American evangelicals are denouncing a new Uganda law that criminalizes homosexuality, reiterating a position that many have held for years but which has nonetheless drawn scrutiny and skepticism from critics.
Since 2009, several American pastors and leaders have condemned legislation in Uganda that in its initial version imposed the death penalty for some offenders. Under the revised law signed recently by President Yoweri Museveni, the death penalty was removed and replaced with life in prison in some cases.
Now, American evangelicals who insist they never supported either version of the law nonetheless find themselves playing defense, saying their statements against homosexuality at home are being twisted as an endorsement of harsh penalties against gays and lesbians abroad.
Decrying laws in countries such as Uganda and Russia, Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said he knows no evangelicals who would support legislation like Uganda’s.
“We always must balance a fear of Western cultural imperialism with a responsibility to speak to global human rights around the world,” said Moore, who has also denounced Russia’s anti-gay laws because he has adopted sons from Russia.
“Those of us who hold to a Christian sexual ethic don’t want to see those who disagree with us jailed; we want to see them reconciled to God through the gospel.”
The timing of Uganda’s legislation coincided with heated debates in the U.S. over the proposed legislation in Arizona that would have allowed businesses in the state to deny services to people who are gay if they felt that serving them would violate their religious rights.
“The situations in Uganda and Arizona are galaxies apart,” Moore said. “I think that in Arizona and several other states, in an attempt to preserve our religious liberties, regardless of how we agree with how it’s being done, can hardly compare with persecution around the world.”
California megachurch pastor Rick Warren, too, posted on his Facebook page on Sunday (March 2) denying allegations that he ever supported the Uganda bill. In 2009, Warren posted an “encyclical video” on YouTube saying he opposes the criminalization of homosexuality.
“Last week, the nation of Uganda passed a bad law, which I have publicly opposed for nearly 5 years,” Warren wrote. “I still oppose it, but rumors persist because lies and errors are never removed from the internet.”
Evangelical humanitarian organization World Vision has opposed the bill since 2009, arguing that it could hamper efforts to reduce HIV/AIDS. “More people would be reluctant to seek, receive or even provide care and compassion out of fear of being reported,” the organization said in a statement. “This would also make their families and children even more vulnerable.”
Uganda is not the only country to criminalize same-sex relations. The United Nations estimates that 78 countries ban homosexuality.
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SOURCE: Religion News Service
Sarah Pulliam Bailey