Collect for the Second Sunday after Easter

Almighty God, who hast given thine only Son to be unto us both a sacrifice for sin, and an example of godly life: give us grace that we may always most thankfully receive his inestimable benefit; and also daily endeavor ourselves to follow the blessed steps of his most holy life; through the same Jesus Christ thy Son, our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Least of These, My Brethren

It was a little bit of a shock, somehow. Partly because I could hardly take seriously the idea that human beings would treat one another with such pointless brutality. I think, too, I had sort of hoped that if I didn't pay attention to it, somehow nothing would happen. Not that I imagine things would've gone differently if I'd just thought about it hard enough. But I certainly might have prayed more for Uganda than I have done; and I might have tried to see if there was some organization I could have supported a little financially, someone doing something to either advocate against the bill, or get people out of there before the law brings its fist down upon them.

Yesterday, the Ugandan President, Yoweri Museveni, signed the infamous anti-gay bill into law, making anyone found guilty of attempting any homosexual conduct, or even contact, liable to life imprisonment. (At least they repealed the part making it punishable by death.) Dr. Warren Throckmorton's site links to a PDF of the bill itself if you don't believe me.

Life imprisonment. For something as small as a hug or a touch on the arm.

This is bullshit. This is insanity. If you think gay people are merely being paranoid when we advocate for legal reforms -- this is what we're scared of. Maybe in this country that fear isn't exactly rational, but don't talk like we're going into hysterics over somebody looking at us cross-eyed. That doesn't mean everything the LGBT community advocates for is right or necessary, either, but if you can contemplate this bill and its consequences with anything resembling approval, then please keep the hell away from me, because I am straight-up frightened of you.

All, all, Catholics should oppose this. I am deeply relieved to know that the Archbishop Lwanga of Kampala has spoken out against the hideous cruelty contained in this bill; though it is with bitterness, tears, and anger that I relate that Cardinal Onaiyekan of Nigeria has supported, and indeed praised, the similar bill passed in that country. The Vatican itself, by contrast, has made its own views fairly clear in a statement to the United Nations, to say nothing of the Catechism. It is a grave discredit to the Church's witness, both in America and internationally, that Catholics have not spoken more universally, more consistently, and louder about this bill and those like it as violations of the intrinsic dignity of man.

I realize and accept that there is, and may validly be, diversity among Catholics on how best to integrate gay people into society. I will even go so far as to acknowledge that supporting legal penalties for homosexual acts is not, in itself, an un-Catholic stance (though it has a shakier pedigree than proponents of such laws probably imagine: Catholic countries were ahead of the curve in abolishing sodomy laws).  I will freely criticize views of this subject if I think they are wrong -- that being the only adequate and necessary reason to oppose anything in my book -- but I won't accuse anybody of heresy or dissidence merely on that account. And as a believer in the separation of Church and state, I accept that the Church cannot force either her views or her methods upon any government, which is probably one reason why she tends to speak in generalities even when condemning something specific.

But this? I can't imagine viewing this as tolerable even if I were okay with sodomy laws, which I consider shocking in their cruelty as well as dangerously intrusive. And don't think for a moment that life in jail is the only thing Ugandan gays are being put at risk of. This is a witch hunt. This is a pogrom.

This is not about justice or decency. If it ever even was, it's not anymore. This, even according to the fairly rigorous definition I use, is pure homophobia. Homosexual conduct was already illegal in Uganda; even on the view (which I utterly reject) that sodomy laws are just, this wasn't needed. And it isn't only Uganda and Nigeria -- this poisonous atmosphere lies over half the African continent and more. Only days ago, President Jammeh of Gambia referred to homosexuals as "vermin" and compared us to mosquitos carrying malaria. This is a targeted dehumanization of a tiny minority, who are being stripped of legal protection in a group of societies that already hate and despise them.

I implore anyone and everyone who reads this to stop and pray for Uganda: for the safety and, if necessary, escape of Ugandan lesbians and gays; and for repentance and conversion on the part of the people in general, especially their political leaders. For the moment -- I hope not to leave it here permanently -- I don't specifically recommend anything further. This isn't because I don't want people to do any more than pray, but because I for one don't know what the wisest course of action is. I'm too ignorant of politics in general and of Ugandan culture in particular to have an opinion on that. Opposition to these laws from western powers has been labeled as "colonialism" by some Ugandans, and it is hard to know what practical effects sanctions and so forth would have; it could easily devolve into even worse demonizing and scapegoating of LGBT people than is already happening.

If by some chance there is anyone reading this who has supported these laws, or still does, I beg you to examine your conscience. This is not defending traditional marriage or the family. This is an assault on the human dignity of people who happen to be attracted to the same sex. They too are somebody's sons and daughters. And you too are subject to human frailty. Consider for a moment that, under the terms of this bill, a single slip-up, even by someone trying to conduct a celibate life, can be punished by being shut up in a jail cell until they die. If you propose to support this on Christian grounds, I should like to know if that is how Christ treats you when you make mistakes -- or when, as we all sometimes do, you throw your sins in His very face. And, if you are in support of the Scriptures being applied to the lives of every person, I would remind you of one of the more terrible things they contain: not a condemnation of this or that sexual sin, but a promise and a warning: Verily I say unto you, inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.


  1. For folks wanting to help LGBT people escape from Uganda, there's an organization hard at work in the country:

  2. Hi Gabe-
    I've been following this story for years. It's my understanding that the Catholic Cardinals have actively supported this legislation through the Uganda Joint Christian Counsel. That includes Roman Catholic Bishop of Uganda Cyprian Lwanga.

    IMHO, the Vatican has not made itself clear. A vague reference in 2009 to "murder and abuse" is not sufficient to denounce state-sanctioned "regulation of behavior" which, in the minds of many, does not rise to the level of "abuse".

    I have been really impressed with Francis and I'd love for him to speak out on this, but my sense is he's not going to spend his political capital on gay rights - especially since there's not consensus among the Cardinals.

    My best to you always

    1. The Uganda Join Christian Council as a whole has been supportive of the legislation. It includes Catholic, Anglican, and Orthodox bishops. However, Archbishop Lwanga -- though not opposing sodomy laws as such -- has spoken out against the severity of this legislation, especially against the death penalty; there is a video of an address he delivered on the subject on one of the sites I linked to in my fifth paragraph. I'm pretty upset about any support shown for these kinds of bills by Christians, but I am also concerned to show -- meager comfort though it is -- that things are not quite as bad as they might be.

      It's quite true that the 2009 statement to the UN doesn't give specifics about what constitutes going too far with penalties, and also does not oppose the existence of sodomy laws. I doubt that the Church could take such a stance, not out of favoring them, but simply because that question may not fall within her purview -- being a matter of politics and of prudence, her power to say what is and is not acceptable is correspondingly far more limited than it would be in theological matters. My own opinion is that the circumstances, and the gross disproportion between the gravity of the punishments and the triviality of the offenses, make it plain that the Vatican did have these types of laws in mind; but I concede that that is a matter of interpretation, and I certainly wish the Vatican would do more than it has done.

  3. I've just found the following story linked on Catholicism For Cutters, which touches on some of the interactions between the UN and the Holy See on this matter. The headline seems a little optimistically phrased, but correct in essentials:

  4. It's terrible how this bill has been running up and down the Ugandan court for years, and all we speak about now are the Arizona bills. The church's response in generally has been both angering and saddening. And perhaps I'm also upset that Straight-ally news and much of the LGBT community has been diverting attention to who gets to buy wedding cakes where. I'm not saying it's a small thing, but news like Uganda right now should be blasted up the nostrils of everyone.

    My family's (Charismatic) church here is particularly fond of a Kenyan-Ugandan intercessory prayer pastor. But sometimes, given his silence on things like these, it's awful hard to respect him in the pulpit. And over here in Malaysia everyone is so terribly frightened of the 'gay war' coming over to our hallowed shores from America, etc, etc. Uganda, if you think of it, isn't that much further away.

    Sorry. Rant over. I'm sure I didn't make much sense in that, though it does anger me.

  5. I agree with you, Gabriel. Persevere, brother!

  6. Update: in the interest of strict truthfulness, I must relate that Archbishop Lwanga has either changed his mind about this reprehensible bill, or only objected to the application of the death penalty. I'm informed that he supports it in its current form.

    1. Aha. Update of the update. Apparently Archbishop Lwanga has been going back and forth on this bill for a few years. Cardinal Turkson of Ghana, however, evidently spoke against it at a conference on human rights in Bratislava:

  7. For what it's worth, the one time extreme punishment seems to also no longer be included. Not that I'm defending anything at all about this, but your last paragraph might be a bit misleading.

  8. This is terrible and a disgusting witness. I'm appalled and yes, we need to definitely pray for Uganda. There needs to be a stronger condemnation of this bill and others by the Vatican, the bishops, etc. Btw, what do you think about the new bill in Arizona allowing businesses to refuse gays service? I think it goes too far and hopefully it will be vetoed.

  9. The Jesuit Magazine America:

  10. The Editors of America Magazine denounce anti-gay laws in Africa in our editorial next week, posted early online. "The church must oppose violence against gay persons and should strongly advocate for the decriminalization of homosexuality. No one should be subject to a criminal penalty simply for being gay. If laws like these do not constitute the 'unjust discrimination' against gay people that the church rightly denounces, then what possibly could?"

    1. Yes, I've run into that article a couple of times recently -- thank you for posting the link. I'm extremely grateful for Fr. Martin's words on the subject.