|Crowd gathering in Namugongo for Martyr's Day|
Yet, Uganda’s history tells of homosexuality being introduced into her land of fairy tale kingdoms by outsiders. Her history tells of this introduction leading to violence being directed against faithful young Jesus followers. To not reflect on the events of June 3, 1886 today would stifle honest discussion in the contemporary debate.
Uganda is a nation very dear to my heart. My family treasures the eleven years of grace we
|At the Source of the Nile in 1993|
I pastored a small church in Uganda. I volunteered my service with both children’s organizations and media. I have many diverse friends in Uganda. My friendships range from Uganda’s political and media leaders to church members to children who are now the youth of Uganda. I’ve watched as some of my better Uganda friends have become adversaries in this debate. I’ve grieved at what appear to be a lessening of the bonds of friendship in a search for community solutions.
At times it seems that hatred is overtaking love. When hatred overtakes love the consequence is that fear overtakes courage. In such an emotional climate ignorance overtakes understanding. Such a debate can create opportunity for humanity to fall into our most destructive nature. In such a season it is time for voices of reason and love to speak.
Historically, the Baganda found the practice of homosexuality abhorrent. Baganda faced competing interests between Muslim Arab traders, French Catholic missionaries, and Protestant missionaries from the United Kingdom in the early 1880’s. Many believe that Kabaka (King) Mwanga was influenced to become a homosexual practitioner by Arab Muslims. When his pages resisted his homosexual advances it led their martyrdom on June 3, 1886. I cannot imagine that these old stories do not impact today’s perceptions.
What I now find ironic is that though Uganda’s early Christians were the victims of homosexual violence some Uganda Christians became advocates of the death penalty for homosexuals. I believe history teaches that the path of grace and redemption bears the greatest fruit.
As a pastor I have experienced some of what stirs our emotions so passionately. I wept several times as I listened to Ugandan youth tell me stories of being seduced by expatriate practitioners of homosexuality. The times when I heard these stories were times when Uganda’s cultural practice of same gender affection and poverty created an opportunity for exploitation. Since I only pastored a small church in Uganda I assume that those who pastor larger churches have more stories to tell than I. During these times my emotions have been full of anger and rage. Deep inside me I sensed the call of victims for justice.
I also have had the experience of being part of a poorly organized international organization
I have also several times while on a ministry sabbatical received a phone call or e-mail from an expatriate friend or colleague crying out for help. My friends had become exploiters. They had removed themselves quietly from positions of influence and leadership, left Africa, and sought healing. I cried at the loss, wrestled with both compassion and anger, and prayed trusting in redemption.
Maybe, this is my biggest concern with Uganda’s debate on homosexuality. It seems that the debate has centered upon judgment and neglected redemption. For those in the daily political arena judgment is part of their responsibility. For those who pastor our responsibility is to explain God’s justice and pray for it. Yet, we entrust justice to God. Out of humanity’s self inflicted disasters we seek to be tools of redemption and healing.
My first suggestion is to respect the development of democratic institutions and practice. I was at this year’s National Prayer Breakfast in Washington D.C. in 2010 when United States President, Barack Obama and Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton chose to speak against Uganda’s legislation on homosexual practice. Afterwards, I apologized to my Ugandan and Rwandan friends with whom I shared breakfast. It was my understanding that the breakfast was for the purpose of prayer and that political banter was not to be practiced. It was also my understanding that remarks made at the Prayer Breakfast would not be reported in the media. However, it is now clear these remarks have been widely reported.
I believe that we live in a global community in which it is acceptable for friends to widely and graciously advise one another. However, I also believe that sometimes global advice can degenerate into the powerful manipulating those who have less global influence. I found it disturbing that though David Bahati was the author of Uganda’s legislation and Edward Ssekandi is the Speaker of Uganda’s Parliament, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton did not call mention a phone call to either of them. Instead, she clarified that she had called Uganda’s President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni to voice her disapproval of the legislation. It seemed to me that a phone call to President Museveni communicates that the United States government is more comfortable with a developing nation where one individual personally influences national policy than one in which democratic practice is debated and decided in community. David Bahati saw a problem in Uganda. He introduced legislation that he saw as a solution. Then Uganda debated his proposal. This is how parliamentary democracy functions. We in the west would be well served to allow Uganda to debate and decide without our manipulation. Those of us who are only visitors or friends to Uganda must allow Uganda to develop her own democratic institutions and practice.
Those of us who observe the pragmatics of capital punishment threats in the face of offended sexual morals notice that frequently this threat is a tool of revenge. It is used as a means to remove offended family honor and elicit financial compensation for the loss. This practice must simply stop. It is time to remove capital punishment as a means of justice in face of offended community sexual morals.
My third suggestion is that legal and institutional means must be developed to protect children.
The debate concerning legislation on the practice of homosexuality in Uganda is a necessary one for a developing nation. After all a nations future is her youth. Such debates can at times degenerate into a loss of reason, love, and redemption. I am only a God seeker offering my limited wisdom. It seems to me that there are four vital components to this debates resolution. First, those of us from outside Uganda must respect the development of her democratic institutions and process. Second, the time has come to repeal capital punishment for sexual offenses. Third, we must further develop legal and institutional means to protect children. Lastly, international organizations must be held accountable for the behavior of their personnel. May Uganda continue to prosper and bless others as she has blessed me.
Out of this seeking to be a tool of redemption I offer four suggestions upon Uganda’s debate of
legislation related to homosexuality.