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Uganda and Homosexuality and Christians

posted by Scot McKnight

Sarah Pulliam Bailey, at CT, published yesterday both a report and an interview, and I’ve clipped a bit. The report focuses on Ugandan Christians who want the Western countries and Christians to stay out of Ugandan legal decisions… thoughts? Do you agree with these Ugandan suggestions that interference is colonialist? How do you think Western Christians should “interfere” with Ugandan policy? 

The proposed anti-homosexuality legislation in Uganda has created tension between American Christians who have condemned the legislation and Ugandan Christians who don’t want to see homosexuality become an acceptable practice.

Several American pastors and leaders have condemned proposed legislation in Uganda that, if passed in its proposed version, would punish homosexual acts between adults–including touching “with the intent of committing the act of homosexuality”–with life imprisonment. The punishment for “serial offenders,” homosexual sex with minors or the disabled, or homosexual sex while being HIV-positive, is death.

Rt. Rev. Dr. David Zac Niringiye, assistant bishop of Kampala in the Church of Uganda, says that American Christians should not make such public pronouncements on the bill.

“The international community is behaving like they can’t trust Ugandans to come up with a law that is fair. No! No! That is not fair!” he told Christianity Today. “When the Western governments or Western churches or Christians speak loudly about the legitimacy or illegitimacy of this bill, you actually begin to fuel the idea that homosexuality is the product of Western culture.”

The reaction from Christians in America creates tension for Ugandan Christians, says the Rev. Dr. Christopher Byaruhanga, professor of historical theology at Bishop Tucker School of Divinity and Theology at Uganda Christian University.

“You see there’s a kind of imperialism and a kind of relativism from the West,” said Byaruhanga, who is doing a fellowship for a year at the John Jay Institute in Colorado Springs. “They don’t understand our ethics in the country of Uganda and they are trying to impose what they believe.”



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John W Frye

posted December 18, 2009 at 6:40 am


Scot, this is amazing in that it will raise the issues of hermeneutics and the movement toward the Bible’s ethical framework around homosexually. There seems to be the old colonializing arrogance in the Americans’ response, i.e., we are exporting and imposing our ethics on you Ugandans.



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Jamie Arpin-Ricci

posted December 18, 2009 at 8:42 am


This is an incredibly tough issue. While the bill needs to be stopped, is it our place to use our western clout to do so? I think the answer cannot (and will not) fall into either yes or no. For example, many American Christians (as well as other western Christian material) were brought into Uganda to help shape or form this bill. On some level, we are culpable and therefore must speak up. The who and how of it all is still very difficult.
Peace,
Jamie



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Ray Ingles

posted December 18, 2009 at 9:00 am


If we can use our “western clout” to pressure against things like “female circumcision” – and I’d say we can and should – then there should be no problem lobbying against this bill.
Note that it even criminalizes “homosexual advocacy” – in other words, free speech. Whether or not anyone agrees that homosexuality is natural, or permissible, or whatever – making a position on the subject illegal to talk about is flatly wrong, too.



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dopderbeck

posted December 18, 2009 at 9:09 am


You beat me to it Scot. I was planning to post on this as a “Law” question: for those who argue that the civil law in the U.S. should prohibit gay marriage, isn’t the position of the conservative Christians in Uganda a logical extension of that view? After all, until recently we had similar laws in the U.S. (though with less harsh penalties). One such law was upheld in Bowers v. Hardwick in 1986, but Bowers was overruled in 2003 in Lawrence v. Texas. Lawrence, of course, has become a lightning rod in the North American culture wars.



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Scot McKnight

posted December 18, 2009 at 9:45 am


David, do you have an “informed” view of the Uganda legal issue? There’s quite a bit said about law in the CT interview and article and I wonder if you can piece it together?



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Jim

posted December 18, 2009 at 10:26 am


Is this an example of how we American Christians can get caught in the horns of a dilemma between our Christian obligations to speak up on behalf of the oppressed and our American liberalism that teaches us that we should be tolerant of the views & practices of others? (i.e. that Ugandans should be free to pass whatever laws they see fit without Western influence?)



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Obina Akim Kampala, Uganda

posted December 18, 2009 at 11:00 am


We the people of Uganda and Africa are victims, …victims of slavery, of apartheid, of colonialism, of racism, and now cultural imperialism by Western pro-gay groups. All these evils have never “won” in Africa but they are winning in Europe and America. As Bob Marley sang ” Stand up for your rights and be counted” ! Stand up!



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AHH

posted December 18, 2009 at 11:22 am


Jamie at #2 alluded to this, but the “imperialism” is not just from those against the bill. It has been reported that much of the push behind recent anti-homosexual efforts in Uganda has come from “The Family”, the shadowy purportedly Christian political fraternity perhaps best known recently for the family-values (sic) behavior of John Ensign and Mark Sanford.
Here’s a story:
http://www.npr.org/templates/transcript/transcript.php?storyId=120746516
This may not affect how we think about Scot’s very good questions, but for this particular situation I think it is important to recognize that forces from outside the culture have pushed for this bill as well as those opposing it.



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dopderbeck

posted December 18, 2009 at 11:45 am


Scot (#5) — I’m having a frustrating time trying to find what I could confirm is an actual copy of the bill, but I believe this is it.
As I understand it, homosexual practice already is a crime in Uganda, but it is treated under a general provision about deviant sexual practices. This bill, as I understand it, makes explicit that homosexual practice is a crime. It would also establish life imprisonment as the penalty for violation of the law.
It further creates a category of “aggravated homosexuality,” which would carry the death penalty. “Aggravated homosexuality” is defined, among other things, as engaging in homosexual acts while “living with HIV,” or engaging in homosexual acts as a “serial offender.” A “serial offender” is someone who has previously been convicted of homosexuality.
Finally, it provides for extradition and trial of Ugandan citizens who commit homosexual acts outside of Uganda.
In short, if the copy of the bill I link to above is an accurate copy, the news reports on it have been largely correct: it makes any homosexual act a life offense, and it makes a second offense punishable by death.



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John Fouad Hanna

posted December 18, 2009 at 11:45 am


“for those who argue that the civil law in the U.S. should prohibit gay marriage, isn’t the position of the conservative Christians in Uganda a logical extension of that view?” dopderbeck [#4]
Really David? Does this mean any application of Christian-influenced thinking to legislation [do not murder, do not steal, for example] inexorably leads to the application of the entire Mosaic legislation to civil society?
What about the relationship between the OT and NT? What about the difference between arguments based on reason and language accesible to all and arguments based exclusively on written revelation [in this case a written revelation now viewed from the perspective of its fulfillment to all nations in Christ]? What about…oh, I don’t know…the thinking, writing, and activity concerning the Christian relationship to the state for the past 2000 years?
I wasn’t looking to reopen this discussion. But I think Micah Watson’s response to John Stackhouse at Touchstone is a fitting response, where applicable to this discussion”
http://merecomments.typepad.com/merecomments/2009/12/manhattan-declaration-and-stackhouse-revisited-3.html#more
Here’s a relevant section:
This argument “seems to ignore the classic Christian view that the truth of moral propositions can be known both by human reason and through divine revelation. As such, Christians can press for laws they believe are true because they can reasonably assume that even non-Christians have access to moral truth apart from divine revelation. Stackhouse’s criticism of the Manhattan authors also applies to Martin Luther King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail and the American abolitionists (though perhaps he’ll bite the bullet and rule their public square declarations a waste of time as well). This distinction between natural reason and divine revelation is why we as Christians can support laws against stealing and murder despite their prohibition in Scripture, and also why we don’t press for laws prohibiting sins that are specifically known through scripture (i.e., blasphemy).”
Your position also disregards the distinction between opposition to certain conduct, even through legislation, and the issue of what penalties/sanctions are fitting/proportionate, etc.



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Mark Baker-Wright

posted December 18, 2009 at 11:54 am


Although it would be entirely to easy (to say nothing of uncharitable) to accuse the Ugandans of being too simplistic in their policies or dismissive of American desires to argue for what (some) Americans see as justice, I think it needs to be understood that all this is happening in the context of a country that has been ravaged in recent years by the AIDS epidemic. Moreover, the first thing that actually seemed to work in fighting this epidemic has been their abstinence program. I don’t think it’s too great a leap of faith to see this anti-homosexuality legislation as the logical “next step” in that anti-AIDS endeavor.
Couple this with the already-stated concerns about Western colonialism at play in Uganda, and I can’t help but wonder if, when Ugandans hear Americans say (what they must on some level interpret as) “you can’t take this action to fight AIDS,” Ugandans also fear that Americans/Westerns actually want them to die off! This would certainly explain why they’re not exactly quick to listen to American criticism too readily….



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K. Rex Butts

posted December 18, 2009 at 12:27 pm


Are we one Church with no national/political boundaries rising above that oneness in Christ?
While non-citizens of Uganda have no political right to vote on proposed laws for the nation of Uganda, it seems that if we are one church then we ought to be open to hearing what our fellow Christians have to say regardless of the secular nation from which that voice physically lives in. If that is not the case then this is just one more case where Christians have rejected the blood of Jesus that makes us “fellow citizens” (cf. Eph 2.11ff) of the church which has no internal tribe (national, ethnic, political, denominational, etc…) and no identity above it that makes aligning ourselves with some other tribe against our fellow-membership of the one Church acceptable.
Grace and peace,
K. Rex Butts



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dopderbeck

posted December 18, 2009 at 12:37 pm


John (#10) — first, I didn’t state a position, I asked a question.
Second, it’s a relevant question. Why stop at banning gay marriage? Why not press to reinstate the anti-sodomy laws? What is the principle under which it is appropriate to regulate gay marriage through the civil law but not homosexual practice generally?
John, you often suggest that I react with a knee-jerk to anything smacking of the religious right. Perhaps you’re right. But do you also react with a knee-jerk to anything having to do with the “gay” issue which seems “soft” to you?
The section you quote from Mitch Watson, I think, misstates the classical Christian tradition concerning natural law. Watson seems to think reason and revelation are independent sources of knowledge about the natural law, such that Christians could appeal to reason alone in the public square. This is historical nonsense.
Except at the height of scholasticism and in rationalistic post-Enlightenment evangelicalism, revelation and reason have always been inextricable — you can’t have one without the other. It’s “faith seeking understanding” not faith / and / understanding. This is true even for Aquinas.
Moreover, Watson ignores the fact that Western law developed in the context of Christendom. After Constantine, there was no need for Christians to appeal to supposedly “neutral” principles in the public square because the public square was owned by the Christians! The roots of most of the Western legal doctrines we rely on today lie in canon law — the law of the Church. To suggest that there is a “classical” history of Christians appealing to neutral principles of reason regarding the civil law is therefore absurd. The need to appeal to supposedly neutral principles of reason doesn’t arise until the height of scholasticism (Duns Scotus) and the later challenges of the Enlightenment. So, if you want to talk about the history of Christian engagement with culture over the last 2000 years, I don’t think you and Watson occupy the historical high ground.
The question we face today is a relatively new one in the history of the Church: how do our particular moral principles, which we believe to be universally true, play into the civil law of a pluralistic participatory democracy, in which not all of the participants accept our moral principles?



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Cheryl

posted December 18, 2009 at 2:33 pm


It’s rare that I find myself at a loss for words, but this issue is so very sad to me. I know that “sad” seems like a trite and simple word for what could develop into a devastating situation for the homosexuals in Uganda, but I don’t know how else to characterize it… well, except maybe anger!
I realize that laws like this are already enforce in the strictly ruled Muslim areas of the world. And while I abhor it, I chalk it up to it being the Muslim mindset that I will never understand. But these are supposedly Christians(!) pushing this thing!!!
If you are homosexual, like I am, you’ll understand my sadness and anger. If you’re not, then you probably can’t be made to understand.
But if you’re not homosexual and are a Christian, and you think that maybe our leaders (religious and political) can just sit on the fence about this, remember:
First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out?because I was not a communist;
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out?because I was not a trade unionist;
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out?because I was not a Jew;
Then they came for me?and there was no one left to speak out for me.



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John Fouad Hanna

posted December 18, 2009 at 3:12 pm


David, it’s not that I agree wholeheartedly with all aspects of natural law reasoning, especially considering supposed neutrality. We all hold to particular premises, beliefs, commitments, etc., that influence our interaction with God’s creation. Furthermore, even though I quoted him Watson approval, I wouldn’t make a distinction between reason and revelation, but between God’s revelation in creation at all times available to all and God’s revelation in Scripture culminating in Christ, which redeems that same creation.
The principle concerning natural law reasoning that I affirm is based on our commonality as image bearers of God and on the fact that as image bearers we all occupy and interact with the same creation. Within such a context, there are truths that we can affirm together or that we ought to affirm based on creation’s testimony. This is in part a Romans 2 argument appealing to conscience. I think appealing to creation’s testimony can actually point to the Creator himself. I believe there have been many people who have been converted through, for example, the abortion issue. The recognition of the humanity of the unborn child lead them to trust the child’s Creator. And even if it doesn’t, it can move them in the direction of holding to a more just position. Of course, it may just make them really mad, but that’s not the intent.
One of the reasons I want to advance reasoned arguments on these issues is because I am hopeful that God can and does appeal to people through the testimony of his creation. I endeavor [maybe unsuccesfully and unimpressively] to demonstrate that the Christian understanding is the one consistent with the truth and reality of the world we share. Because people have their own heartfelt convictions, I realize this appeal will not convince many. Furthermore, I would rather make it in the context of a gospel presentation. But, in the course of trying to advance a more just society, I think it has value in itself.
Your position I think David overemphasizes the antithesis between Chrisitian and non-Christian, so that there is no common ground basis for discussion. In other words, the non-Christian, also living in God’s world, can’t be expected to know or be responsible for anything based on common principles and articulation. I think he can be expected to have such knowledge, even as he denies the God who is the basis for such knowledge. Also, it’s hard for me to see based on your stated position how we can justify our position with respect to any legislation.
You ask, “What is the principle under which it is appropriate to regulate gay marriage through the civil law but not homosexual practice generally?”
It is with respect to this question that I bring up the church’s 2000 year history. Christians have historically advanced public positions without endorsing the adoption of the entire bible into law.
Is there a difference between opposing or rejecting society’s approval and affirmation of certain conduct and simply allowing the conduct to occur unhindered by the law?
More pointedly in this context, is there a difference between opposing or rejecting society’s full endorsement of certain conduct and promoting the execution of those who engage in that conduct? I think there is. I think it is the difference between living in peace as much as it is possible and taking God’s judgment into our own hands during this time of God’s patience.
Is it really untenable to say, “you can conduct yourself as you wish in your private life without state interference, but we won’t publicly endorse your relationship [as the same as "traditional marriage"]?
Is that position not an adjustment to current realities and an effort to live in peace [even if it is rejected and denounced]?
Furthermore, I think the basic posture of allowing behavior but not endorsing it publicly though legislation is the position we take on most behaviors we put in the category of sin from lying to serial heterosexual monogamy to gossip, etc.
Our 1st amendment religious jurisprudence is based on such a premise. The state will permit you to believe and worship freely without endorsing your religion. Of course, there are many occasions on which this can be challenging. And I think our current struggles demonstrate the limit of this stance and further demonstrate that all our beliefs derive from certain “religious” principles. But again, to reiterate, since God makes himself known in creation, people can [and do] affirm truths about that creation without trusting in the God of creation.
As for my knee jerk [ouch, there it goes again], I must admit that my knee might have set a new jerking record when you claimed in your initial comment that opposition to same-sex marriage could not be separated from the endorsement of life imprisonment and execution for same-sex relations. While I might have to consider treatment for what might be developing into a chronic condition, I’m not sure that proves it is triggered by any position that is “soft” on “gays.”



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Scot McKnight

posted December 18, 2009 at 3:22 pm


My own observations:
1. In general, I believe it is not America’s business to tell another country’s legislators how to do their business — unless asked. I respect the autonomy and integrity of each country to render its own judgments.
2. However, it becomes everyone’s business if civil rights are crushed or ignored or suppressed.
3. I’m a traditionalist on the Christian view of homosexual practices.
4. But, it is too easy to appeal to colonialism today because it is an argument that works so well in the press and in the media and with the Western psyche. I don’t think there is sufficient evidence that I’ve seen to make me think these laws in Uganda are being imposed by Americans so therefore I see the Uganda measures to be laws that express the will of the Ugandans.
5. Opposition to the Ugandan measures, in other words, could be colonialist but are most likely not; therefore, I see the colonialist argument to be a cop-out from taking responsibility for Ugandan legal and moral judgments that do not meet with approval in the Western sense of how civil rights are to be enacted and governed. The West disapproves of these laws and the Ugandans need to listen to the issue of civil rights and the correlations of justifiable punishment for breaking laws.



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MattR

posted December 18, 2009 at 3:28 pm


This is truly sad and scary!
But I believe Christian leaders can and should speak out against this legislation.
It’s complicated by a few things though…
First- Besides the history of colonialism, Christians in the west have ALREADY been interfering, by feeding the dangerous language and attitudes that helped stir up this bill (see AHH #8).
Second- We have little ground to stand on… outspoken leaders, some with ties to relief efforts in Uganda, were vocal about the anti-gay marriage bill in Southern California (Prop 8) and other such legislation around the country. But now to say, ‘well we had anti-gay legislation, but that’s TOO far,’ might seem confusing! And, NO, I’m not saying the two are equal, just that it might seem hypocritical to some from outside America…
I hope Christian leaders can be consistent and speak out against anti-gay legislation everywhere! Even if you think it’s a sin to be gay, you can still be against such policies.
Maybe a public apology about the Prop 8 debacle?
There are several prominent evangelical leaders who have ties to Uganda, and if they were to privately and publicly persuade, that might do some good!



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Cheryl

posted December 18, 2009 at 3:48 pm


Scot,
In regard to your comment in your point #4 (“I don’t think there is sufficient evidence that I’ve seen to make me think these laws in Uganda are being imposed by Americans so therefore I see the Uganda measures to be laws that express the will of the Ugandans.”), I would probably agree with that, although I admit that I do not have inside knowledge on exactly WHO is pushing this.
From most accounts I have seen, the impetus for the bill seems to have started with a meeting in Kampala called the Family Life Network where some American anti-gay Christian conservatives spoke. I’m not saying they’re pushing it, but they certainly seem to have been the spark that ignited the gasoline on the dry tinder.
What disturbs me is not that “Americans” might be behind this and interfering with Ugandan issues…for or against… but that it is being advanced by “Christians!” Are they people who are just anti-gay who are cloaking their hatred in Christian rhetoric, or are they really Christians who believe that Uganda should become a theocracy which enforces a harsh Christian code? (Hmmm, just one religious step away from Shariah law, wouldn’t you say?)
I agree with K.Rex in comment #12 in asking, are we the church universal or not? Do we allow this sort of OT code to be enforced?! Heck, if orthodox Jews are not even sticking to the letter of the law in how they handle this sort of thing, can’t we expect NT Christians to stand up and say it’s wrong?!
And yes, Scot, if nothing else, strip away Christian and non-Christian aspects and speak out from a civil rights point of view at a minimum!
Yeesh, what a mess. What a bloody mess.



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Jared H

posted December 18, 2009 at 4:21 pm


I think that behind this issue is the more fundamental one about the relationship between church and state, and I wonder if, just as the Western Church sees itself emerging from Christendom that the African Church is seeking to adopt Christendom, because we exported it to them when we presented our own enculturated version of the Gospel? If so, before we can help them resolve this particular issue, we have to help them see the relationship between church and state in a different way.



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dopderbeck

posted December 18, 2009 at 4:48 pm


John (#15) — great comment!
A couple of things: (1) you misread me. I wasn’t intending to claim that opposing same sex marriage means you also have to support the execution of gays. I know you don’t think that. What I was pushing for is the principle behind why there should be a difference.
And you responded with it: I think it is the difference between living in peace as much as it is possible and taking God’s judgment into our own hands during this time of God’s patience.
I agree! And that is exactly John Stackhouse’s position in “Making the Best of It.” (Well, I mostly agree… you’re sounding a little “dispensational” here :-) … God will judge but the “now” is nevertheless is a time of great hope…))
So why is it inconceivable that the same principle might also apply to gay marriage? Isn’t there a point in time at which the Church could / should say: this particular legal battle isn’t worth its cost at this time in history? This is my point about “mission” and the MD. I don’t see in it any prudential reading of our times. It seems very apocalyptic to me.



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Kristen

posted December 18, 2009 at 5:45 pm


It seems to me that the Ugandans’ argument would throw out pretty much the entirety of international human rights law. I don’t want to go there.
At the risk of invoking Godwin’s Law, World War II changed things. Suddenly it became a whole lot more acceptable for the international community to consider that it had a say in how a government dealt with its own citizens. And for good reason.
Now a very reasonable argument can be made that the United States Declaration on Human Rights is rooted in Western, Enlightenment ideals about human rights. Frankly, I’m seriously not overly concerned about this. We like to bash the Enlightenment a lot, and often that may be deserved, but they got some things very very right and human dignity is one of them.
I don’t want to withhold judgment on female circumcision or widow-burning or China’s one-child policy or a variety of other things out of concerns about colonialism and honoring local cultures. Avoiding any semblance of colonialism need not go that far. Nor should we withhold judgment about this.



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Brad Boydston

posted December 19, 2009 at 12:41 am


Generally speaking it is wise to remain low profile when it comes to addressing the short-comings and decision-making of other cultures. This does not mean that we do not have opinions nor does it necessarily mean that we do not express them. Rather we do so in a culturally appropriate way — often indirectly and behind the scenes.
This situation was unusual, though, in that there were so many opinions being expressed in the media (and so much chaos) that it created the appearance that American Christian leaders such as Rick Warren agreed with the bill. By not speaking publicly against it was being interpreted that he was in an indirect manner speaking for it. This put him in a position where he had to abandon back-channel communication.
This embarrassed the African leaders and they are expressing frustration by playing the colonial imperialist shame card — which is the most powerful card in their deck.
We should assume that there is still a lot of behind the scenes communication in process. What would help that process at this point is some sort of public apology for being too forward with our opinions and a public expression of confidence in the African leadership.
A more long-term issue surfaced by this incident is the great opportunity for development in African theological education. They’ll get there. We need to be gracious in our expectations.



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Mike M

posted December 22, 2009 at 12:43 am


Cheryl: you are correct that some American evangicals advocate, if not downright push, for Uganda to make homosexuality a crime punishable by death. However, you are wrong that non-homosexuals cannot feel your anger and sadness. The thought makes me physically ill.
I posted a link to Scot’s blog about this on my facebook to serve as “food for thought.” Some of the responses were well-reasoned and compassionate (I am extremely proud of my oldest son here); yet other responses made me shudder in disgust and fear. I now thank God in my prayers that these particular Americans are not in power in the US and pray that their influence in Uganda is destroyed. God have mercy.
Brad: it’s not only American evangicals who are guilty by silence. The Anglican Church is under attack for not denouncing the law.



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