Today is my birthday, and below is one of the best presents I could have gotten. Our presiding bishop has spoken out forcefully and clearly against a bill being proposed by a member of the Ugandan parliamant that would introduce the death penalty for "aggravated homosexuality," which includes assault against people under the age of 18 and those with disabilities, and propose a seven-year jail term for anyone who "attempts to commit the offence" or who "aids, abets, counsels or procures another to engage in acts of homosexuality."
Earlier, Bonnie Anderson, president of the House of Deputies, also spoke out against the legislation. Her letter is posted below.
I give thanks for two such strong leaders.
Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori
concerning proposed bill in Uganda
[December 4, 2009] The following is the statement of Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori concerning proposed private member’s bill on homosexuality in the Parliament of Uganda:
The Episcopal Church joins many other Christians and people of faith in urging the safeguarding of human rights everywhere. We do so in the understanding that “efforts to criminalize homosexual behavior are incompatible with the Gospel of Jesus Christ” (General Convention 2006, Resolution D005).
This has been the repeated and vehement position of Anglican bodies, including several Lambeth Conferences. The Primates’ Meeting, in the midst of severe controversy over issues of homosexuality, nevertheless noted that, as Anglicans, “we assure homosexual people that they are children of God, loved and valued by him, and deserving of the best we can give of pastoral care and friendship” (Primates’ Communiqué, Dromantine, 2005).
The Episcopal Church represents multiple and varied cultural contexts (the United States and 15 other nations), and as a Church we affirm that the public scapegoating of any category of persons, in any context, is anathema. We are deeply concerned about the potential impingement on basic human rights represented by the private member’s bill in the Ugandan Parliament.
In the United States and elsewhere, we note that changed laws do help to shift public opinion and urge a more humane response to difference. The Hate Crimes Act recently passed in the United States is one example, as are the many pieces of civil rights legislation that have slowly changed American public behavior, especially in the area of race relations. We note the distance our own culture still needs to travel in removing discriminatory practice from social interactions, yet we have also seen how changed hearts and minds have followed legal sanctions on discriminatory behavior.
We give thanks for the clear position of the United States government on human rights, for the State Department’s annual human rights report on Uganda, which observes that the existing colonial-era law on same-sex relations is a societal abuse of human rights, and for the State Department’s publicly voiced opposition to the present bill. We urge the United States government to grant adequate access to the U.S. asylum system for those fleeing persecution on the basis of homosexuality or gender identity, to work with other governments, international organizations, and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to provide adequate protection for these asylum seekers, and to oppose any attempts at extradition under a law such as that proposed in Uganda.
Finally, we note that much of the current climate of fear, rejection, and antagonism toward gay and lesbian persons in African nations has been stirred by members and former members of our own Church. We note further that attempts to export the culture wars of North America to another context represent the very worst of colonial behavior. We deeply lament this reality, and repent of any way in which we have participated in this sin.
We call on all Episcopalians to seek their own conversion toward an ability to see the image of God in the face of every neighbor, of whatever race, gender, sexual orientation, theological position, or creed. God has created us in myriad diversity, and no one sort or condition of human being can fully reflect the divine. Only the whole human race begins to be an adequate mirror of the divine.
We urge continued prayer for those who live in fear of the implications of this kind of injustice and discrimination, and as a Church, commit ourselves anew to seek partnerships with the Church of Uganda, or any portion thereof, in serving the mission of God and the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That Gospel is larger than any party or faction. It is only in mutual service and recognition that we will begin to mend our divisions.
We are grateful for the willingness of the Anglican Communion Office and Lambeth Palace to hear this plea on behalf of all God’s people, and urge their continued assistance in seeking greater justice. We note the impediments this legislation would pose to the ability to continue a Listening Process in which all of the Anglican Communion is currently engaged.
The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori
The Episcopal Church
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The Episcopal Church welcomes all who worship Jesus Christ in 109 dioceses and three regional areas in 16 nations. The Episcopal Church is a member province of the worldwide Anglican Communion.
Earlier President of the House of Deputies Bonnie Anderson wrote this letter:
November 25, 2009
To the Co-conveners of the Chicago Consultation:
Thank you for your letter of November 19, regarding the so-called Anti-Homosexuality Bill currently under consideration in the Ugandan Parliament.
As deputies, you know that in 2006, our House overwhelmingly passed Resolution D005, condemning the criminalization of homosexuality. The House of Bishops concurred. I believed then, as I believe now, that in passing this legislation we were being faithful to our Baptismal Covenant, in which we pledge to “strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.”
The Ugandan bill not only makes consensual sexual activity punishable by death, it imposes a reporting requirement on those who know about such activity. It is a terrible violation of the human rights of an already persecuted minority. More egregiously, it is an attempt to use the authority of the state to deprive individuals of their God-given dignity, and to isolate them from the care and concern of their fellow human beings.
The Executive Council of the Episcopal Church is scheduled to meet by teleconference on the afternoon of December 7 to discuss our Church’s response to this hateful legislation. I hope and believe that a vigorous statement will be forthcoming, and that I will be able to support this statement wholeheartedly.
In the meantime, please know that I appreciate your efforts and those of the other committed people who have brought this issue to the attention of our church.
Bonnie Anderson, D.D.
President, The House of Deputies