Should Homosexuality Be Criminal? About Uganda

Should Homosexuality Be Criminal? About Uganda April 4, 2024

Should Homosexuality Be Criminal? About Uganda

According to many news reports a court in Uganda has upheld that nation’s harsh criminal penalties for homosexuality, including capital punishment for “aggravated homosexuality” (whatever that means). Now the laws will go to Uganda’s Supreme Court for review. Observers expect that court will uphold most, of not all, of the laws criminalizing homosexuality.

As a Christian theologian and ethicist (I held an endowed chair in Christian ethics at Baylor University and taught Christian theology there and at other Christian universities for many years) I condemn punishment of homosexuals. I call on Uganda, a predominantly Christian country, to stop persecuting homosexuals. My call has nothing to do with churches and their decisions about membership, ordination, etc. I am only talking about governmental persecution of homosexuals.

I admit, however, that I find it highly ironic that so many left-leaning Westerners (Europeans and North Americans) want to tell Uganda and any other country what to do. For many years now that has been identified as a form of neo-colonialism and cultural imperialism.

Some years ago I heard a Christian anthropologist argue publicly that Western people in Global South cultures have no right to tell people in those cultures what to do. He gave specific examples including NOT interfering when husbands beat wives. He was, clearly, a cultural relativist even as a Christian anthropologist.

I am not a cultural relativist. Just as people in other cultures have the right and sometimes the duty to speak out in criticism of American culture, so we have the right and the duty, sometimes, to speak out against other cultures, meaning against certain customs and practices in them.

Again, years ago, I had an intimate lunch (small group) with Festo Kivengere, an Anglican bishop in Uganda and the “Billy Graham of Africa.” He did not hold back from criticizing American culture, including down to details such as spending money on breakfast cereals drowned in sugar.

I wonder what Bishop Kivengere would say to the Uganda government now? I don’t know. But I know what I would say to him, to them through him, if I had the opportunity (which I never will in this world because he is long deceased). I would remind him of his book “I Love Idi Amin” where he argued that forgiveness is paramount, even toward those who persecute you. Amin was, by all accounts, a monster who killed many people, including at least on Anglican bishop. Forgive him? Yes, that was the spirit of Kivengere.

Of course, it is possible and sometimes right to forgive and still punish. However, not all sin is crime. And Christians, even Christians in government, have no call from Jesus to punish sins just because they are sins.

It is one thing for churches to decide for themselves who can and who cannot be members or leaders. That right I honor and defend. However, governments ought not to enforce Christian morality unless there are good secular reasons for doing so. Of course, some sins can be criminalized IF they can be shown to be harmful to others besides the sinners.

There is nothing in the New Testament that directs followers of Jesus to criminalize sins through governments’ legal systems.

Persecuting homosexuals, gays, is barbaric and needs to stop. That includes bullying or excluding them (except from church membership or leadership).

Christians in the West, Europe and North America, need to speak out against persecution of gays especially in countries that count themselves primarily Christian. But not only in them. I also find it ironic that the American media is criticizing Uganda but not, as much, Middle Eastern and other predominantly Islamic countries, that criminalize homosexuality. But I also understand it insofar as the critics make the point that Jesus would not persecute people. They rarely, if ever, do.

Christianity is a religion of love, compassion, forgiveness, healing. “Christianity” that encourages punishment of sinners just for being sinners is not authentic Christianity. Even within the churches, sinners should be accepted, loved, embraced—even if not made members or leaders. All people are sinners. The question of membership has to do with whether a sinner admits to being a sinner and is open to correction and help and wants to stop sinning.

*Note: If you choose to comment, make sure your comment is relatively brief (no more than 100 words), on topic, addressed to me, civil and respectful (not hostile or argumentative), and devoid of pictures or links.*

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