Don't Make Dialogue Illegal: Standing Up for Persecuted LGBT in Uganda

The fact that those being persecuted on the margins of society, in this case gay and lesbian people in Uganda, should mean that Christians should give extra attention to protecting and standing up for them.
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This week, I and many U.S. Christian leaders signed on to a letter, concerning a re-introduced version of Uganda's Anti-Homosexuality Bill, a bill which perpetuates some alarming and hateful language about the LGBT community in Uganda, and indeed, around the world. When it was originally introduced in 2009, it made homosexuality an act punishable by death. While the most draconian measures have been removed, the bill still calls for life imprisonment for people who are homosexual, and makes even discussions about sexual orientation illegal, stifling any opportunity to build a civil and constructive dialogue. How can we expect to come together to bridge the divides if we cannot even bring ourselves to sit down together and talk? What is even more heartbreaking, so surprising, is that Christian leaders in Uganda continue to support it.

What are we calling for in this letter? It is a simple message, and one that all who profess a Christian faith should be able to agree with:

All human beings have been created in the image and likeness of God, and Christ teaches that we are to love our neighbors as ourselves. All acts of bigotry and hatred betray these foundational truths.

As people of faith in America, we are fortunate to have the right to worship, the right to assemble in our churches and the right to declare Jesus as Lord. Human rights are important to us. And the human rights violations being experienced by people in Uganda are horrifying, and beyond anything we can imagine here in the freedom of the United States. We should be actively seeking to affirm the same rights we enjoy to people around the world, regardless of their race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation.

As the letter states:

As Christians we wish to bear witness to the fact that Jesus spoke up for the marginalized in his society. But even in its revised form, the bill in Uganda would forcefully push lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people further into the margins, and it would criminalize anyone, including clergy, who speak up and provide support for their LGBT brothers and sisters rather than reporting them to law enforcement. Persecution of this kind has no place in any community guided by the commandment to love one's neighbor.

The fact that those being persecuted on the margins of society, in this case gay and lesbian people in Uganda, should mean that Christians should give extra attention to protecting and standing up for them. When people are regularly the target of harassment and hate, Christians should be on the front line of their defense. We are especially concerned about how some Christian leaders in Uganda are supporting this legislation against gay people.

We believe in equal protection under the law for everybody. And we believe that all God's children should be defended from attacks on them.

We wrote in the letter:

Regardless of the diverse theological views of our religious traditions regarding the morality of homosexuality, the criminalization of homosexuality, along with the violence and discrimination against LGBT people that inevitably follows, is incompatible with the teachings of our faith....We urge our Christian brothers and sisters in Uganda to resist the false arguments, debunked long ago, that LGBT people pose an inherent threat to our children and our societies. LGBT people exist in every country and culture, and we must learn to live in peace together to ensure the freedom of all, especially when we may disagree. We condemn misguided actions that have led to increased bigotry and hatred of LGBT people in Uganda that debases the inherent dignity of all humans created in the image of our Maker. Such treatment degrades the human family, threatens the common good, and defies the teachings of our Lord -- wherever it occurs.

We are praying for those suffering under the cloud of hatred and bigotry in Uganda. And we are also praying for those who are seeking to pass this legislation, that they might see this as a mistake and withdraw this anti-homosexual bill. Our faith compels us to act with love towards our neighbors, we cannot stand by and allow fear and hate to be institutionalized.

Jim Wallis is the author of Rediscovering Values: A Guide for Economic and Moral Recovery, and CEO of Sojourners. Follow Jim on Twitter @JimWallis.

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