Two key points need to be made about the malicious anti-homosexuality law that was recently put in place by the Ugandan government: the first concerns American fundamentalist Christians, the second concerns Western journalists.
First, I must address those American Christians who have been implicated in the advocacy for the anti-homosexuality law in Uganda. They are misguided in their attempt to impose, through political and legal means, a conception of Christian ethics that is out of joint with the character of Jesus Christ and the early Church as portrayed in scripture. The issue here for me is not the question of homosexuality, which is certainly contentious enough within the church, but the issue of utilizing political power in order to enforce any vision of scripture or Christianity.
Christian origins are replete with examples of persecution coming from the centers of power, which Christians did not control. The Book of Revelation, written in the midst of fears of persecution and loss of identity and authenticity, stands as an example to the real dangers posed by political power. I do not think I need to point out the examples of the failures of religious governments (Christian or otherwise) to actually adhere to their own teachings or to protect their teachings from the corruptions of power.
This central issue here revolves around the question of the proper relation of the Church to secular political power. In Virginia, the Virginia Act for Establishing Religious Freedom was passed in 1786 in order to prevent the support of the Anglican Church using public funding. The act garnered support from those who dissented to the Anglican Church — Baptists, Methodists, Quakers, etc. — who (1) saw the dangers of the corruption of the church by government power and (2) experienced (often violent) persecution from the established church in the past.
While the analogy to persecution in Virginia is not perfect, Ugandan Christians should look to the experience of their brothers and sisters in Christ around the world to see that worldly power is often corrupting power. The use of political power by a “Christian” majority to impose one view of Christian morality upon others using violent, legal and criminal means not only corrupts the church’s witness, but also hinders the church from effectively reaching out to and welcoming in the marginalized and the hurting with the love of Christ. Whether they take homosexuality to be a sin or not, this call from Christ is clear.
Secondly, Western journalists who seek to blame American fundamentalist Christians for Uganda’s anti-homosexuality bill are guilty of disempowering Ugandans by shielding them from blame. This point is loosely made by Jason Bruner in his article, “Uganda’s President Will Sign Anti-Gay Bill. How Did the Nation Get to this Point?” on ReligionandPolitics.org. Brandon Bub and I agree: “Implicitly, coverage of this law suggests that Ugandans are a backward people who lack enlightened Western notions of sexual orientation and gender equality.”
In a similar vein, the danger I want to point out is that blaming fringe fundamentalists who have exported American culture wars to Uganda continues to place Ugandans in the category of victims of colonization as opposed to autonomous individuals who can determine for themselves — rightly of wrongly — how to conduct the business of their own country. Thus, by placing so much attention on the Americans who have influenced pastors, government officials and citizens in Uganda, we miss the opportunity to call the law an unjust and unethical use of legal power by Uganda’s government.