by AT News Team

Reports in newspapers in Uganda “took the liberty to extend my statements to suggest what I did not say or imply,” said Pastor Blasius Ruguri, president of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in East-Central Africa, in a news release from the official Adventist News Network (ANN) on Friday (Dec. 21). Since 2009 there has been a bill under consideration in the Ugandan parliament that would make homosexuality illegal and includes the death penalty. “I have never seen that bill,” Ruguri states in the ANN report.
 
Ruguri was quoted earlier last week in New Vision, which bills itself as “Uganda’s leading daily,” as endorsing the bill. He was in Uganda to inaugurate a new local conference, installing the conference president and dedicating the conference office. Three members of parliament were present for the occasion, including one representing Yoweri Museveni, the nation’s president. They announced grants to help fund the construction of the conference office.
 
The newspaper reported that “Ruguri … said the church supports the government in the fight against homosexuality and corruption.” It quoted him: “Our stand is ‘zero tolerance’ to this vice and to western influence on this crucial issue because God says no to it. We are together with the President and the Speaker [of parliament] and we fully support the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. I call upon all religious ministers, all Ugandans, and all Africans to say no to Homosexuality. Let us stand for our sovereignty as Ugandans and as God fearing people even [if] the heavens fall.”
 
“Mine was a general statement to disapprove of homosexual practice,” Ruguri stated in the ANN release. “Our church is a ministry of mercy and as a minister in the Seventh-day Adventist Church I cannot condemn homosexuals to death or to hell.”
 
Spectrum, the journal of the largest organization of Adventist academics, published excerpts from the New Vision newspaper story a few days ago, including a photo of Ruguri with General Conference (GC) President Ted Wilson standing behind him, although the photo is not from the events in Uganda and was evidently taken some time ago. On Friday it reported the ANN statement, but expressed reservations as to its intent. “Ruguri might want to work on his communication skills since he appears to have misled another report from a different newspaper on the same day,” Spectrum said. It published excerpts from The Daily Monitor quoting Ruguri, “As the SDA, we stand by you (Ugandans) in solidarity against homosexuality even when some countries are threatening to cut aid to you.”
 
On Sunday (Dec. 23) two news publications serving the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community in the United States welcomed the ANN statement, reporting that Ruguri “has repudiated quotes attributed to him by Uganda’s state owned media” (Gayapolis.com) and “opposes Uganda anti-gay bill” (Gay Star News). The Ugandan newspaper had “yet to take down or correct their article,” Gay Star News stated, but the nation’s parliament failed again to bring the bill to vote before it took a Christmas vacation.
 
A similar incident occurred in 2010 when Pastor John Kakembo, president of the Adventist denomination in Uganda, was reported by Spectrum to have endorsed the same bill. The next day the GC communication department issued a statement opposing the bill. Adventist Today published an opinion piece urging readers to encourage church leaders to speak out against the proposed law.
 
“Relationships between church and state are complicated in developing nations where there is a strong Christian majority,” a former missionary told Adventist Today. “American Evangelicals have gone to Uganda and stirred the pot on this issue.” The Adventist Church also has a complex communication task in maintaining the dual positions of teaching against homosexual behavior and advocating respect for people regardless of their sexual orientation, an Adventist theologian pointed out. “It is fraught with opportunity for misunderstanding.”