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Monday, November 30, 2009

Translation, please

I've been thinking of late about the op-ed piece, written by Anglican Bishop Joseph Abura of Karamojo Diocese, Province of the Anglican Church of Uganda, defending his support of the proposed "new" law in Uganda which calls for capitol punishment for the "crime" of what they call "aggravated homosexuality."

Translation: Anyone who is open and honest about being an LGBT person.

Some of my brothers, while not exactly defending Bishop Abura's position, have been urging patience and understanding of the 'cultural context' from which the bishop speaks.

I've also been thinking about the way words don't translate from generation to generation and culture to culture. More importantly, I've been thinking about how cultural understandings are often incomprehensible to others.

When I was in Acra, Ghana, some of the women college students in Accra told me that men are known to "sleep" with other men, but asserted that this was not evidence of homosexuality. "That's just men being men," they giggled.

They also told me that a man may legally marry any woman but he must be married in a tribal ceremony to a woman of his own tribe. "That is not polygamy," they asserted. "He must marry someone in his tribe in order for the tribe to continue."

Likewise, I was told, a "married" man may have sex outside of marriage with male or female. "That is not promiscuity," they told me. "That is just the way of men."

And yes, they also said that this has been "the way of men" in Africa until, they said, "The Christians brought us the idea of shame. So, now we try to assimilate." Which, roughly translated from the local African, meant, not to scare the Christian horses.

Which I experienced, through my American-via-Western-European-Mediterranean-Azorian lens, as grinning, giggling, and disarmingly charming duplicity.

I also visited a Witch Colony in Tamale, in Northern Ghana, where women are banished because they are feared to have "evil powers". This may mean a 9 year old girl who "disobeys" her father or older brother, or a 36 year old wife with five children who has had an argument with her mother-in-law.

I just read this article from the Huffington Post "10,000 Albinos in Hiding After Killings in East Africa."

I confess. It's incomprehensible to me.

We have much to learn about each other's culture. Translation of words is sometimes easier than translation of behavior from one culture to another.

St. Paul tells us through his letter to the church in Ephesus that there are "no more Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female . . . . we are all one in Christ."

If that is true, and I believe it is, then this discussion about cultural context is important for understanding but absolutely, positively irrelevant when it comes to how we treat one another as Christians.

The murder of an LGBT person or an albino person - the influence of tribal witchdoctors not withstanding - or the easy banishment of women and children into a life of slavery - allegations of Evil notwithstanding - is not only a violation of human rights, it is a violation of everything that is sacred to the heart and mind of Jesus.

I want to give as much respect to the cultural contexts of others as I expect from others for my own cultural context. Indeed, I am happy to err on the side of generosity.

However, as Christians, we share the cultural context of our love for Jesus and His unconditional love for us.

The cultural context of Christianity trumps all other cultures. It has to. If we are to be "one in Christ." If the "old self" has died in baptism and "Christ now lives in me".

Isn't that what St. Paul teaches?

We should all be outraged when our common heritage and culture of Love Incarnate, Love Divine is violated in such heinously evil ways - even when they come from intelligent, articulate Princes of the Anglican Church.

Here's my question to Christian leaders - especially in the Anglican Communion - Where is your outrage?

This just in from Religion Dispatches:
There is, of course, a fundamental irony in these arrangements. American conservatives have convinced their African peers that collaborating with them somehow represents a kind of anti-colonial resistance. One is almost tempted to applaud the American right’s audacity. After all, it generally opposed Africa’s national liberation movements, and often smeared the progressive churches that supported them. Now, by presenting homosexuality as the corrupt imposition of a decadent, dying west, American Christian conservatives have positioned themselves as champions of the developing world’s cultural authenticity. Meanwhile, African leaders purport to fight Americanization by aligning with some of the most powerful and chauvinistic of American religious leaders, and even taking American government money.
Read the whole thing here.

This is not about culture or religion.

I don't need a translator to understand what this is really all about.

This is about power.

I think it makes Jesus weep.

UPDATE:  Exert the power of your voice.  Sign the petition which reaffirms resolution D005 of the 2006 General Convention placing The Episcopal Church in opposition to such laws.

"While we hope that in due course our leadership will speak, we must now speak out to support the glbt community in Uganda and in every country contemplating such legislation. They need to know that we are out here and we are not going to remain silent."

 "Anglicans Opposing Uganda's Anti-Gay Bill"


Marie said...

I think it does too, and I appreciate your analysis about cultural context as,"...important for understanding but...irrelevant when it comes to how we treat one another as Christians." Just because we understand from whence comes the persecution doesn't mean that we should condone it.

Brother David said...

Some of my brothers, while not exactly defending Bishop Abura's position, have been urging patience and understanding of the 'cultural context' from which the bishop speaks.

It is another holocaust time people! Folks could be dying here.

Was Adolph Hitler killing Jews just another cultural misunderstanding?

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

I normally pull the Hitler punch, but you're right, of course, Dahveed.

Bill said...

“Some of my brothers, while not exactly defending Bishop Abura's position, have been urging patience and understanding of the 'cultural context' from which the bishop speaks.”

No matter how you look at it, this is a form of genocide. There can be neither patience nor understanding when dealing with genocide. When you differentiate and isolate a group of people for the purpose of exterminating that group, you are committing a crime against humanity. They should be held to account just as the Nazis were at Nuremburg. The fact that the Nazis were operating under the aegis of government authority, did not protect them from prosecution. When a death occurs in the commission of a crime, not only is the perpetrator guilty but also the co-conspirators.

Ann said...

I understand the cultural context of many who commit crimes - but the crime is still a crime. I find those who excuse this law and its supporters mystifying.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

The 'cultural context' stuff is just an obfuscation of the 'real issue' - which is about power.

I grow more and more convinced of it the more I think about it.

Kirk Petersen said...

Elizabeth, I agree that it's about power. Power matters, and the culture of the power-holder matters.

Some cultures are morally superior to others. As tolerant people it makes us uncomfortable to hear that, but it's been true for centuries.

In the 1840s, when India was a British colony and General Sir Charles Napier was its President, a group of Hindus complained to him about the prohibition of suttee -- the practice of burning widows alive on their husband's funeral pyre.

His reply? "You say that it is your custom to burn widows. Very well. We also have a custom. When men burn a woman alive, we tie a rope around their necks and we hang them. Build your funeral pyre; beside it, my carpenters will build a gallows. You may follow your custom. And then we shall follow ours."

To stave off any tedious "Wikipedia is not authoritative" arguments, I tracked down a scholarly reference, one of many:

If you Google "Charles Napier 'burn widows'" you'll get 22,000 hits.

Yes, the British have to answer for some despicable actions over the centuries.... but they also seeded Western values around the world. Eventually those values may take hold in Uganda.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thanks, Kirk. That's exactly what's happening in Uganda. Brilliant.

it's margaret said...

Signed. And we made a petition available at church on Sunday that we will be sending to our Bishop and 815 to encourage them to speak to this.

Thank you for gutting the "cultural" idol.

MackBeemer said...

I signed. I declined to pay in support.

Elizabeth, you wrote, "Here's my question to Christian leaders - especially in the Anglican Communion - Where is your outrage?"

Outrage is way, way too easy, IMO. Query: where are those who are willing to put their own lives at risk for the sake of their sisters and brothers in Uganda?

Mack Harrell
West Orange, NJ

Brother David said...

I apologize Madre. Normally I would never go for the Hitler/Nazi angle, but this time it is relevant and I just felt so utterly appalled. There was no other choice unless I go for Stalin or Pol Pot, or the like.

Thanks for letting my ire through

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Mark, the truth of your words hits me right in the place where I know what you say to be absolutely true.


Elizabeth Kaeton said...

No apologies necessary, Dahveed, my beloved. You never have to apologize for telling the truth.

IT said...

I do not consent to "cultural relativism". Just because another culture sees it right to murder gay people, to burn widows, to disfigure young girls' genitalia, in no way justifies or allows it.

Elizabeth sees that as standing up for Christianity. I see it it as standing up for a civilized and higher morality. And I will not apologize for applying those rules to any culture backward enough to torture its people, regardless.

Erika Baker said...

So if men sleeping with men isn't homosexuality but just the way of men, is there just a slight chance that this way of thinking and tolerating might be continuing now despite increased witch hunt?