Sunday, October 5, 2014

Christianity and the Anti-Homosexuality Act (AHA): A reply to good friends

On September 15 2014 my good friend, Andrew Mwenda wrote in The Independent “AHA: A reply to “Christian” critics”  He raises many good points that are both Biblical and represent historic Christian teaching.  Yet, I think a deeper discussion is merited.  

            I’ve sat with Andrew in Monitor FM’s studio discussing our disagreements about Jesus’ virgin birth and resurrection.  I’ve never been able to forget the caller who said, “Hitler, Stalin, Amin, and Mwenda will all have a special place in hell.”  Wow.  I fear God’s judgment too much myself to declare it to another.

Social media now shows us how deeply engrained such sentiments are into misplaced theories
of Christianity.  Those commentaries miss what it means to be “Christian?”   Though our contemporary times frequently use the term, “Christian” it is only used in the Bible three times (Acts 11:26; 26:28; 1 Peter 4:16.)  Many scholars conclude this first usage of the word, “Christian” was actually an insult to those who believed in Jesus of Nazareth’s resurrection.  The second time is when an imprisoned Paul tries to persuade King Agrippa to believe, and King Agrippa flippantly asks, “Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?”  Lastly, Peter uses the word, “Christian” to explain suffering without shame.  Thus the very use of the name Christian should never entail a sense of towering over one’s opponent.  Instead to be “Christian” means coming to be near and suffer with those suffering.  It is in that relinquishment of hunger for human dominance that we become truly “Christian.”

As we suffer we process through faith.   How did we get here?   Why is this world so full of pain?  The Bible teaches that humanity is made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26, 27.)  All humanity possesses infinite dignity.  Yet, sin enters into the world (Genesis 3.)  Then all havoc breaks out.  Pain is part of life.  Our bodies fail.  Sickness catches us all.  Our work is frustrating.  The corrupt prosper.  All will die.  We can blame others for the mess of humanity.  However, we are all guilty (Romans 3.)  

The Bible speaks of a day coming when like the creepiest of science fiction movies not only will every deed be exposed, but every thought and motive will also be on display (Matthew 12; Luke 12; Hebrews 4:12.)  No one will come away blameless.  The Radio Katwe rumors of Rwanda may not be true, but Jesus makes it clear that somewhere in heaven is stack of files, photos, and videos of our most embarrassing moments.  We’ll all be on our knees begging for mercy when twitter leaks our secrets (Philippians 2:10.)  Thus the best we can do in this life is act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly (Micah 6:8.) 

            With such fear and trembling, but hope of forgiveness we live a Christian ethic that makes many friends (Luke 16:1-14,) and treats others as we want to be treated (Leviticus 19:18; Matthew 22:39; Mark 12:31-33; Luke 10:27.)  With this Christian ethic of shared suffering because of humanity’s shared failings I offer humble suggestions.

            First, can we stop the name calling?  An old pastor, Dr. Royce Dickinson once told me, “Always, describe people the way they describe themselves.  Otherwise we are name calling, and stripping people of their dignity.”  I’m using the word “gay” now as homosexual seems offensive.  When a few use courser language let us either ignore it or call it unacceptable to our civil community.  With the same reasoning, can we cease to use the term “homophone” or “homophobic?”  The terms assign the motive of fear and hate.   Let’s allow God to sift our motives.

            Second, Uganda is a sovereign nation.  She has the right to make her own laws.  History tells us only emperors try to tell sovereign nations what to do.  Those of us who don’t hold Ugandan citizenship can speak as friends offering advice (as Ugandans also speak to us.)  However, let us not take the place of God and attempt to direct history.   After all history calls those who attempted to direct history names such as “emperor” and “dictator.”  We wouldn’t want those name assigned to us.

            Third, Andrew, Fox Odoi, and others went to court and raised an important issue of justice.  The Anti-Homosexuality Act was passed in Uganda’s Parliament without quorum.  All laws that are just must be established by respecting constitutional process.  The Anti-Gay bill did not follow a just process.   

            Fourth, since we’re all guilty let us very cautiously offer anecdotal evidence of hypocrisy.  I’ve been a respected husband, father, uncle, coach, teacher, pastor, and mzee to my community, but I’m just as guilty of hypocrisy as any.  I’m thankful to all who treat my failings with grace.  

            Fifth, Andrew raises a contemporary Christian proverb, “Love the sinner.  Hate the sin.”  It’s a good attempt to live out a difficult Christian ethic.  Yet, I think Tony Campolo recently said it even better, “Love the sinner.  Hate my own sin.”

            Wow.  Preaching is a horrible task for those who have the courage to wrestling with their own hypocrisy.  Countless Scriptures have men and women speaking for God to indict cultures of sin.  Pastors are accountable to call, “Sin,” “Sin.”  Yet as they do that they know they are guilty of all they are addressing.  No wonder Isaiah said, “Woe to me (Isaiah 6:5-7.)”  Grace needs to continually be applied to our preaching against sin simply because the pastor needs so much of it.

   Paul said it well when he wrote, “Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men, nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.   And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God (1 Corinthians 6:9-11.)”

If Paul planted a church in Kampala it would be made up not only of reformed gays, but reformed street thieves, religious conmen, corrupt government officials, drunkards, bang smokers, and sensationalist journalists.  I hope Uganda’s pastors have similar visions today.

            Yes, Andrew gets it right that the best pastoring helps people become new.  Churches must   When we pastors don’t lead in the process of redemption we should repent before we demand another’s repentance.  Andrew also gets it right that Uganda is not a theocracy and Christianity is itself very divided on many issues related to gays.  Most importantly Andrew gets it right when he writes, “Jesus said he came to earth to save sinners, not to dine with the holy.”
Alexander McKay
lead in the process of human redemption.

            Yet, I think Andrew misses that a significant part of being a religious leader is being a prophet.  Contemporary health and wealth pastors miss it when they think being a prophet is profitable way to predict the future.  Instead being a prophet is a lone voice of truth to intimidating earthly authorities and howling mobs.  Uganda’s history has had many.  Some were missionaries like Alexander McKay who spoke against slavery, war, human sacrifice, and homosexuality.   Some were leaders like Bishop Festo Kivengere who with a pure heart proclaimed his love for Idi Amin while calling Amin’s killings evil.  

Bishop Festo Kivengere
Those voices of the past remind us again – The colonial impulse to control is wrong.  Sexuality should be practiced between a man and woman who are married.  Murder is a heinous sin.  We’re all guilty, but redemption is possible.  Thus we’ll preach not only on homosexuality with which a small percentage struggle, but also address our more pervasive sins of greed, prejudice, and lust.  We’re all part of the sin problem.

            Those prophets of old were advocates in policy debates.  Their voices should still be heard.  In a society where there are many religious thoughts we should listen well to all whether they are rabbi, guru, haji, or pastor.  Each represents millions who have found enduring truth in their religion.  We dare not make the mistake to exclude any just because religion is part of their reasoning.  In fact, we’ll find when we’re really in trouble frequently we’re healed at a religious hospital, educated by religious scholarships and schools, and someone we meet at a religious gathering helps us find a new job.  If we turn to religious leaders for health, education, and business it seems hypocritical to exclude them from participating as citizens in governance.

            Andrew closes his column with a story of a gay Christian in Uganda.  It’s heart breaking. 
How about if the next time I’m in Uganda Andrew and I go visit him with the same grace we give one another?  Friendship is about loving one another when we know each other’s failings.   Then we gently point to the ultimate friend, Jesus of Nazareth who ultimately makes us into something new. 
            Bottom line:  Andrew has well pointed out Biblical holes in the Anti-Homosexuality Act.  Yet, I think Andrew’s closing story is a whisper of God that a day will come when Andrew combines his journalistic excellence with a pastor’s calling.

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