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Going ballistic: When the Ugandan parliament shortly before Christmas passed a bill legislating long prison sentences for homosexuals, The Huffington Post quoted one activist calling Dec. 20 “the worst day” in history, and the U.S. State Department (which looks the other way as Muslims murder Christians) was quick to “condemn” the bill. On Jan. 17 Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni chose not to sign the bill, citing a technicality, and columnists blamed American Christians for manipulating the purportedly ignorant and easily led Africans.
A deeper analysis came from Chris Howles, a missionary in Uganda who in his blog, Namugongo Life, called the national opposition to homosexuality historical rather than religious. Howles wrote online (“Homophobia in Uganda: Is Christianity the problem or the solution?”), “The vast majority of Christians in this country have never met or spoken with a Western missionary. Nor have their leaders. Many of these attitudes about homosexuality come direct from traditional Ugandan culture.”
Who ya gonna believe? I side with Howles, in part because in November I visited his central Ugandan township of Namugongo and saw a memorial to 26 pages, young royal servants who professed Christ and were martyred in 1886. That page scandal reminded me of when U.S. representatives in 1983 and 2006 came under fire for sex scandals involving congressional pages, except in the United States no one died (except politically). Uganda’s scandal was different: King Mwanga II had the 26 pages burned to death, and a national holiday now honors them.
Why the king killed them is important in understanding the recent Ugandan legislation. Students learn that Mwanga II expected the royal pages to submit to his homosexual advances. After all, the traditional saying Namunswa alya kunswaze (the queen ant feeds on her subjects) indicated that the monarch is licensed to kill those who reject him. The pages, though, fed on Christ and chose to die rather than to sin so blatantly.
Given that fact, many Ugandans see tolerance of homosexuality in Uganda, let alone praise for it, as historical treason. Does that mean I applauded the parliamentary legislation (which is likely to return to President Museveni’s desk in some form)? No: It was harsh and unlikely to be effective. I write that because ancient Israel’s experience shows how sinners like all of us tend to act when faced with a long list of laws: We break them. The ancient Israelites had the best laws, since God gave them. They had every reason to be confident in their lawgiver, since God had delivered their ancestors from slavery. They had every reason to fear breaking them, since the penalty often was death. But, under these best of possible conditions for obedience, they disobeyed.
Howles has a better idea: Promote Christianity, not tradition. He argues that if Ugandans temper their desire to put homosexuals in prison, “it will most likely be because of Christianity, as churches preach a message of godly love and kindness towards active homosexuals.” Homosexuality is wrong and laws can be useful educators, but our hope is in “the gospel that shows us that all people are created in God’s image … the gospel that welcomes all people to confess that Jesus is Lord and unite together in a broken but re-built community of Christ,” as Ephesians 2:17-22 explains.
Anti-Christians shudder at that notion and desperately need to pretend that Ugandans would be positive about homosexuality if not brainwashed by missionaries—because if that’s not true, two liberal axioms crumble. One is that Africans are natural allies of the left in a war against “religious reactionaries.” The other is that “multiculturalism” is an ideological ally in the war against Christ. When Africans line up with Christian conservatives, the religious left can choose to change its thinking or fall into conspiracy theorizing. The latter is popular, even though the idea that African Christians are puppets demeans them as much as past racists ever did.
Fear-based laws may work for a while, and laws to protect life are certainly important, but rules imposing morality usually sweep problems under the rug instead of solving them. If law doesn’t work for long, what does? Only the gospel. Christ loved us enough to die for us. Once we stop thinking of ourselves as the center of the world and recognize that God owns it and us, we realize that our greatest pleasure comes not from indulgence but from feeling God’s pleasure.