians may have contributed to the recent introduction of a bill called the Anti-Homosexuality Bill 2009 in the Ugandan parliament. The bill would impose the death penalty on some offenses, maintain life imprisonment for other offenses, and even make it a crime to fail to inform the authorities if you know a homosexual. Homosexuality is already illegal in Uganda, but imprisonment is rarely enforced. If this become law, one may expect a change in policing policy.
While there are many cultural forces which oppose homosexuality in Uganda, a dominant one currently is the evangelical church. Most recently, in March of this year, three Americans were recruited by the Uganda-based Family Life Network to speak at workshops on ways to change people from gay to straight. Two of the Americans, Caleb Brundidge and Scott Lively, spoke in favor of keeping homosexuality illegal but giving those convicted an option of therapy to cure them of their gayness. Both Brundidge and Lively spoke to the Ugandan parliament regarding their view that homosexuality is learned and curable. Their ideas took hold. The proposed bill bases the need for stronger regulation on the concept that "same sex attraction is not an innate and immutable characteristic."
The other American who spoke in Kampala, Don Schmierer, is a board member with Exodus International, the leading Christian ministry which helps same-sex attracted people affirm traditional Christian doctrine regarding homosexual behavior. However, just days after the bill was introduced, Exodus International denounced the legislation as "horrible legislation" and "hateful public policy." Critics of Exodus complain that the organization should have denounced the original trip to Uganda. At least Exodus has spoken out against the Ugandan proposal; Brundidge's International Healing Foundation and Lively's Defend the Family International defended the Ugandan mission and have been mute regarding the proposed law.
A positive American influence in Uganda has been the war on AIDS. In 2003, George Bush initiated the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) which has sent 1.2 billion dollars to Uganda alone. In the private sector, Rick Warren's Saddleback church has invested heavily in Uganda and declared it a "Purpose Driven Nation." Prior to 2007, Ssempa had connection to the AIDS ministry of Saddleback Church. However, Saddleback cut ties with Ssempa over his views on homosexuality. Ssempa is also promoted by Colorado based Wait Training, a Christian abstinence group. Ssempa opposition to homosexuality is clear and often extreme. Mr. Ssempa is in the leadership of two religious coalitions which have rallied against homosexuality. As far as I can tell, he has not contested accusations that he published the names of suspected homosexuals, sending them into hiding. Recently, he accused a fellow pastor of abusing a young male. The police dropped the charges after the boy recanted his accusations. Via email, I asked Pastor Ssempa his view of the proposed legislation . He replied, "I am in total support of the bill and would be most grateful if it did pass."
Clearly, the proposed law is a draconian attempt to stamp out homosexuality. This will not work nor should it. One tragic and fleshly intuition of any group when they come to power is to impose their ideology on the masses. This should be especially abhorrent to Christians. In fact, Christians are often the recipient of persecution based on failure to conform to the dominant religion or culture. We have a dog in this fight. In Uganda, it is homosexuals, elsewhere it is another group. In many places, Christians face the fear of the knock in the middle of the night.
Furthermore, Christ is not honored by obedience to His teaching when imposed by coercion from the state. Jailing or killing gays or those suspected of being gay cannot create a righteous people, and in fact may further a self-righteous people. Christians in the US may have unwittingly contributed to the deteriorating state of freedom in Uganda. Now, we need to help right those wrongs by calling on our Ugandan brothers and sisters to back away from this bill.
--Warren Throckmorton, PhD
To get more information and ideas about how to help, see this Facebook group...
UPDATE: In a comment on this article Scott Lively says: "I do not now and have never supported incarceration for homosexuals and was in Uganda to advocate for treatment of homosexuals as an alternative to inacrceration (sic)..."
However, in the article above, I did not say that Mr. Lively favors incarceration for homosexuals. I did say this: "Two of the Americans, Caleb Brundidge and Scott Lively, spoke in favor of keeping homosexuality illegal but giving those convicted an option of therapy to cure them of their gayness."
In Uganda, before the same body which is considering the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, Mr. Lively did favor a "legal deterrent" with therapy as an option for those convicted of the offense. This is what I wrote above. Mr. Lively did not speak in favor of decriminalization. He later described his statements to the Ugandan Parliament. On this website, Mr. Lively says this about his March, 2009 trip to Uganda:
"My trip was quite successful, encompassing multiple seminars, sermons, media appearances and private meetings with key leaders, all packed into a single week. My hosts were very pleased. But the high point of the week was my address to members of the Ugandan Parliament in their National Assembly Hall. In it I urged the government to shift the emphasis of its criminal law against homosexuality from punishment to rehabilitation by providing the option of therapy, similar to the option I once chose after being arrested for drunken driving many years ago (in my wild pre-Christian days). Such a change would represent a considerable liberalization of its policies (currently a holdover from Colonial British common law, similar to US policy until the 1950s), while preserving sufficient legal deterrent to prevent the international "gay" juggernaut from homosexualizing the society as it has done in Europe and other countries. I thought it was an inspired compromise."
As I wrote, Mr. Lively does favor keeping homosexuality illegal in Uganda, but does not favor the harshest legal deterrents.