Ash Wednesday Reflections
Integrity USA VP for National & International Affairs
There is a form of public confession that asks for forgiveness from the things we have done and the things that others have done on our behalf. As we enter the holy season of Lent, I am thinking about the things the Anglican Church has done to damage the LGBT community, particularly in Uganda.
If there is any doubt about the intention of Ugandan Anglicans to imprison gays (while exempting pastors, counselors and doctors as “Christianity Today” has reported) it is very clear that the Ugandan crisis is no longer about LGBT rights but about the struggle between the ideals of democracy and theocracy. Ugandan Anglicans, influenced and bribed by western fundamentalism are the prime movers in this struggle.
By outlawing homosexuality, they are not only prepared to send their gay sons and lesbian daughters to jail or to the gallows, but have dealt an incredible blow against Ugandan extended family values. If a mother or brother does not report even a suspected homosexual in their family, they will not be exempt from this draconian law. It is something straight out of the Salem Witch trials where a tightly knit community turns in on themselves and theocracy and hysteria win over democracy.
There is no reasoning with a theocrat. If the Bible has become their idolatrous god, then their interpretation of God’s will through their interpretation of scripture cannot be rationalized any further. It is only when they terrorize and torture enough so their paranoia is finally seen, that the majority of their fellow human beings wake up to the wrongs that are being done on their behalf. But that usually takes a long time and a lot of people get lost on the way. Britain suffered under Cromwell’s Commonwealth for 16 years before they got rid of his fanatical Puritanism and began to enjoy life again.
I know a brave Anglican priest named Gideon Byamugisha who has worked many years in HIV in Uganda. He says:
"I believe that this bill [if passed into law] will be state-legislated genocide against a specific community of Ugandans, however few they may be."
Byamugisha went on to say that gay people were being used as "scapegoats" for Uganda's social problems.
"What makes this proposed law truly distasteful is the amount and level of violence that is being proposed against suspected, rumored and known individuals who are gay, and their families and community leaders in their places of worship, residence, education, work, business and entertainment."
The Archbishop of Canterbury, (probably the most famous referee in the world right now) addressed the Ugandan and other important moral issues at the Church of England’s General Synod today. He is a brilliant theologian and his mastery of weaving together a diversity of issues into some coherent and understandable format is remarkable. He referred to the tensions that exist between the exclusive autonomy of religious and civil communities, both called to co-exist and make important decisions for their constituencies:
“The rights and dignities of gay and lesbian people are a matter of proper concern for all of us, and we assume with good reason, even, I should say, with good Christian reason, that the securing of these rights is obviously a mark of civilized and humane society. When those rights are threatened – as in the infamous legislation that was being discussed in Uganda – we quite rightly express repugnance”.
He later compared the decision to consecrate Gene Robinson with the decision of the Ugandan Church to criminalize homosexuality even further.
“But when the affirmation of that good takes the form of pre-empting the discernment of the wider Anglican (and a lot of the non-Anglican) fellowship, and of acting in ways that negate the general understanding of the limits set by Bible and tradition, there is a conflict with another undoubted good, which is the capacity of the Anglican family to affirm and support one another in diverse contexts. The freedom claimed, for example, by the Episcopal church to ordain a partnered homosexual bishop is, simply as a matter of fact, something that has a devastating impact on the freedom of, say, the Malaysian Christian to proclaim the faith without being cast as an enemy of public morality and risking both credibility and personal safety. It hardly needs to be added that the freedom that might be claimed by an African Anglican to support anti-gay legislation likewise has a serious impact on the credibility of the gospel in our setting.”
I was horrified by the Archbishop’s comparisons. Nothing Gene Robinson has ever done, or ever could do, has caused the kind of potential genocide that Gideon Byamugisha is talking about.
It is unfortunate that one of the greatest theologians, particularly gifted on issues of human sexuality is Archbishop Rowan Williams and his paper on “Embodiment” is one of the masterpieces that affirm human sexuality in all its mystery. Yet we sabotaged ourselves by making him Referee of the Anglican Communion and lost an important voice in the debate about “incarnational theology.”
Where is the moral voice of the Anglican Communion? The Ugandan Church’s current position on homosexuality underscores the utter failure of the Anglican Communion’s listening process. Theocrats have a hard time listening. They are too busy telling everyone what God is thinking. The silence from the leadership of the newly formed Anglican Church of North America is also very interesting. Maybe they will soon endorse the Ugandan Churches position.
According to the Anglican Communion website: “The aim of the Lambeth Conference’s Listening Process is to hear God and engage in his mission to all people in evangelism, discipleship, service and striving for justice”.
If you read the Anglican Church of Uganda’s formal position on homosexuality and Resolution 1:10 written in 2005, there is a lot of attention paid to the interpretation of scripture (as referred in Lambeth Resolution 1;10) but has nothing to say about the pastoral, educational and civic responsibility to protect human rights that made up the majority of the resolution itself. Only scripture is dealt with and a heavy preoccupation with the election of the Bishop of New Hampshire. They refer to Gene as a divorced man with two children who is living in a same sex relationship with another man but omitted the fact that Gene was largely responsible for millions of our tax dollars of AIDS relief to their country long before Rick Warren was even aware AIDS existed.
They further used the Lambeth Resolution twice in a recent document to reaffirm their support for the further criminalization of the gay and lesbian minority community.
No one in the Anglican Communion has challenged the Ugandan hierarchy’s consistent misuse of this resolution that was -- I believe -- the historical genesis of the current wave of religious and state sanctioned hysteria against gay people.
We have sinned in letting others do the dirty work of building a climate of terror for us, without owning our Anglican complicity.
It is one thing to condemn this bill. It is another stage admit our common participation in the systemic persecution of a voiceless and faceless community within Uganda. Except for courageous clergy like Bishop Christopher Senyonjo, the face and voice of this part of the church and her “good news” has been absent.
The Church of Uganda, in yesterday’s statement may not want to send Senyojo or Fr. Gideon to prison, but their choice to become “the church militant” seems inevitable. They are isolating and silencing all who oppose their righteous march to the kingdom. Senyojo is a persecuted bishop in a church he has served for 50 years. He pleaded with two archbishops to put him on trial so he could make his case, but the silence continues. He is without pension and continues to pray with educate and support LGBT people and their families. He cares for the children of his son who like so many fellow bishops, lost their children to AIDS. No-one is reaching out to him. They are not listening to their own voices never mind the likes of Archbishop Williams or the Episcopal Church.
“The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church” is one of Uganda’s most famous inspirational choruses. Now the church militant is blessing the state to begin the martyring. Ironically, the church’s own history of persecution under Amin and others has now been passed on to the LGBT community and their families. Persecution will only make this little movement for democracy and liberation even stronger in Uganda and will not destroy it. Read your own history, listen to the stories of your ancestors and ask yourselves “Why are we persecuting in the name of God?”
As we stand on the eve of Lent and gaze up at the cross, we may ask ourselves, “Are we one with the crucified, or are we complicit in the crucifying?”