The Ugandan Parliament has re-introduced a draconian anti-LGBT bill that has received widespread international criticism. Under this bill, first introduced in 2011 and re-introduced earlier this year, the government would prescribe the death penalty to all LGBT people and those that provide them with housing and resources.
The bill is expected to pass before the end of this year; its champions call it a “Christmas gift to the Ugandan people.”
In the face of this hatred, I am glad to work for Sojourners, which earlier this year signed on to the following statement along with other Christian groups:
Our Christian faith recognizes that all human beings have been created in the image and likeness of God, and Christ teaches that we are to love our neighbors as ourselves. All acts of bigotry and hatred betray these foundational truths … Regardless of the diverse theological views of our religious traditions regarding the morality of homosexuality, the criminalization of homosexuality, along with the violence and discrimination against LGBT people that inevitably follows, is incompatible with the teachings of our faith.
I am even more grateful for this attitude as I think back on my experience living in this beautiful region of Africa. Close enough to get to Uganda by bus (which I did, if you’d like to hear about it), Burundi is a small country where I spent a year volunteering with a small Christian organization. I loved living there, and admired much of the culture, perseverance, and insight of my Burundian friends and colleagues.
One thing I struggled with, though, was the homophobia that was present in the culture and the church. It was never questioned. One of my Burundian friends often wore a (knockoff) designer watch. “It’s sinful to wear that,” another friend once said. “I heard that the head of this company is gay.” I was heartbroken when another friend told me about her cousin, who “thinks he is a girl,” and who the family is trying to keep from going in public (both from shame and from fear of physical violence). She hoped that one day he would change and behave “normally.”
These are wonderful, educated Christian people working sacrificially for peace, justice, and development of their country. They heard in church that homosexuality was wrong, and absent any other message of love and support, did not question the homophobia that surrounded them.
I am glad that Christians are standing up against this bill. What we say in the United States does matter; people all over the majority world read books by American evangelical authors, watch our famous television preachers, and work with many amazing Christian development organizations.
The church in the African Great Lakes Region has its own voice and history, and we have much to learn from them. Yet as co-participants in the Body of Christ, we can model love and understanding, regardless of our views on the theology of sexuality.
Let’s pray for our brothers and sisters in Uganda as they struggle with these issues this season, and for the Church as it has an opportunity to speak out against it.
Janelle Tupper is Campaigns Assistant for Sojourners.