In a time of constant calamity and crisis fatigue, proposed legislation in Uganda to execute gays passes through the American consciousness with the impact of a weather report.
Corrupt politicians count on the brevity of the American attention span, but certain items demand a tap of the pause button. How exactly does the idea of executing gays evolve in a majority-Christian nation? Interesting question.
Gays in Uganda already face imprisonment for up to 14 years. Under a new bill proposed in October by David Bahati, the government could execute HIV-positive men and jail people who don't report homosexual activities.
We are officially appalled, of course. President Obama called the proposed legislation "odious" in remarks at the recent National Prayer Breakfast. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also mentioned Uganda at the breakfast. Even evangelical mega-pastor Rick Warren made an impassioned Christmas video plea to Ugandan pastors, declaring the measure "unjust," "extreme" and "un-Christian."
Warren's message wasn't prompted by outrage at the treatment of gays, however, but by accusations that he had helped create the bill. Warren's Saddleback Church has hosted a Ugandan pastor who supports the legislation, but the purpose-driven pastor insists he has had no role shaping the proposed law. Though Warren deserves to be taken at his word, other comments he made in his defense are problematic.
In a statement to Newsweek, Warren said: "The fundamental dignity of every person, our right to be free, and the freedom to make moral choices are gifts endowed by God, our creator. However, it is not my personal calling as a pastor in America to comment or interfere in the political process of other nations."
I'm not so sure about that. It may not be Warren's personal calling to comment on "political process." But is neutrality really an option for one of the world's most powerful Christian leaders when state genocide of a minority is proposed in the name of Christianity?
If we decide that genocide is too political for interference, then what good is moral leadership?
Other evangelical Christians operating in Uganda are less easily excused from responsibility in the country's increasingly hostile attitudes toward gays. Often cited as having stirred the pot are pastors Scott Lively, Caleb Lee Brundidge and Don Schmierer, who last March worked with Ugandan faith leaders and politicians to help stop the "homosexualization" of the country.
No, nobody "made" Bahati write the bill. But these three pastors, known for their conviction that gays can be "cured," have been spreading their particular brand of gospel in Uganda, and it seems to have found traction. The three have distanced themselves from the proposed law and say they never encouraged punishment for gays.
This may well be the case. In fact, let's assume it is. Let's further assume that these missionaries have only the purest of intentions and want only to help strengthen the traditional family. Dear sirs: Uganda isn't Connecticut. A country where gays are routinely harassed, rounded up and incarcerated doesn't need stoking by American fundamentalists on a mission from God.
In an interview with Alan Colmes, Lively said he was invited to the African nation because Ugandans were worried about American and European gays trying to export homosexuality to their nation. Given that Uganda was already rather unwelcoming to gays, it seems unlikely that Ugandans needed advice from American preachers. Instead, it seems more the case that Uganda has become a laboratory for zealots who have found a receptive audience for their personal cause.
The proposed law is a case study in the unintended consequences of moral colonialism.
Meanwhile, one would think that Uganda, given its history, would have had enough of executions related to homosexuality and religion. In the 1880s, the martyrs of Uganda were burned to death by Mwanga II, the king of Buganda, who was miffed, by some accounts, when his own homosexual advances were declined by recent Christian converts.
And now Uganda's Christians wish to make martyrs of gays?
Not all do, of course. Some pastors are opposing the bill, and Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has said the proposal is too tough. Human rights watchers predict the bill will be toned down to exclude capital punishment, but imprisonment is also unacceptable — and no American should find difficulty saying so.
In a "Meet the Press" interview in November, Warren said he never takes sides, but one wishes he would. To borrow his own words, it is in certain cases extreme, unjust and un-Christian not to.