By Chris Sugden, Evangelicals Now
Anglican churches in Nigeria and Uganda have through history stood for biblical truth and principle and been at the forefront of action for justice, peace and equality. They have transformed their societies especially the relationships of men and women. One African Anglican Archbishop told me recently: “Defenders of polygamous families have never lived in one.” The church was also at the forefront of developing democracy in African societies, often in opposition to the ruling colonial powers and their national successors. One only needs recall the late Archbishop David Gitari of Kenya.
Christian mission at its most authentic has not supported the status quo, or privileged injustice and oppressive social practices. In India Christians opposed widow burning. In Pakistan the church still leads the fight against child slavery.
The Ugandan church knows the price of opposing unjust and powerful people. Every year on June 3 the church recalls the martyrdom between 1885 and 1887 of young page boys at the court of the King of Buganda who refused to be sodomised by the king because of their Christian faith. In the 1970s Archbishop Janani Luwum paid the price for the church’s critique of Idi Amin with his life.
The recent laws concerning homosexual behaviour in Uganda and Nigeria have led to strident condemnation from some in the West. In the last week the World Bank has postponed a $90 million dollar loan to Uganda. Norway, Denmark and the Netherlands have withdrawn government aid. Have they responded to Russia’s laws in a similar way? Are the poor of the world only to be helped if they agree with us?
The African Anglican church’s membership of the global Anglican Communion enables accountability and mutual challenge between churches. The following exchange between a Nigerian archdeacon called Paul and a visiting American Ph.D student illustrates this
“Paul had heard that some priests in the US and England are gay. “What would these Christian brothers of yours say if I asked them how they could be homosexual, and train for ordination?”
I told him how seminary classmates of mine who are gay tell me that they believe God created them to be that way. After a few moments, he spoke again. “In every culture, there is something to be converted by the gospel. In Nigeria, it is our lying, cheating, and pervasive corruption.”
He paused again, reflective. “What is it that needs to be converted in America?” It was an honest question, asked genuinely, and I realised that it was not one to which I had ever given serious thought. I stumbled, looking for an answer. (Church Times February 21 p.36)
Rachel, who visited Kenya last October illustrates the issues Africans are facing:
‘LGBT offices funded from the West have been set up in all major cities throughout the country. It is widely believed that bright young people who are members of these groups are being funded through local tertiary education which is expensive and only generally accessible to the elite. One friend noticed that her newspaper carried a favourable article towards homosexuality every day. She felt that someone must have paid for it to be placed there as there was an article for every day in the same place, the same length for several weeks and then suddenly it stopped. “
“The media found an obscure, expelled, Kenyan Anglican priest who preaches that homosexual practice is acceptable and has received funding from the West to set up a church. He was given a large amount of sympathetic airtime on mainstream television at the same time that an international conference on upholding Biblical teaching was taking place in Nairobi (GAFCON2). This was used by the media to suggest that Christianity was unclear on the issue of homosexuality. A culture war has started in Kenya and the West has instigated it – cultural imperialism isn’t dead after all.’
The Archbishop of Uganda told me last year that parents in Uganda are very concerned to protect their young boys from being preyed upon by paedophiles. The church’s vocation is the protection of the vulnerable. As a church and nation Ugandans know far more about the victims of violence than western liberals.
A Ugandan parliamentarian has told me of their struggle to signal through the law that such preying is completely taboo. I have heard UK Parliamentarians make the same argument for the use of the law in the UK on other matters.
The Anglican churches have stood against any violence against people with same-sex attraction and behind the scenes the Ugandan Anglican church had a significant moderating influence on the bill. Without the church’s role the forces of violence against same-sex attracted people would have triumphed.
Every community establishes boundaries for what is and is not acceptable. Many in the West would agree that it is reasonable to criminalise sexual behaviour between adults and minors in order to protect the vulnerable. There are clearly issues of norms of behaviour that are promoted in schools and youth groups. Uganda, like many other countries, has taken the view that the promotion of same sex behaviour is to be regarded as criminal activity.
The western church can share its views on the wisdom of criminalising same-sex behaviour between adults without weakening their respect for and support to the Ugandan Church in it stand against violence. This is a sign of maturity in our relationships.
This concern for the wellbeing of a community, especially the vulnerable, does not degrade the rights of same-sex attracted people. Claiming that it does depends on the unproved assumption that such attraction is entirely innate. President Museveni is investigating this assumption and inviting debate on the topic. This goes completely against the mainstream view of western culture. “Gay activists” in the west think that the issue is beyond debate and vilify any attempt to raise the question. Who is being prejudiced?