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Ugandan church mulls new law: CEN 11.27.09 p 18. November 27, 2009

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Church of the Province of Uganda, Human Sexuality --- The gay issue, Politics.
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The Church of Uganda has come under fire from gay activists in the UK for failing to speak out against a proposed law that would toughen the East African nation’s sodomy laws.

However the furore in church circles over the “Anti-Homosexuality Bill” speaks more to the rift between the African and Western Anglicans than to the politics of the proposed legislation. The campaign mounted in the West to defeat the bill will likely change few minds in Uganda, while the Church of Uganda’s response will likely been seen in Britain as moral cowardice in the face of injustice.

One senior Ugandan cleric told The Church of England Newspaper, “The Church of Uganda is not passive about current issues, but we have chosen not to be publicly confrontational. People will work behind the scenes to influence current events and discuss issues with the players rather than go to the newspapers. For example, you will never know when the Archbishop meets with the President. This is the way we Ugandans do things, which is different from the West.”

“There’s very little influence to stop the legislation of a law, an institute, in practice by the church,” Archbishop Henry Orombi explained on June 22, 2008. “The church’s practice is to preach, to proclaim, so that people who find themselves in a position where they go away from the word of God, the same word of God can bring them back to life.”

The Church of Uganda is unlikely to address publicly the merits of the Anti-Homosexuality bill before parliament senior church leaders tell CEN, but will seek to educate and instruct the country’s leaders on the moral issues raised by the debates. During the reign of Idi Amin, the Church of Uganda spoke out against the injustices and abuses of his regime, yet the manner in which it confronted the government was very different than that favored by the Church of England and its governments. Archbishop Janani Luwum’s confrontation with Idi Amin, which ultimately led to his martyrdom, was behind closed doors in a private meeting with the President.

On 14 Oct MP David Bahati of the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) tabled a private-members bill before parliament entitled the ‘Anti-Homosexuality Bill’ that would stiffen Uganda’s sodomy laws.

British colonial era laws prohibiting “carnal knowledge against the order of nature” remain on the statute books of Uganda as do similar laws in Tanzania and Kenya. Bahati’s bill seeks to establish a legal definition of homosexual acts and provide for their criminalization. Consensual homosexual acts between adults would be subject to penalties of up to 10 years imprisonment, while “aggravated homosexuality”—homosexual relations with a minor or homosexual acts committed by an HIV-positive individual—would be a capital crime or merit life imprisonment.

Article 13 of the bill imposes a seven year term of imprisonment or fine for promoting homosexuality, while organizations found guilty under the law would be closed down. Failure to inform would be an offence under the act punishable by imprisonment.

If enacted, the proposed law would follow a trend of increased state sanctions against same-sex conduct in East Africa. On April 22, 2009 President Pierre Nkurunziza of Burundi approved that country’s first sodomy law, which states that “whoever has sexual relations with a person of the same sex is punished by a prison sentence of 3 months to 2 years and a fine.”

In Rwanda political leaders have also called for the criminalization of homosexual relations. While homosexual acts are punishable if one participant is under the age of 18 under the 1977 Penal Code, legislators aligned with President Paul Kagame have called for the introduction of sodomy laws punishing all homosexual acts.

Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and other civil liberties groups as well as the British and French governments denounced the Bahati bill saying it violates human rights and would stigmatize people live with HIV/AIDs in Uganda.

The Rev. Sharon Ferguson, Chief Executive of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement (LGCM) in Britain said the bill was “unjust, cruel and can only strike terror in the hearts of LGBT people, their families, friends and supporters”

She added she was “particularly distressed that many Christian groups including Churches in the Anglican Communion in Uganda appear to be supporting the proposals.”

On Nov 6 the Church of Uganda released a statement saying it was “studying the proposed ‘Anti-Homosexuality bill’ and, therefore, does not yet have an official position on the bill.”

It did, however, restate its official position opposing the death penalty and affirming the Church is a safe place for those struggling with sexual brokenness to receive pastoral care. It also restated its traditional views on marriage and human sexuality and its opposition to the blessing of same-sex unions and the ordination of non-celibate homosexuals to the ministry.

On Nov 7 the Ugandan Provincial Secretary, Canon Aaron Mwesigye, told CEN the church was “still studying” the bill.

He added that they stood “behind our previous statements” condemning homophobic violence articulated by Archbishop Henry Orombi at Gafcon.

“Violence by one individual against another is wrong, whether it is homosexual assault of children in schools or violence against homosexuals. We uphold the sanctity of all life,” Canon Mwesigye said.

On Nov 13 the LGCM reported that the Archbishop of Canterbury’s office declined to respond to a request for comments on the law, while the Archbishop of York’s office said Dr Sentamu “will not be making a statement on this issue.”

“If ever there was a time for the Archbishops to speak out to protect human rights, is this not it?” the LGCM asked. Comments on Anglican-blogs also turned sharply against the Church of Uganda for its perceived inaction on the bill.

However, the Anti-Homosexual Bill is a private-members bill, not a government bill, sources note. While Bahati is a member of the ruling coalition, he is not a government minister. Bahati’s reasons for introducing the bill are unclear, though he was linked in May to power struggle in the top echelons of the NRM.

However, the decision whether to back the bill rests with President Yoweri Museveni. As party leader President Museveni controls the NRM and the NRM fields over 300 members of Parliament to the opposition’s 50. NRM MPs are subject to “party discipline” with voting decisions being determined directly under the president’s control during the monthly NRM caucus meetings.

On Nov 15 President Museveni indicated he was sympathetic to Bahati’s concerns, but signaled he would not endorse the bill as written. “I hear European homosexuals are recruiting in Africa,” he said, in an address to a youth awards banquet, warning against ‘foreign’ corrupt practices.

However, he added “We used to have very few homosexuals traditionally. They were not persecuted but were not encouraged either because it was clear that is not how God arranged things to be.”

While Museveni is President of Uganda and leader of the NRM, his power is not absolute, analysts note, as he cannot go beyond the consensus of the country’s political, military, traditional and religious leaders.

The church’s role in lobbying the government, one senior Ugandan cleric explained, was to avoid partisan politics but preach the practical lessons of the Bible. Public political lobbying demanded by activists in the UK is not how the Church of Uganda operates. “The church will tend to make statements to guide moral thinking rather than interfere in ‘word-smithing’ proposed legislation,” the Kampala cleric said.

He cited the Nov 12 funeral oration given by the Assistant Bishop of Kampala Zac Niringiye at the funeral of Major General Kazini as an example.

Preaching to the president and senior army leaders, Bishop Niringiye warned the government that it must address its failings and internal rivalries. “I do not have to be a prophet of doom to predict NRM’s collapse if you don’t deal with these weaknesses,” the bishop said.

It was too late for the dead general to mend his ways, but “you Generals, if you do not respond to this wake-up call, you are doomed,” he said.

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