I was one of those people who was almost convinced by the arguments coming out of Lambeth ’08 and elsewhere that the gay debate was a North American/eurocentric pre-occupation that diverted attention away from the important issues such as poverty. I also bought into the arguments being put forward that the pro-gay rights brigade were in some way involved in a new form of colonialism by trying to impose their views. I was one of those who was ready to say time to end the arguments and live and let live on either side of the debate.
My attitudes have changed today. I see that I am a privileged westerner who has a very comfortable life and no idea. Ok so the latest figures quoted by the Guardian and elsewhere might show homophobic attacks have increased by approximately 14% since April, but I can without fear, generally, have an open and happy relationship with my partner. Debates about sexuality and the church might be an issue here, but we live in a country where Civil Partnerships are available and where our human rights are protected.
Reading through the Ekklesia update today I became aware of the new laws being tabled in Uganda. They are summed up in the Ekklesia article I’ve just linked to and further discussed in these Colin Coward and Savi Hensman articles.
The upshot of these laws are if I and my partner lived in Uganda we could imprisoned for 7 years. If we sought to enter into a civil partnership we could be imprisoned for life. Anybody in authority aware of our relationship who did not report it within twenty four hours could be fined up to two hundred and fifty currency points, (one currency point being equal to twenty thousand shillings), or imprisoned for up to three years. That means, dear reader, if I were to come to you for support or help as a friend, a minister or whatever I would be putting you in an impossible position if you were a minister, teacher, social worker or involved in any other “position of authority”. If I were a Ugandan who came to Britain I would still be subject to these laws and liable to extradition.
For aggrivated homosexuality, where the “victim” is seen as young or vulnerable or the accused has HIV, the penalty may be death.
I believe, as with other commenators linked to, that this is something that should be shifting the church off the fence. I suspect it is our softly, softly approach in the west which has allowed this type of bill to be tabled in a country our aid packages help support. The accomodation of homophobia and to a lesser extent heterosexism within our churches debates leads to a place where the outcry to this type of bill is muted because of wider sensibilities.
My personal view is that yes family life does need to be promoted, but that family life relates to monogomous faithful relationships between either hetero or homosexual couples. Abusive homosexual and heterosexual activity is wrong and needs to be dealt with, in all societies, through the judicial system. However the penalities being proposed are not appropriate.
Finally I believe that in all societies people need to be able to discuss their sexuality freely, particularly with those in authority who might be a source of support. If their feelings cannot be discussed not only does the risk of suicide increase but so does the likelyhood of negative and dangerous sexual behaviour. Celibacy can be discussed as one healthy option in an open society.
It is time for the Western church to confess what the consequences of their political manouvering are and start to act to save lives and freedoms. I am reminded of the Pastor Niemoller poem, “first they came for the Jews”, which refers to a situation where many gay and lebsian men and women were previously imprisoned and slaughtered as a result of their sexuality.