The signing into law the Anti-Homosexuality Act 2014 by Uganda’s president last month has stirred a lot of debate and often generated more heat than light. But there is some very helpful material being written on these issues:
- Chris Howles, ‘Homophobia in Uganda: Is Christianity the problem or the solution?’, Namugongoife, Dec. 2013.
- Sam Allberry, ‘Is God Anti-Gay’, Evangelicals Now, Sept. 2013.
- Rosaria Butterfield, ‘You Are What – and How – You Read’, The Gospel Coalition, Feb. 2014.
All three are well worth reading in full but here are some of the key myths in the debate that they point out:
1. It’s all about the West. This myth, paradoxically, comes in two almost diametrically opposite forms. The one most common in the West is: Homophobia in Africa is the result of hate preaching by Western Christian missionaries. Chris Howles does a good job of a) exposing the lack of substantive evidence for a direct link; b) pointing to the general lack of impact and real influence that biblical Christianity has on Ugandan society and c) the roots of the Ugandan bill in traditional cultural beliefs and anti-colonial rhetoric. Howles (commenting below the article): “1) Over 30 African countries have laws similar to this, and yet many of those countries are untouched by Christianity or the church. 2) Opposition (hatred of) homosexuality here is spread across all faith communities (inc. traditional ethno-religious communities) and non-faith communities. 3) Other ‘traditional’ Christian attitudes to sexual ethics (sex inside marriage, faithfulness in marriage, etc) are mostly ignored here, even inside the church. In my experience there are few faithful marriages. And yet you would have us believe that this one (supposedly) Christian teaching has become so widely accepted and internalised that it’s not just obeyed, but has become instituted as a law of the land.”
The equal and opposite myth, widespread in our context here, is: Homosexuality in Africa is purely the result of Western influence. This seems to be part of what drives current Ugandan rhetoric – that homosexuality is about the West forcing its values on the rest. While there is undoubtedly some truth in that (it is much easier to find Westerners promoting homosexuality in African than homophobia) and while the strategies of the US and UK have sometimes verged on cultural imperialism, the underlying argument that homosexual behaviour is a foreign import can (as East African brothers have pointed out) be challenged historically and sociologically. While it is very widely a strong taboo in the African context it has been practised for centuries and been particularly prevalent in certain times and contexts. The thing that both myths have in common is that they over-estimate the influence of Western culture and rhetoric, giving it a simple determining power and over-looking more local factors.
2. Homosexuality is identity. As Butterfield says: “This… comes directly from Sigmund Freud, who effectually replaced the soul with sexual identity as the singular defining characteristic of humanity… This position states same-sex attraction is a morally neutral and fixed part of the personal makeup and identity of some… It’s true that temptation isn’t sin (though what you do with it may be); but that doesn’t give us biblical license to create an identity out of a temptation pattern. To do so is a recipe for disaster.” Allbery comments similarly: “In Western culture today the obvious term for someone with homosexual feelings is ‘gay’. But in my experience this often refers to far more than someone’s sexual orientation. It has come to describe an identity and a lifestyle. When someone says they’re gay, or for that matter lesbian or bisexual, they normally mean that, as well as being attracted to someone of the same gender, their sexual preference is one of the fundamental ways in which they see themselves. And it’s for this reason that I tend to avoid using the term. It sounds clunky to describe myself as ‘someone who experiences same-sex attraction’. But describing myself like this is a way for me to recognise that the kind of sexual attractions I experience are not fundamental to my identity. They are part of what I feel but are not who I am in a fundamental sense. I am far more than my sexuality.”
3. The Bible/Jesus does not condemn homosexual activity. Butterfield: “This position declares that the Bible’s witness against homosexuality, replete throughout the Old and New Testaments, results from misreadings, mistranslations, and misapplications, and that Scripture doesn’t prohibit monogamous homosexual sexual relations, thereby embracing antinomianism and affirming gay marriage.”
4. It is always possible for a Christian to be ‘re-orientated’ or ‘healed’ of same sex attraction. Butterfield: “This position contends a primary goal of Christianity is to resolve homosexuality through heterosexuality, thus failing to see that repentance and victory over sin are God’s gifts and failing to remember that sons and daughters of the King can be full members of Christ’s body and still struggle with sexual temptation. This heresy is a modern version of the prosperity gospel. Name it. Claim it. Pray the gay away.”
5. It is harder for a gay person to become a Christian. Allbery: “ever since I have been open about my own experiences of homosexuality, a number of Christians have said something like this: ‘The gospel must be harder for you than it is for me’, as though I have more to give up than they do. But the fact is that the gospel demands everything of all of us. If someone thinks the gospel has somehow slotted into their life quite easily, without causing any major adjustments to their lifestyle or aspirations, it is likely that they have not really started following Jesus at all… What Jesus calls me to do is exactly what he calls anyone to do: ‘…“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Mark 8.34). It is the same for us all — ‘whoever’. I am to deny myself, take up my cross and follow him. every Christian is called to costly sacrifi ce. Denying yourself does not mean tweaking your behaviour here and there. It is saying ‘No’ to your deepest sense of who you are, for the sake of Christ. Is God antigay? No. But he is against who all of us are by nature, as those living apart from him and for ourselves. He’s anti that guy, whatever that guys looks like in each of our lives. But… God loves that guy too. Loves him enough to carry his burden, take his place… and unite him for ever to himself.” Well that’s just cleared some ground. As for the positive side of what the Bible does teach in relation to these issues and what would be a good gospel response, that will have to wait for another article.
More great resources at: True Freedom Trust (see especially the helpful book reviews).