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Homophobia in Uganda: Is Christianity the problem or the solution?

December 4, 2013

I would imagine that most of you are pretty familiar with the so-called ‘Anti-homosexuality Bill’ that is currently on the table in the Ugandan parliament. It is basically a law, that will get passed at some point or other, that seeks to effectively eradicate public homosexuality in Uganda. It has a wide media coverage, was featured on a recent Stephen Fry BBC documentary, and has its own Wikipedia site! It’s everywhere. I think it’s interesting that, as far as I can see, this bill is fast becoming the most famous thing about Uganda. It used to be Idi Amin. But I reckon now ‘gay-hating’ is the first thing many Westerners think about when they hear the word ‘Uganda’. This is largely thanks to a media campaign waged in the West against this bill.

The first thing to point out is that, and I dearly wish the British media would read the bill before they speak about it (as I have done) there is no mention at all of a death sentence. So automatically, when you find articles that talk about killing gays, you should discount them as uninformed and hyperbolic (Yes, you, The Guardian, and The New York Times and Washington Post).

At the risk of being misunderstood, allow me to say straight up, as if it were necessary, that of course I’m not in favour of the bill. I find it bigoted and prejudiced. But that’s not what this blog post is about. I want to draw attention to the thoughtless and unmerited narrative surrounding the bill as it is being increasingly portrayed in the Western secular media. And what is that? Well, it’s that this bill is the fault of Christianity. And more specifically, the result of foreign Christian missionaries to Uganda.

The argument basically goes like this (and this is only mildly exaggerated and paraphrased): Before Christian missionaries came, Uganda was a peaceable and safe country, tolerant and respectful. However Christian missionaries, having lost the ‘culture-wars’ in the secular West, subsequently chose Uganda to be the base of what they hope to be a worldwide spread of a massive anti-homosexual movement. Therefore missionaries are flooding into Uganda to preach their gospel of hate, using their vast material wealth to coax and coerce naïve Ugandan Christians into persecuting homosexuals. Uganda is therefore now, as a direct consequence of this, a bigoted and hateful society (regularly killing homosexuals) because of Christian missionaries. Another example of how Christianity is very, very bad for the world. And Africa in particular (where of course secularists are starting to notice that Christianity is in fact rather popular).

Now this narrative is spreading fast through print media. And it’s about to become a lot more widespread. There is a new feature-length documentary that’s just come out in cinema’s, called ‘God Loves Uganda’. Although it has a fairly limited showing in the UK, that may change soon. After all, It’s made the Oscars shortlist. Now I’m not able to view the film here. You may not be surprised to hear that it’s not common in Uganda! However I can view the trailer, and also can watch online the 8-minute film the director previously that basically acts as the precursor to the new feature-length film (and, presuming that the full movie is simply an extension of the shorter version, then it is going to contain some worryingly poor documentary-making. You can read some of my thoughts in discussion with Mark Meynell and Eddie Arthur, in the comments section here ) And sure enough, it would appear that the film very much supports the assumed narrative I outlined above. (By the way, if you want to read a long but interesting rebuttal, almost blow-by-blow, of this film, John Stackhouse has written for Christianity Today magazine here)

So, what is the West doing? Well, putting a lot of pressure on Uganda to immediately drop this bill! Facebook groups, governments threatening to cut aid, President Obama has spoken out, huge petitions, and even Amnesty International has got involved.

However I think it is worth pointing out (and living in Uganda for the past 2 years puts me in a good position to do this) that, ironically, much of this Western pressure on the Ugandan parliament and Uganda and in general is actually having the opposite affect that what they intend. Even in the time we’ve lived here, we’ve seen the anti-colonial narrative strengthen and strengthen in his country. Uganda, rightly so, is loosing the shackles of dependency on the West in many ways (financial, political, spiritual, and moral). No longer is West always best. Absolutely right, of course. And therefore Uganda is actually very, very proud of defiantly ‘standing up to’ Western moralistic bullying against it. And I use the word ‘bullying’ carefully here. Look at this recent story from the BBC news: The University of Buckinghamshire is now officially refusing to accredit any courses in Uganda, and has cut off its entire links with one of Kampala’s top private universities, Victoria University, SIMPLY because Victoria University is, well, in Uganda, and Uganda is the home of this bill. Note that Victoria University didn’t at any point explicitly support this bill, or deny any rights to homosexual students, or do or say anything about the bill. They are simply Ugandan. And that’s enough for them to have to find a new accreditor (actually, just recently, they failed to do this and have now shut down all operations, with hundreds of students having lost all their tuition fees). Note also that this bill isn’t even law! Just the fact that it’s been proposed is enough for the University of Buckinghamshire to abandon its partner. The point is that they, and many other Western donors and charities, and trying to frighten, threaten, and yes, bully, Uganda into changing its direction.  However it really, really isn’t working. From where I’m standing, the louder the West shouts, the deeper Uganda digs in. And Uganda has dug in.

As far as I can tell, there are very few Christians in the West who are really challenging this prevailing and presumed narrative which says Christianity and Christian missionaries are very bad for Uganda and Africa. In fact, sometimes there are good and decent Christians propagating this narrative too, seemingly wanting to apologise to the world for what the world tells us that our own people are doing. I’m guessing that they hope, by agreeing with all this, that the world will differentiate between the crazies and the normal Christians. And it seems to me that much of that is borne of a desperation to be liked by the world. Of course that’s not what happens. All that happens is that, with the tacit approval and acceptance of the narrative by many Christians, the whole faith (including us) is allowed to be denigrated and ridiculed. And when it comes to this issue, please believe me, it really is. Look at some of the comment articles in the above news articles. The level of disgust and venom is extraordinary. People who outwardly wish to adhere to tolerant secular views are, seemingly without any sense of irony or humour, suggesting that all Christian missionaries in Uganda should be shot. Or at least banned. Most of the expat community in Kampala is secular, and as people who naturally take an interest in what the Western media is saying about Uganda, they are starting to get very angry with people like me, who they are told are preaching hate, and it seems to be getting worse and worse. Seriously, this is not a good time to be a missionary in Uganda if you want the world to think well of you.

So, now that I’ve explained what’s going on, let me try and explain why I think this popular narrative in the West concerning this bill is nonsense. And let me explain that by telling a quick story…

Last month, Ros went a church event. I’m purposely being coy about the details on a public blog. At this event, organised by and attended by many Christians and Christian leaders in Kampala, the speaker held up a small stick. They then explained that, if you put this stick in a pot of goat stew (must be goat – the speaker was most clear about that) and leave it for several minutes, then feed the stew to your family, then your family that had previously been argumentative and disunited will, immediately, be of one mind in a happy, peaceful harmony. The speaker told stories of how well this trick had worked in their own family. They was happy to admit that this advice came from African traditional witch doctors, but the speaker ‘Christianised’ it by suggesting you should put the stick into the stew ‘in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit’.

Now that’s syncretism. That’s taking old religion, witch-doctery, dressing it up in a desperately thin veneer of Christianity, and bringing slap bang into the heart of the church. And sadly this kind of thing happens up and down this country every week, in churches. We heard this week of an active church-goer who, when annoyed by someone, went to the local witch-doctor, got some charms and curses etc. and hid them in the room of the one they were annoyed with. I could tell you story after story like this.

My point is that, the more time we spend here, the more we realise that Christianity here has barely scratched the surface of many people’s worldview, morality, and belief system. Of course that’s not true for everyone. But it’s true for many (and significantly, the amazing and wonderful people that it’s not true for, those folk here who we love and admire and learn so much from, unbelievably good people, would be very quick to admit it is true for many).  When you see and hear some of what goes on here, by people who outwardly are the most faithful of church-goers, it feels impossible to reconcile that with some of the statistics that show Uganda to be one of the most evangelised and ‘Christian’ countries on earth.

And yet article after article and film after film is telling us to believe that Christianity has not only penetrated so deeply into so many people’s deepest belief systems that it affects their sexual attitudes, but that it has done it so significantly that this has been translated into national laws in parliament!. No way. Seriously. No way. On a purely anecdotal level, I am continually shocked by the levels of wife-beating, rape, child-abuse, polygamy, adultery, and sexual immorality in many churches here. And yet these journalists want us to believe that this same faith, that is inwardly rejected and ignored by so many in churches, is held to so passionately as to change the laws of the whole country. Have these people ever even been to Uganda I wonder?

So what is behind this bill, you ask? Simple. Traditional Ugandan views about sexuality. Uganda, with or without Christianity, is not a place that is readily tolerant of homosexual activity. This is true in the Christian community, the Muslim community, and the ‘traditional ethno-religious’ community (unaffected by any Western missionary work or imposition of ‘outside’ religion). In fact, in that latter community, I would imagine that the support of this law, and vehement and angry opposition to homosexuality, is even greater. To put it simply, this law comes from Ugandan culture. Not Ugandan Christianity. Christianity has barely impacted upon culture here.

For example, take a look at this article from the main newspaper in Uganda, entitled “Homosexuality: Is it a normal or sick lifestyle”. Without any suggestion of religious argument or influence, the author concludes that homosexuality is “at best a result of severe developmental problems” and therefore “a normal person, that is, a heterosexual, should under ordinary circumstances find the very idea of homosexuality repugnant.”

Now it is certainly true to say that many Ugandans, nominally within the Christian community, would use Christianity as a rhetorically-useful ‘peg’ to hang this law on. That much is well documented. There are a few clips going around of preachers and church leaders supporting this bill. But that’s all it is – a peg. Many Christians here argue passionately that women should never wear trousers. That is their traditional culture. When Christianity came to Uganda new converts worked hard to justify that practice using their new religion, and although they have tried hard to find a few OT-law verses to justify it, they really can’t. Does their belief change? No (or not yet anyway for many) Traditional culture just gets brought into the new religion instead of allowing the new to shape and interpret and renew and transform the old.

And its similar with attitudes to homosexuality. The vast majority of Christians in this country have never met or spoken with a Western missionary. And nor have their leaders. Many of these attitudes about homosexuality come direct from traditional Ugandan culture. Of course these attitudes may change in the future. But if they do, much as the secularists would scoff at this, it will most likely be because of Christianity, as churches preach a message of godly love and kindness towards active homosexuals here, thereby opposing the culturally-driven anger and violence towards homosexuals we too-often see. The sad reality for Western secularists is that their worldview has little to say to change Ugandan attitudes to homosexuality. They can go on about ‘human rights’ as much as they want, but the more they shout, the more they get ignored. The best hope for a Uganda that is safe for homosexuals is, of course, the gospel. The gospel that shows us that all people are created in God’s image and loved by him, the gospel that shows us how much God truly wants to rescue and redeem his people The gospel that promotes humble, gracious, non-violent love towards all people. The gospel that welcomes all people to confess that Jesus is Lord and unite together in a broken but re-built community of Christ (Ephesians 2:17-22)

And so, for the sake of Ugandan homosexuals, Ugandan Christians, and missionaries in Uganda, please don’t let this nasty, secularist, hate-filled narrative of Christianity in Uganda go unchallenged. Your future heavenly Ugandan co-worshippers around the throne will be grateful that you didn’t.

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36 Comments
  1. Richard Bray permalink

    Really helpful Chris – thanks for writing with such clarity and passion.

  2. Really helpful article, Chris. Many thanks for taking the time to set this out so clearly.

  3. Jon permalink

    And excellent article, brilliantly written and very helpful, thank you! Looking forward to meeting you in February with the rest of the Oak Hill bunch.

  4. Never mind future co-worshippers in heaven, has any church even opposed this barbaric bill in the name of the gospel you so eloquently praise? People will spend their earthly life in jail.

  5. Peter Chater permalink

    The death penalty is no longer part of this bill but there is no question that it once was – it was dropped perhaps as a concession to the global public outcry. How interesting that one of the first reactions I hear about this appalling new law is from somebody who is more concerned about the reputation of Christians than of the now terrifying prospects of LGBT people in Uganda. What exactly does ‘effectively eradicate public homosexuality in Uganda’ mean, in practice? Life imprisonment for the crime of having homosexual relations relations with another is surely by any standards a rather severe punishment, whether or not ‘homosexuality’ is part of ‘Ugandan culture’. For the ‘crime’ of not reporting violators to the police within 24 hours a person in authority could get three years in jail. If you are really worried about the reputation of Christians, call on them to rise up and protect LGBT people from this dreadful and terrifying assault on their liberty. Worry about where the motivation behind the bill came from later. Right now, people who are truly in danger need your help.

    • Thank you for your contribution.

      You’re right…the death penalty was on the agenda, but was dropped over a year ago. All the articles I linked to, referring to it, were written in recent months. It’s inaccurate journalism.

      I’m surprised to hear you say that mine is one of the first reactions to this bill. The bill has been on the world’s agenda for 2 years now, and has been commented on at length by every major news publication I can find, and the President of the US! Mine is certainly not the first piece written about this. Nor will be the last. If you mean mine is the first thing you’ve seen since the law was passed on Friday, well, this was written several days before the law was passed.

      There has been a massive reaction to this bill, and the vast, vast majority unfairly lay the blame right on top of Christians in Uganda. I’m arguing that’s unfair. I do criticise the bill in this blog post, but there are more than enough people doing that (Christians and non-Christians) without needing me to do it as well. I’m making a specific point that, as far as I can tell, no-one else is making.

      You say “worry about where the motivation behind the bill came from later” but no-one else is doing that. Read the media. Everyone else is blaming Christians, wrongly. Why shouldn’t at least one Christian stand up and explain why that is wrong?

      I train church leaders here in Uganda, and I regularly engage with them about this bill, and the right response to it as Christians. I would suggest that this is more useful than what the majority of people in the world are doing to respond to this bill. You may also want to consider how not everyone in Uganda is always free to say in public everything they wish to.

  6. Chris, just a couple of factual corrections. Certainly up until November 2012, the Anti-Homosexuality Bill did include the death penalty for “aggravated homosexuality”. It’s been said that the death penalty clause has been removed and replaced with “life imprisonment”: no one has yet linked me to a copy of the text of the Bill to confirm that this is so.

    Next, while “Christian missionaries” in Uganda is an awfully blanket term, the link between the Christian hate groups who organised an anti-gay conference in Kampala in March 2009 – an anti-gay conference to which all Ugandan MPs were invited – and the Anti-Homosexuality Bill itself, is very well documented.

    Third, obviously not all Ugandan Christians are full of hate. I have every respect for Christians like Christopher Senyonjo who preach love and acceptance. Less so for Christians like Peter Akinola and Henry Orombi, who see the brutal torture and rape of lesbians as “law and order”.

    • Thanks for Jane, appreciate your time to visit the site and make a comment, as well as Tweet it out!

      You stated that there are factual correction, but I’m afraid I don’t see you make any. You’re right about the death penalty up until Nov 2012, but the articles I linked to were written up to a year after that, mainstream newspapers in the West, and were still referring to the death penalty. That’s just faulty journalism, inexcusably so.

      As far as I’m aware, the text of the bill is not on-line. I read a hard copy. However all the proposers of the bill have explained that the death penalty has been removed.

      In terms of the links you provide, this is not correcting facts. I state in the blog that it is not hard to find Christians who are using Christianity to argue for this law. However it seems to me that the same 3 people come up everytime – Lively, Ssempa, and Bahati, and only one of them is a Westerner, and is not a missionary and has been widely discredited and denounced by almost every sane, Biblically minded Christian going. Beyond that, there’s simply nothing going on this story. For example, please please take the time to watch this video on the NYT website – http://www.nytimes.com/video/opinion/100000002020130/gospel-of-intolerance.html. It’s a video trying to draw a link between Christian missionaries and this bill. Most people watch it and are outraged, because they are waiting to be outraged. But watch it closely – there was not ONE mention from any American about homosexuality to any Ugandan. The talk from the missionaries back in the US was simply about preaching the gospel, the talk from the missionaries to Ugandans was about the gospel (and one reference to fleeing sexual immorality), the talk from the missionaries in Uganda about homosexuality was done in a 1-2-1 interview when clearly they were asked about their views on homosexuality, and seemed to answer with clarity and care, and the talk against homosexuality to crowds in Uganda was all done by Ugandans! And that’s the best the filmmaker can do in drawing the link. It’s a journalistic shambles, and yet this narrative is believed and spread by people, including your own website, the world over. Take those 3 out of the equation, and there’s nowhere to go.

      Now I’ve argued above why I believe this narrative (blame Christianity, particularly the missionaries) simply cannot be true. In summary:

      1.) Over 30 African countries have laws similar to this, and yet many of those countries are untouched by Christianity or the church.
      2.) Opposition (hatred of) homosexuality here is spread across all faith communities (inc. traditional ethno-religious communities) and non-faith communities.
      3.) Other ‘traditional’ Christian attitudes to sexual ethics (sex inside marriage, faithfulness in marriage, etc) are mostly ignored here, even inside the church. In my experience there are few faithful marriages. And yet you would have us believe that this one (supposedly) Christian teaching has become so widely accepted and internalised that it’s not just obeyed, but has become instituted as a law of the land.

      I really do think these points need adequately dealing with before anyone can pin blame for this on the church. There is something deeper going on here than simply American missionaries in Uganda. This is cultural. And you were unfair earlier to tweet to your followers that I said this homophobia was ‘natural’. No, I said cultural. Very different indeed, and your purposeful misquote is not right for someone in your position with the voice that you have in the LGBT community.

      if you’ll forgive me also for bringing out twitter conversation into this blog (140 characters just isn’t enough here) you said how it was noticeable that “exclusive concern is for Christian missionaries in Uganda – none at all for LGBT people”. I’m sorry, but this won’t do. I personally have been insulted for being a Christian missionary here in Uganda because people presume I am to blame for this bill. On forums this weekend I’ve seen people, sensible people, calling for all Christians here to be “shot”, “fed to the lions”, “tortured”, and “raped”. I’ve heard Christians here being called ‘scum’, ‘vile backward animals’, and much worse because of this false narrative. I repeatedly hear how the LGBT community will fight for gay rights until there is no more insults in the playground any more. Absolutely right. But please don’t deny Christians that same right. There is no shortage of people expressing sympathy for the Ugandan LGBT community here, and that is absolutely right (and I’ve criticised the bill myself, describing it as bigoted and prejudiced). But there is a shortage of people challenging this narrative, mostly spread by the LGBT community, that is causing innocent Christians and missionaries here to be vilified and threatened for doing something they are innocent of. If no-one stood up to challenge this narrative, then we’re just allowing false lies to spread. I don’t pretend to be the only person worth reading about this issue, or the final word.

      Allow me to finish with the point I made in the blog. The safest place for Ugandan homosexuals here in Uganda is in gospel-centred, Christ-loving churches here in Uganda (including increasingly many of those run by my students) who preach and live by the gospel of Christ… (from above) “The gospel that shows us that all people are created in God’s image and loved by him, the gospel that shows us how much God truly wants to rescue and redeem his people The gospel that promotes humble, gracious, non-violent love towards all people. The gospel that welcomes all people to confess that Jesus is Lord and unite together in a broken but re-built community of Christ (Ephesians 2:17-22)” Those who want to blame the church are really, really looking in the wrong place.

      • the articles I linked to were written up to a year after that, mainstream newspapers in the West, and were still referring to the death penalty. That’s just faulty journalism, inexcusably so.

        Not at all. The death penalty was still in the Bill in November last year, but the language of the Bill had been changed to make the death penalty less explicit – an AP story was run claiming the death penalty had been taken out of the Bill, which was false, but was repeated multiple times. Given this consistent deceit practiced by the Ugandan government – committee discussions of the Bill have not been made public: how can we be sure that the death penalty has actually been removed, or whether the text of the Bill has merely been rewritten to conceal it again?

        However all the proposers of the bill have explained that the death penalty has been removed.

        Oh yes, and you believe them this time, why? They lied before, claiming the death penalty had been removed, when it had not.

        Beyond that, there’s simply nothing going on this story.

        Apart from the fact that a monstrous Bill has been passed, and that Christians such as yourself appear more concerned about how this will affect the “image” of Christian missionaries than how it will affect the lives of LGBT people in Uganda?

      • Thanks Jane – I’m not sure we’re ever going to meet on this – we appear to be talking over each other, or past each other, or through each other, or something anyway. I think you’re looking for the worst in people here, I’m afraid. And that usually makes conversations pretty fruitless. When I said ‘there’s nothing going on this story’, in the context of the post that was clearly meant about the missionary/Christian angle of the story, rather than the bill itself! Of course that is a story!

        And by the way, I’ve read the bill. Please believe me, the death penalty is not there. In the context of the whole thing that seems to me, on one level, a relatively minor thing to be bickering over (As in, it’s grim either way for those on the receiving end of this, and it’s been decades since anyone has actually been killed by the state here in Uganda), but it’s worth pointing out. It’s not that long a bill to read, and there’s nothing buried there, I assure you.

        Ultimately Jane you cannot seem to fathom why I could write anything else about this bill apart from what you want me to say about it. Like I say, I’m not claiming to be the only person worth reading on this. I’ve just picked up on one facet of this whole fiasco and tried to set the record straight. The fact that so many in the LGBT community in the UK seem so offended that I’m even trying to clear the Christian community here in Uganda of blame for this (as you rightly say, monstrous) bill and also defend Christians here against the vile hatred coming our way, does not speak well of the LGBT in my opinion. Please remember that I’m living in this country – I’m not free to speak against gov’t policy as much as I may wish. However I think I’ve been as clear as I can in my opposition against it. The fact that you cannot accept me speaking about any other angle on this story apart from what you want me to say probably means that we’re not going to get very far on this. However, I mean this, I thank you for your discussion and contributions, and genuinely wish you all the very best for the future. Warmest regards, Chris

      • Tim permalink

        And right back at you: “The fact that you cannot accept [others] speaking about any other angle on this story apart from what you want me to say probably means that we’re not going to get very far on this.” However, check out this debate that was organized by the BBC on the topis “Is Homosexuality un-African”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zhRe6Jy_Nsw

        Perhaps this will give you some much needed, in my view, insight.

      • Tim, my friend, it was done in South Africa. Let me assure you, if that was done in Uganda, the country we’re talking about, the debate would look very, very different. There are 35 million Ugandans here (mostly untouched in any significant way by Christian ethical teaching in any form) who will gladly say that homosexuality is very, very un-African (Un-Ugandan I guess, they mean). There’s letters saying just that every day in the newspapers at the moment since this bill. Everyone you speak to (almost, I mean) says the same. I wish you could come here and see this – there really is very little debate to be had on this in Uganda.

    • Tim permalink

      Thanks, Jane, even despite of Chris’ lengthy response, you breathed at least a little balance into this blog post.

      You have a lot to say, Chris, but you make assumptions that your readers are similar to you, and if they are not your thoughts are substantive (the best example is you assume that people follow the holy text of the Bible and believe homosexuality is unnatural/sinful). You just can’t deny the strong relationship this bill has with Christianity– which was introduced (and clearly supported in many ways) to Ugandans by Christian missionaries from the West. Period.

      Also, although you may feel bullied by other folks because Christian missionaries and Ugandan Christians have been repeatedly implicated in the success of this bill– please understand that is ok and healthy discourse. You should take pause and think about the direct and indirect impacts of your own mission work in Uganda on the evolution of this passed bill! You need to– it’s too important– this bill will destroy the lives of thousands of Ugandans, young and old. Sexuality for every individual– as long as consensual and full of love– is a human right, even if Christians and other religious groups (missionaries, Americans, Ugandans, everyone) believe it is “sinful.”

      • Thanks Tim very much for this. Appreciate you visiting the site and making a comment.

        Maybe we’re never going to meet on this, but I just can’t follow your comment here. I’ve spent a very long blog post explaining clearly why I believe this bill isn’t from Christianity (and certainly isn’t from Christian missionaries) and then you respond with “You just can’t deny the strong relationship this bill has with Christianity– which was introduced (and clearly supported in many ways) to Ugandans by Christian missionaries from the West. Period.” But I am denying that! And I’m giving reasons for it…to make assertions like that yours Tim, surely you must also do the same. You are demonstrating perfectly the unfounded unproven and illogical assumptions going on here that I’m arguing against! The narrative you therefore need to seek to understand is not ‘Are all Christians are terrible homophobes and are ruining Uganda’ but ‘Why do Ugandans almost exclusively support this horrible bill?’ And that’s the question I’m trying to help you answer in my blog post.

        I’m amazed Tim that you call the sort of vile threats that Christians are receiving here ‘healthy discourse’. Are you sure you’re not treating Christians as a special case here?

        In terms of my own mission work and role in this bill, I can assure you Tim that, despite your subtle accusations of my contributing to the destruction of the lives of thousands of Ugandans, you are quite wrong. I help, alongside a team of 16 or 17 Ugandans, to train Ugandan church leaders here. 99.9% of what we talk about is not related to homosexuality. On those rare occasions it does come up, and it has done recently because of this, I appeal to my students to be counter-cultural, and to allow the gospel of Christ whom they seek to love and obey to transform their culture and society in such a way that homosexuals are treated with love, care and compassion in their churches, and not with the hatred thta they so often, terribly, experience in Uganda outside the church.

  7. Peter Chater permalink

    You’re quite right on my statement about the reactions to this bill. It was only after I posted my previous comment that I realised what had happened. Your piece is from December 4th. The bill passed through parliament a couple of days ago, at which point your piece was re-posted by an influential organisation in the Anglican church who for some reason did not post it previously. It was *their* reaction not yours that I should have criticised! Google ‘homophobia in uganda is christianity the problem or the solution’ and you will see what I mean… Nonetheless, your last paragraph is quite revealing – I would love you to expand on this if you feel able. Have you come to any conclusions about what is ‘the right response to it as Christians’?

    • Thank you for this. You’ll have to forgive me that I’m wary of how much I can say here from Uganda. It is, how do I say it, unwise to publicly go against this bill/law, and so my students’ hands are tied in many ways. However we discuss regularly what it means for the church to be a place of refuge and love for homosexuals in Uganda, and not a place of hatred and violence. Many take that message on board and are committed to leading churches that stand up to all forms of hatred in Uganda (for example the regular mob beatings and killings of petty thieves that are common occurrences here) and welcome all people in to hear the gospel proclaimed faithfully.

  8. Peter Chater permalink

    The filmmaker who made the film ‘God loves Uganda’ has I think a very interesting perspective on this – are you aware of this film? It is difficult for those of us who are outside of Ugandan culture to get a complete sense of exactly what is going on, so great to hear perspectives from all sides, but I saw this film and its arguments are very compelling. The filmmaker explains something of his experience here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/roger-ross-williams/god-loves-uganda_b_3520057.html and explains why he does not consider his film to be anti-Christian.

  9. Peter Chater permalink

    Thanks for your comments Chris, and for your perspective. I totally take understand your point and I don’t doubt for a second that there are many in the church who are committed to a loving, understanding and appropriate response.

  10. Well said.It needs non Ugandans to say this loud and clear.No one will listen to us.Having lived outside Uganda,worked in HIV and have lots of gay friends,I can say;It is the culture that is not tolerant to homosexuality.Ugandan gay community has to find its place in the culture.No amount of ‘outside’ influence is going to change the culture of a country with over 45 tribes.I dont think Uganda needs a bil or law,the solution is a shift in culture alone.

  11. I missed a few points.Christiaity co-exists along side traditional beliefs and practices.The ‘witch doctor’ as you missionaries call it,is the original traditional religion that was there before 1877 and 1879 when missionaries came.Ugandans embraced christianity as an addition not a replacement.The society is along clans and traditional structures in which these beliefs are held.Christianity cant say they are wrong or right. otherwise they will have to scrap the entire culture and in some cases like the Baganda,the entire naming system.

    • Apologises if ‘witch doctor’ is the wrong term – I use it only because that’s the term my colleagues and students tend to use. Thanks for your contributions. Regards.

  12. Peter Chater permalink

    In his Christmas message on the 20th December 2013 (http://www.americananglican.org/christmas-message-from-the-archbishop-of-uganda), the Archbishop of Uganda specifically mentions same-sex relationships. The GAFCON movement he mentions is actively working towards a split with the rest of the Anglican communion on the specific issue of homosexuality, on which the GAFCON churches feel there is an inseparable gulf between them and liberal Anglican churches. It was issues surrounding homosexuality that, in Archbishop Ntagali’s words, caused them ‘to break communion’ ten years ago. The Archbishop’s message includes the following statement: ‘We are so determined to refuse anything that contradicts the Biblical authority without fear or compromise. I appeal to all Ugandans to join us in this struggle to protect our God given rights.’ It continues, ‘The Church of England is now recommending that same-sex relationships be blessed in the church… We will resist them and, with our other GAFCON brothers and sisters, will stand with those in the Church of England who continue to uphold the Bible as the Word of God and promote Biblical faith and morality.’ In the light of what has recently happened in the Ugandan parliament and the fact that those in authority will, under this bill, be compelled to report homosexuals to the police within 24 hours, and given this statement from the very highest level of the Anglican church in Uganda, it really is very hard to believe that ‘the church’ will be the place where LGBT people will find refuge. At a time when the lives and liberty of LGBT people in Uganda are in grave danger, a statement like ‘I appeal to all Ugandans to join us in this struggle to protect our God given rights’ is hardly a call for the compassionate protection of LGBT people, especially if, as some in this discussion claim, the problem is cultural not religious. Under the current circumstances, this statement seems deliberately inflammatory and will make the situation for LGBT people in Uganda even worse: If it is not itself ‘homophobic’, it will certainly give ammunition to those who are.

    • The Church of Uganda is not separate from the culture,is it? It relies on the people in the community for its survival.The attendance levels and comitment to the church in Uganda is very much higher than in England.I was in Uganda last Christmas and went to my childhood church.I couldnt believe how much is has grown.4 services on Christmas day were all full of people.The Church is not going to risk it congregation and community involvement.As the blogger has said and I agree,the fundamental culture is unlikely to change.The Ugandan LGBT community will have to evolve and find its own place.
      There are 37 African countries in this situation.Uganda is coming under fire because of freedom of speech and a law which in my opinion is not necessary.It will just make it worse.

  13. Have I got this right? Because Ugandans calling themselves Christian put a stick in a pot of goat stew, and Western missionaries (like yourself) Tut-tut about the newly-undeath-penaltied/only-life-in-prison anti-gay bill, ergo Ugandans aren’t Christian?

    This entire piece reads like a textbook example of the “No True Scotsman Fallacy”.

    I don’t think it’s possible, in 2013 Uganda, to separate out the “purely indigenous culture(s)” from the “influenced by Christianity, and Christian colonialism”. I do believe that the separating you’ve attempted here, is self-serving/self-absolving.

    I’m willing to listen as to HOW we outside of Uganda can best resist this law, for the sake of Ugandan LGBTs. I reject the idea that resistance ITSELF is to blame.

    I say all of the above as a faithful Christian.

    • Thanks for this tgflux.

      “Have I got this right? Because Ugandans calling themselves Christian put a stick in a pot of goat stew, and Western missionaries (like yourself) Tut-tut about the newly-undeath-penaltied/only-life-in-prison anti-gay bill, ergo Ugandans aren’t Christian?”

      Er, no. I’m afraid you haven’t got this right. I really do think that, read in full, the argument of the blog post is perfectly clear, but it’s certainly not how you’ve surmised it above. Please do have another look, and let me know which bits are unclear and I’ll explain it further.

      “I’m willing to listen as to HOW we outside of Uganda can best resist this law, for the sake of Ugandan LGBTs.” Like I said in the blog, I believe the best hope for Ugandan LGBT’s is a church that is rooted in the gospel and not subjected to the hate and violence and intolerance that is seen outside the church. What could you do? Support the building up of gospel-hearted churches here in Uganda! There are plenty of ways of doing this from the UK – if you’re interested, we can talk more about this. Please believe me too that you can’t ask me to publicly suggest ways to resist a law of the country I’m residing in. It’s just not possible. The issues of ‘should we ask the British gov’t to stop aid to Uganda’ is a very complicated one, and only those who ahve never been to Uganda will suggest otherwise. There are debates online though about the wisdom of such a move.

      In terms of separating the purely indigenous cultures from those influenced by Christianity, that’s a very fair point. You’re right..it’s tough. Sometimes impossible. On one level though there are plenty of communities here (Muslim, non-religious, traditional religious) which are mostly untouched by Christianity, so that gives us a fair idea of what ‘uninfluenced’ Culture here looks like. On another level though, my argument doesn’t depend on us doing this slightly futile exercise. My point is that, even in communities influenced heavily by Christianity, the fact that SO little of biblical morality is followed or obeyed here means that people have to ask themselves why they believe this one part of (supposed) Christian teaching has become so entrenched in life and culture that it gets enshrined in national law when very little else of Christian teaching is listened to in the slightest!! It makes no sense – please believe me, something much deeper is going on here.

      Thanks again for posting, all the best.

      • tgflux permalink

        “Please believe me too that you can’t ask me to publicly suggest ways to resist a law of the country I’m residing in. It’s just not possible.”

        From the safety of the USA (where I am), that would be highly unfair of me. Just consider, please, that whatever repercussions you would face wouldn’t be the tiniest FRACTION of what LGBT Ugandans face every day. To be Gospel-hearted for them—“all things possible in Christ”? Enough said.

        Pax et bonum for ALL God’s children in 2014.

      • But you’re still not understanding my argument, and still behaving and presuming like I’m somehow being uncaring or homophobic here, and that makes me think that you’ve still not read the blog properly. I’m saying that the establishment of gospel-hearted churches is exactly what needs to happen to support and love Ugandan LGBT folk. Therefore what I’m doing, perhaps more than many people watching from afar I might be so bold to suggest, is being gospel-hearted for them. I really have no intention of being guilt-tripped because I’m doing that instead of being kicked out for publicly opposing government policy.

  14. As a Ugandan Christian who seeks to follow my Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ instead of my culture, i seek to love those who practice homosexuality like anybody else instead of seeking to kill them. To seek to condemn them would not be following Jesus Christ, for Jesus taught that he would never cast away any who who come to Him.

  15. I find this post rather bizarre. The death penalty was for years part of the draft of this bill, and it is arguably because of western reporting and political pressure that this aspect of the bill was dropped. I hope you will agree that is international influence working to positive ends.

    Moreover, much of the most vocal condemnation of the bill has been from Christians and Christian organizations, although sadly not from senior churchmen in the CofE, apart from the occasional weasel-worded peep. I don’t really recognize the narrative you credit “the west” (whatever that is) with propounding.

  16. Charles permalink

    I find this whole thing frustrating. Doesn’t the Ugandan Parliament have anything better to do? I’ve been to mass @ Ugandan Martyrs a couple of times…. homosexuality hasn’t come up once. I’m not aware of any religious figures actively pushing for this law, (although a couple openly praised it when it passed).
    When the bill passed, I tactfully asked a couple of Ugandan friends what they thought… A few compared it to the miniskirt ban for how preposterous it was.
    Yet I usually find at least one or two anti gay articles in the local newspapers each week.

    What puzzles me is, where is all this anti gay sentiment coming from?

    • Thanks for this Charles. Completely agree with you about the Ugandan parliament thing – so many things in this country that need legislation. Mini-skirts and homosexuality would not be priority in my mind!

      Where’s all the anti-gay sentiment coming from? That’s the key question. Many casual secular observers would want to blame missionaries. I’ve argued above that this is a lazy, convenient narrative for avoiding the key question of African culture and what that says about homosexuality.

  17. There is a huge cultural understanding and misunderstanding showing clearly in some of the comments here. The blogger, I think is in a better place to explain what is going on with the bill. Most Africans could not understand the sexual relationship between members of the same sex but can understand such the same relationship as I reflected here in my blog:

    http://teachmelordblogamen.wordpress.com/2013/12/31/personal-reflection-on-the-same-sex-relationship/

  18. Rose permalink

    Thank you for this post. An interesting and informative perspective on this bill, and I hugely admire the work you are doing in Uganda.

    What troubles me though, as a Christian myself, is that it is not from the church that tolerance of homosexuals comes, but from secular liberal democracy. In the UK for example the churches have been gradually retreating on their opposition to homosexual relationships, faced with increasing evidence and powerful logical arguments from gay campaigners. We are left with our only possible position being that we welcome and love gay people but cannot agree to marry them in our own churches. Well, that is fine, but it has not been the church’s position for the last 2000 years. For example it was only relatively recently that homosexual activity stopped being a capital offence in Britain.

    It seems to me that what Western Christian missionaries are doing in places like Uganda is promoting Christianity’s viewpoint as it has been pushed into by years of secular liberal influence, rather than any view that Christianity has reached by itself. The ‘developed’ Western Christian position on homosexuality, i.e. stopping short of actually condoning it actively, is more palatable to Ugandans than the prevailing secular position of ‘there’s nothing wrong with it at all’ and so I think you are right that this is a more productive route to take to change homophobic attitudes in Uganda. But it should be borne in mind that the Western Christian position probably owes more to secular liberal democracy than it does the church.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Uganda, the “Anti-Gay” bill and Christians: Truth amongst the polemic | davidould.net
  2. The Problem with Uganda | An Exercise in the Fundamentals of Orthodoxy
  3. 5 myths in the gay debate | Convers-ation Magazine

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