By Dan Gilgoff, God & Country
The story of a bill before the Ugandan parliament that would punish homosexual acts with life in prison—or, in some cases, death—has been gaining media attention in the United States. The bill has been pushed by conservative Christian leaders in Uganda, and the coverage has raised the question of how much, if any, responsibility American religious leaders who denounce homosexuality have to oppose it.
Three conservative American Christian activists attended a conference in Uganda earlier this year that helped lay the groundwork for the bill, and one has unequivocally denounced it.
Today, the progressive faith-based political group Faith in Public Life issued its own denouncement, signed by dozens of American Christian leaders, mostly political liberals. "Given U.S. Christian groups' extensive history of involvement in Uganda," the group said in a statement, "these numerous Catholic, Evangelical, and Mainline Protestant leaders . . . felt especially compelled to speak out against the 'Anti-Homosexuality Act of 2009' as an affront to Christian values and call on all American Christian leaders to join them."
At least one conservative Christian group heeded the call weeks ago. Exodus International is the largest ministry seeking to convert gays to heterosexual lifestyles, and one of its board members was among the American activists at the conference in Uganda that helped provoke the anti-gay bill. But the group denounced the legislation last month. "While we do not believe that homosexual behavior is what God intended for individuals, we believe that deprivation of life and liberty is not an appropriate or helpful response to this issue," the group's leaders wrote in a letter to Uganda's president. "Furthermore, the Christian church must be a safe, compassionate place for gay-identified people as well as those who are confused about and conflicted by their sexuality."
Rick Warren, who was once close to a prominent Uganda minister who's pushing the bill, recently announced that he had "completely severed contact" with that pastor, Martin Ssempa, in 2007. But Warren has declined calls to denounce the bill. "The fundamental dignity of every person, our right to be free, and the freedom to make moral choices are gifts endowed by God, our creator," he said in response to a recent request for comment from Newsweek. "However, it is not my personal calling as a pastor in America to comment or interfere in the political process of other nations."
Most prominent religious interests in the United States that condemn homosexuality have stayed quiet about the bill. Left-leaning groups like Faith in Public Life clearly think such outfits have a responsibility to oppose Uganda's Anti-Homosexuality Act. What do you think?