Archbishop of Canterbury In “Private Talks”; Ugandan Pastor Calls “Kill Gays” Bill “Genocide”
December 4th, 2009
There are two developments reported today on the Anglican Church’s response to the draconian Anti-Homosexuality Act that is now before Uganda’s Parliament. First, The Times of London‘s religion correspondent Ruth Gledhill reports that the Archbishop of Canterbury Dr. Rowan Williams, who is head of the worldwide Anglican Communion, is in private “intensive” talks with leaders of the Ugandan Anglican Church. Rowans has been severely criticized for his silence, but Gledhill reports:
But there is method in his silence. Today, Lambeth Palace told me: ‘It has been made clear to us, as indeed to others, that attempts to publicly influence either the local church or political opinion in Uganda would be divisive and counter productive. Our contacts, at both national and diocesan level, with the local church will therefore remain intensive but private.’
In fact, we can take for granted that Dr Williams is against the draconian new law. But speaking out publicly to this effect could indeed, as he says, have the opposite effect to that intended. It would almost certainly be seen as white-led colonialism of the worst possible kind, as a misguided attempt to impose western liberal values upon traditional African culture.
One Ugandan Anglican pastor however is not so timid about labeling the bill for what it is:
Canon Gideon Byamugisha said the bill, which recommends the death penalty for anyone repeatedly convicted of having gay sex and prison sentences for those who fail to report homosexual activity to the police, would breed violence and intolerance through all levels of society.
“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,” he said.
Canon Byamugisha said that gay people were being used as scapegoats for Uganda’s social problems, and that politicians were using LGBT people as political fodder for the upcoming 2011 elections. (We’ve also discussed that dynamic here.) Canon Byamugisha elaborates:
“They [politicians] are exploiting the traditional and cultural abhorrence to same-sex relationships to their advantage. They know that if they criminalise homosexuals, homosexual tendencies and homosexual acts, they stand a better chance of winning votes from the majority of religious followers and leaders, because most of us may not be able to distinguish what may be considered ‘unacceptable’, from the point of view of religious and cultural belief and opinion, from what is ‘criminal’, from the point of state law that is meant to keep peace, order and justice,” he said.
“What makes this proposed law truly distasteful is the amount and level of violence that is being proposed against suspected, rumoured and known individuals who are gay, and their families and community leaders in their places of worship, residence, education, work, business and entertainment.”
He added: “When you say that parents of homosexual children, and that pastors and counsellors who extend spiritual guidance and psycho-social support to homosexuals, will be regarded as ‘accomplices’ in promoting and abetting homosexuality if they don’t report them to police, then you take the law a bit too far.”
As we have already reported, there was already one full-scale public vigilante campaign waged in public media last April against LGBT people. The Red Pepper published names and photos of those accused of being gay, an act which resulted in several arrests and blackmail attempts. Others were denounced in radio and television, as rival pastors took revenge on one another through accusations of homosexuality. It is feared that if the proposed Anti-Homosexuality Act becomes law, it will unleash a new round of vigilantism and extra-judicial torture.
Canon Byamugisha’s courageous stand is nothing new.After the death of his first wife of AIDS in 1990, he discovered he was HIV-positive. Two years later he became the first practicing African priest to publicly declare his HIV status, which was a bold step in a continent in which HIV/AIDS carries an enormous stigma. His has since become a vigorous campaigner on behalf of those living with AIDS. n 2003 he established the Friends of Canon Gideon Foundation to end the stigma of HIV/AIDS, provide education for safe sex practices, improve access to treatment, and support children who have lost parents to the disease. He is canon for two cathedrals, in Uganda and Zambia. This year he was awarded the Niwano Peace Prize for his work.