My Church Supports the Killing of LGBTQ People in Uganda
by Loren Seibold | 28 April 2023 |
Recently, my friend Bryan Ness sent me a link to a New York Times piece about the effect of the new Ugandan law that promises life imprisonment for anyone who admits to, or is accused of, being LGBTQ. The story is enough to make one retch.
Forgive me, please, New York Times, but I must share the beginning of the piece with my fellow church members, because this story involves us:
In a spartan safehouse with flimsy curtains and no furniture northwest of the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, people from neighboring Uganda clung to the few valuables they could snatch while fleeing harsh new legislation targeting them back home.
A gay man clutched the white rosary that he took to church every Sunday. A transgender woman brought her favorite shimmering blue dress. A lesbian couple clenched the one smartphone that held photos from happier days, going on dates and dancing in clubs.
They began leaving after Uganda’s Parliament passed a sweeping anti-gay bill in late March that threatens punishment as severe as death for some perceived offenses, and calls for life in prison for anyone engaging in same-sex relations.
“The government and the people of Uganda are against our existence,” said Mbajjwe Nimiro Wilson, a 24-year-old who fled with a single backpack days after a hostile crowd, including children, cornered him as he bought groceries near a gay shelter in the capital, Kampala.
“They kept saying, ‘We will hunt you. You gays should be killed. We will slaughter you,’” he said. “There was no option but to leave.”
The painful thing about reading this is that my church, the church of which I am a lifelong member and pastor, supported this law. My church’s leaders advocated for a law that people are now using to promise to “hunt” and “slaughter” people.
We know this because the union conference president, Moses Maka Ndimukika, stood in solidarity with the Ugandan Inter-Religious Council which pushed for the law, and is pictured with them celebrating the law.
From the General Conference, there has been, instead, a deafening silence. Our denominational leaders know what is happening in Uganda. They know that the denomination’s representative there promoted this evil law. People are being hunted because of their orientation. And the one judicatory in our church that can speak ex cathedra, and often does, just doesn’t give enough of a damn about the people described in that New York Times article to publicly oppose their own employee in Uganda who proudly bragged about his support of it.
Undoubtedly, there were people in Jesus’ day who were LGBTQ. We know this because ancient writers wrote about it.
Jesus said not a word about it. Nothing.
We don’t know from his silence what Jesus thought about committed LGBTQ relationships. What we do see clearly is that wherever Jesus went, he tried to ameliorate human suffering.
Imagine a group of the rabbis coming to Jesus and saying, “The law says that we should hunt down LGBTQ people like animals and imprison or murder them. What do you say?”
To answer this question, we have at least one story to refer to. When asked if they should stone the woman caught in adultery, Jesus said, “Let him that is without sin cast the first stone.”
Do you suppose our church leaders are all without sin? Even sexual sin? I think that’s unlikely. Not because they’re worse than anyone else, but because they’re human, and in any large group of people there will be those who have fallen into sexual sin.
But let’s suppose none of the men or women in Silver Spring ever have had an impure thought or action. Wouldn’t it still be incumbent upon them as followers of Jesus to take a stand against life imprisonment, much less against the death penalty, much less against hunting down gay people like animals? Where is that in the teachings of Jesus? Jesus, who resolutely opposed lex talionis?
You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also. And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two. (Matthew 5:38-41)
Not the first time
Back in 2012, Blaisious Ruguri, the Adventist church president for the East and Central Africa Division, spoke at the Mbarara SDA Church. Blaisious Ruguri declared that Adventists “fully” supported an earlier version of the government’s “Anti-Homosexuality Bill” which also criminalized same-sex intimacy with prison terms and the death penalty. An article in a Ugandan daily newspaper, New Vision, shows Ruguri standing alongside state MP Medard Bitekyerezo and quotes Ruguri as saying,
“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 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 though the heavens fall.”
Perhaps in response to an impassioned letter from Kinship International then-president Yolanda Elliott to the General Conference, a few days later Adventist News Network issued a statement.
Did they say that there was no place in Adventist leadership for someone who supported the death penalty?
Ha! Not a chance. Adventist News Network (ANN) quoted Blaisious Ruguri insisting he really didn’t say what he said, and in fact had no knowledge whatsoever of what was in the law!
Our leaders are either gullible or dishonest. Blaisious Ruguri remains the president of the East-Central Africa Division.
Now it has occurred with another top leader in Africa. If it is in fact ever addressed, will we get more of the same from the General Conference, this time on behalf of Moses Maka Ndimukika? Given the history of this law, how many times can the “I was misquoted” or “I didn’t know what it actually said” excuses be used?
Why won’t they speak up?
I am, as are some of you, skeptical about the authority that the General Conference claims for itself. As I’ve said many times, the quotes from Ellen White saying that the General Conference (GC) is God’s highest authority on earth are repeated in every GC meeting I’ve been to. In the next sentence they quote The Great Controversy, which blasts the Vatican for too much authority. They don’t see the irony.
Yet the GC is the only level of the church that has the ear of both the church and the world. It exercises a top-down authority that it has shown itself quite willing to use against women and those who support women in ministry.
So why won’t the GC speak out against violence and the death penalty, in accord with its own statements?
In his announcement on a “Human Sexuality Task Force,” Ted Wilson said, “We need to treat all people with respect, with love, with care.”
Did he mean it? Over his term as president, he has shown an obsession about homosexuality. He has embraced discredited gay change ministries like the one promoted by Wayne Blakely (who himself was canceled from a camp meeting a few years ago when it was discovered he wasn’t practicing what he preached). Wilson even brought Blakely to speak at a GC Executive Committee meeting.
And as I pointed out previously, when the Ugandan union conference president came to the defense of that country’s evil law, Ted Wilson’s immediate response was not to condemn Moses Maka Ndimukika for supporting the death penalty, but to condemn the Hanseatic Conference in Germany for not firing a celibate bisexual pastor.
Please understand this: I’m not talking here about whether you feel LGBTQ relationships are right or wrong. I personally feel there is good evidence for supporting people in committed LGBTQ relationships.
But in this piece, I’m not trying to convince you of that. I’m simply asking you this: does your denomination’s support for life imprisonment and the death penalty for those accused of LGBTQ behavior reflect your understanding of the attitudes of Jesus? Is that what you stand for when you say you’re a member and tithe payer in the Seventh-day Adventist Church? Do you believe LGBTQ people should be hunted and slaughtered?
Apparently the union conference president in Uganda does—and our church leaders, who are the only ones with sufficient authority to contradict him, don’t care enough to say anything.
Or, maybe they agree with him.
Blaisious Ruguri is still in one of the highest positions in church leadership after claiming 11 years ago that the newspaper made up what he said.
It didn’t, of course. And the fact that we’re going around the second time on this same set of laws in Uganda proves it.
Personally, I’d like to see both of these men, Moses Maka Ndimukika and Blaisious Ruguri, removed from church leadership. I doubt that will happen, though. Look for the church to whom you’re paying your tithe and offering to double down on their hatred of homosexuals, and make excuses for these African church leaders. (Personally, I don’t recognize them as church leaders at all, so out-of-touch are they with the teachings of Jesus.)
But if you want to let Ted Wilson and his team know what you think, you can write him. A paper letter is worth more than an email.
Expect neither to be responded to. I wish that 100 letters on the desk of Ted Wilson would make him act. But I can’t guarantee that. Ted Wilson has an obsession with gay people, and that’s not going to go away no matter how much resistance he gets.
Loren Seibold is the Executive Editor of Adventist Today