On Monday Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni signed into law a draconian bill that would impose extremely harsh penalties for homosexual activity. Simply having a sexual encounter with someone of the same sex can land you in jail for the rest of your life. The very attempt to engage in gay sex is punishable by a decade in prison. And “aggravated homosexuality,” which includes same-sex relations with children or disabled persons, can earn you the death penalty. The international community came out against the bill forcefully, but the Ugandan legislature and president were defiant. These measures are now enshrined in law.
Christians and other people of goodwill can disagree about the moral acceptability of homosexuality, bisexuality, transgenderism, and the like, but I think we can all agree that life-imprisonment for one episode of consensual sex between two men or two women is beyond the pale. When you consider that the driving force behind the passage of this law were churches and para-church organizations in both Uganda and the United States, it brings the question a lot closer to home.
How is a person of conscience, a follower of Jesus, to respond not only to the enactment of this law in a country across the ocean but also to the climate of intolerance that led to it and that is alive and well right here in the good ol’ US of A? The archbishop of the Church of Uganda is on record as saying that LGBTQ+ groups are “recruiting [Ugandan] children into homosexuality,” and that suspicion is shared by many people in our country. The recent rash of “anti-trans” and anti-drag laws in various states can be traced in large measure to the fear that some mysterious group or force is intent on “grooming” our kids.
My personal belief is that every person is made in the image of God and is loved by God beyond all measure. Voluminous evidence now points to the conclusion that homosexuality is an orientation, not a preference. If this is so, then we have to do some soul searching about how we treat LGBTQ+ persons. If they bear the image of God just as surely as straight, cisgender persons, then we have to face the fact that when God commands us to love our neighbors as ourselves, that includes our gay neighbors, our trans neighbors, our lesbian neighbors, and so on. (In fact, even if we still insist it’s a preference rather than an orientation, and therefore gayness is a sin, we are still commanded to love these neighbors as we love ourselves. Jesus offers neither an exclusionary clause nor a loophole to the command to love.)
Today is the first day of what has been designated LGBTQ+ Pride Month, so it’s a perfect opportunity to explore our feelings and convictions about these issues. What does the Bible really say about homosexuality, and how are we to understand it? In what direction is the Holy Spirit leading the church as a whole and Community UCC in particular to act toward our gay neighbors? And how can we, in our current social and political environment, avoid going down the dark path that Uganda insists on traveling? What can we do as individuals and as a congregation to choose love over hate and acceptance over condemnation, however we may define those terms?
I would love to hear what you have to say about these questions. If we can’t share our true opinions and convictions in church, where can we do it? I invite your comments; just email or call me, or, better yet, let’s get together in person and have a respectful heart-to-heart conversation about where we are, what we believe, and how we can move forward together.
Grace and peace,
(Photo above is a Creative Commons image, licensed under CC BY-NC 4.0)