Don’t Save Uganda


Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images for Meet the Press
Rick Warren on Meet the Press. Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images for Meet the Press

As Christians in Uganda push legislation that proposes the death penalty for homosexuality, Christians in America race to condemn the bill.  Conservative Christians like Rev. Rick Warren, the wildly popular author of The Purpose-Driven Life, roll out the old “ALL life […] is precious to God,” as if not killing innocent people displayed a particularly enlightened world view.  Expect Rick Warren to return to his compassionate comparisons of homosexuals to pedophiles once this all blows over.

Meanwhile, more liberal American Christians are writing heartfelt editorials about how tragic it is that homosexual-hating Ugandan pastors “misunderstand” their own religion.  Really, Michael Gerson?  I am not sure how anyone could misunderstand this: “If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads” (Lev 20.13).  Maybe it is a commandment against lying down.

Fortunately, Christianity in America has moved on from the days when state laws against sorcery, homosexuality, and atheism were copied directly from Bible passages like the one above.  These days only fringe Christian figures think of homosexuality as evil—marginal leaders like popular televangelist Jerry Falwell, best-selling author Rick Warren, and “completely heterosexual” mega-church pastor Ted Haggard.  Just a few isolated cranks, really.  But opposing homosexuality on principle is not the same thing as wanting all homosexuals to die.  Almost all Christians in America want to persuade their brethren in Uganda to staunch the flow of blood.  Nevertheless, I would advise against sending Uganda more bibles.  People might read them.  Judging from the media, Christian America thinks the solution to Uganda’s atrocious legislation is for Ugandan to take its moral guidance.

Too bad they already have.

The New York Times recently reported that in March, “thousands of Ugandans, including police officers, teachers, and national politicians, listened raptly” as American evangelical Christians visiting Uganda explained how “the gay movement is an evil institution … [seeking] to defeat the marriage-based society.”  These touring homosexuality “experts” confirmed what Christian Ugandan pastors had been saying all along.  After they left, the legislator who proposed the new anti-homosexuality law bragged that he had evangelical supporters in America.

Rick Warren is not helping matters.  Martin Ssempa, a Ugandan pastor well known for printing the names and addresses of suspected homosexuals in local newspapers, was surprised by his old friend Rick Warren’s position against the new anti-homosexuality legislation.  In an open letter, Mr. Ssempa reminded the world that in his 2008 trip to Uganda, Rick Warren condemned homosexuality as “not a natural way of life, and therefore not a human right.”  This statement is confirmed by GlobalPost and the AllAfrica news service.  Rick Warren denies having said this.  He is also on record as having stated that “The Bible says evil has to be opposed. Evil has to be stopped. The Bible does not say negotiate with evil. It says stop […] evil.”  It certainly does.  Rick Warren’s visit led Ugandan Christians to believe their anti-homosexual agenda had the support of one of America’s most influential pastors.   And it wouldn’t be a first for Rick Warren.  His church has worked with homophobic religious leaders in Rwanda and Nigeria as well.  New, harsher anti-homosexuality laws are brewing in all three African nations.

If sex laws in these countries get any more “purpose-driven,” gays will be stoned to death in public squares.  Oh wait, that is already legal in northern Nigeria.

Neither Rick Warren nor any other moralizing Christian crusader can solve Uganda’s human rights problem.  Uganda’s gays deserve protection by people who actually like homosexuals, not some narrow-minded evangelists trying to “save” their wicked souls.  Uganda does not need Rick Warren spreading anti-homosexual messages and legitimizing rabidly homophobic Christian pastors in Uganda by calling them “partners” in the fight against AIDS.  Nor does Uganda need Christians aggravating the AIDS crisis by advocating “abstinence only” sexual education.  The condescending and offensive attitude so many Christian leaders in America take toward homosexuals cannot simply be glossed over every time a truly despicable sex law surfaces somewhere abroad.  American Christians are part of the problem.

Merry Christmas, Rick Warren.

Chris Carothers is The Independent’s new Religion columnist. He writes and rants about religion, in a way that’s tangentially related to current events. Welcome aboard, Chris.