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Saturday, December 12, 2009

Silence of the shepherds: Uganda be kidding me!

I know.  I totally stole the last part of that title from Rachel Maddow.  Sometimes, imitation IS the sincerest form of flattery (it's not plagiarism is you give credit where credit is due). 

The Rev. Cynthia Black is and old friend and rector of the Parish Church of Christ the King, in Kalamazoo, Michigan. With Katie Sherrod, she directed and produced the film Voices of Witness Africa. If you haven't see this powerful film, check it out over at Voices of Witness.

She writes the ENS Opinion article posted below after checking in with some of her friends in Uganda.

It is frightening and terrifying.  Our sisters and brothers are not safe - not now - not from the potential genocide for LGBT Ugandans - not for their families and friends who know them but do not 'report' their status to the authorities.

As troubling as this is, my soul is even more deeply troubled by the 'Silence of the Shepherds' who are not hearing the cries from the lambs of their own fold.

What will it take, you think, to get the Archbishop of Canterbury to speak a word of spiritual truth and guidance to the Anglican Prelates of Uganda?

Pastor Rick Warren has clearly retreated from his initial position of saying that he does not impose himself on matters of the Ugandan church or government and issued an "Encyclical".  Does anyone else not see the rich irony of that?

Warren is speaking out against obvious human rights violations even before Rome or Canterbury.  He's claiming the higher moral ground, even as he hides the matches after having lit the flames of homophobia in Uganda.

As Maddow says, "Uganda be kidding me!"

I encourage you to read Cynthia's article below.  I urge you, if you have not already, to contact your elected officials.  Write to the State Department.  Call your bishop and ask her/him to make a statement.

As Cynthia points out - sometimes we have to be Christ's hands and feet, and sometimes we have to be His voice in the world, too.

[Episcopal News Service] "Hear my prayer, O LORD, and give ear to my cry; Do not be silent at my tears." (Psalm 39:12)


That's what Denis, a field producer for the film Voices of Witness Africa and a gay Ugandan, told me when I asked about current conditions in Uganda for gay folks.

"The witch hunt has begun and will only get worse," said another friend, who asked to remain anonymous.

Sixteen years ago, those same words were spoken just a short distance away in neighboring Rwanda, where, in 100 days, some 1 million Tutsis were slaughtered. A visit to the Kigali Memorial Centre in Rwanda last year reminded me that genocide is never a spontaneous act. Those who committed the genocide in 1994 did not kill a million people overnight. They killed one, then another, then another ... day after day. The victims died one by one, their cries unheard or, worse, heard and ignored.

As the Ugandan Parliament considers anti-homosexuality legislation that could require the execution of some gay and lesbian people, I can't help but wonder what it will take for the cries of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender folks in Uganda to be heard. Who will act to stop it? What will the role of the church be?

Will stories of the executions of LGBT Ugandans be reported by the local media, since it could be considered, in the words of the bill, "promotion of homosexuality" to write about it in any way considered sympathetic to the accused? What journalist will dare to cover it and risk three years in prison? Friends in Uganda tell me that they are afraid no attorneys will be willing to represent gay people for fear that their defense might be similarly interpreted.

Already dangerous

But even without the passage of this terrible law, life is dangerous for our LGBT brothers and sisters in Uganda. The Ugandan penal code already provides for life imprisonment for crimes "against the order of nature." Gay and transgender people are being arrested and detained without charge and then made an example of by harassment and torture.

"Houses are raided. Jobs are lost. Lives are destroyed," Victor Mukasa, founder of Sexual Minorities Uganda, told me in a phone call recently. "The new law says that people who are disabled and those with HIV do not deserve to be loved."

Under the proposed legislation, as it read in mid-December, the "crime" of loving a disabled person of the same sex, or someone with HIV, is "aggravated homosexuality" and punishable by death.

The bill includes a requirement that all Ugandans report within 24 hours anyone they know to be homosexual. Failure to do so can result in a three-year prison sentence. Not unlike the Rwandan genocide, neighbors will be reporting on neighbors, and, in this case, parents will be required to report their own children.

The Rev. Tracy Longacre, a deacon working in the Democratic Republic of Congo, worries that "every schoolgirl who doesn't want to marry her father's elderly neighbor is at risk of being reported as a lesbian, and every boy who is too sensitive risks his life if he is friends with another boy."

In 1988, while traveling in El Salvador, I learned that the United States was involved in covert operations there developing a tool called "low-intensity conflict," which involved controlling the population by targeting a small group of people in a village – say teachers – rather than slaughtering an entire village.

This is not unlike what is happening now in Uganda, say my gay and transgender Ugandan friends. And while it is not the U.S. government that is behind it, evangelicals in the United States appear to be aiding their counterparts in Ugandan churches, who in turn create the climate of fear.

Public statements

The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada have condemned the anti-homosexuality bill, as have other churches, church-related organizations and human rights groups. While the Archbishop of Canterbury reportedly has been working behind the scenes, I wonder at what point he will be willing to say something publicly. When the bill passes? When the first gay person is condemned? When the first gay person is executed?

And if he does speak out, will it be too late for my friend Denis, a good Anglican? Even if the death penalty provision in the bill is removed, there is enough left in the legislation to increase and intensify the climate of fear, effectively terrorizing members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, leaving them ripe for genocide.

Victor Mukasa says that, without increased international pressure, "crimes" that were difficult to prosecute will become much easier to try under the new law.

Will we hear the cries, one by one, of those convicted? And if we happen to hear them, what will it take for us to do something?

Let us hear them now and act. Write your elected representatives. Write the State Department and tell them to keep the pressure up. Ask your bishop to contact any bishops she or he knows in Uganda. Use our bonds of affection with Africans to keep the pressure up.

We are Christ's hands and feet in the world, but sometimes, like now, we have to be Christ's voice as well.

UPDATE:   (Woo Hoo!)

UN: Landmark Meeting Denounces Rights Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity

(And, shame on the Archbishop of Canterbury)


David |Dah • veed| said...

As Cynthia points out - sometimes we have to be Christ's hands and feet, and sometimes we have to be His voice in the world, too.

And sometimes we have to be his kick in the ass to follow believers to get them to do what he would have them do!

Bill said...

“What will it take, you think, to get the Archbishop of Canterbury to speak a word of spiritual truth and guidance to the Anglican Prelates of Uganda?”
I don’t think he’ll be saying anything, anytime soon. He’s still got his mind on the big picture, the entire Anglican Church, and Gays don’t figure into his calculations. We are a pain in his backside that refuses to go away. What does it matter if a few African cockroaches are killed? Someone will sweep them under the carpet and before long no one will remember. Since he won’t say anything pro-gay, he’ll just keep silent. In this case his silence is deafening. There are good Anglicans and Episcopalians the world over who are losing sleep because of the cacophony of his silence.

P.S. I agree with David. He needs a good kick in the ass.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Tell ya what - if one of you holds +++Himself down, the other can administer 'the treatment'.

Have y'all seen this: