Anti-LGBT Bill in Uganda Could Be Hours Away, Death Penalty Remains; Religious Voices Conspicuously Absent in International Protest


A vicious anti-LGBT bill is prepared to pass in Uganda before the year’s close. Rebecca Kadaga, Uganda’s notoriously anti-LGBT parliamentary speaker, was quoted saying, "Ugandans want that law as a Christmas gift. They have asked for it and we'll give them that gift." 

First proposed in 2009, the impact that the so-called “Kill the Gays” bill could have on the Ugandan LGBT community is devastating. Although reports are conflicting regarding the death penalty provision, a press release from the Civil Society Coalition on Human Rights and Constitutional Law, released November 29, states that, "none of the provisions have been changed from those of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill 2009": it still criminalizes homosexuality—making it punishable by long-term jail sentences with manual labor, and—most tragically—death. Poised to become law in 2009, the bill was momentarily abandoned after intense international outcry—including that of prominent religious leadership. The bill returned earlier this year, and when it was recently passed through committee, U.S. and international uproar recommenced. Still, the Civil Society Coalition reports that, "The Anti-Homosexuality Bill was upgraded to Item No. 1 on Order of Business to Follow of the Ugandan Parliament which means it may be tabled in a matter of hours from now." In light of this looming atrocity, one crucial voice remains hauntingly absent this time around: those of prominent evangelical religious leaders.

In 2009, Rick Warren—famed evangelical pastor of Saddleback Church in Southern California and author of the best-selling Purpose Driven Life—spoke out against the bill. Now, in 2012, he and others have, as of yet, remained silent. To protest the quiet, online petitions have been created and letters written, challenging religious leadership to, once again, speak.

Wayne Self, Publisher of Owldolatrous Press, drafted an open letter to General Linda Bond, the head of the Salvation Army. An informational note before the letter urges people to share it on Twitter and Facebook, and—if in London, hand-deliver it to the denominational offices. A public denunciation from the Salvation Army, an organization with a sizable African presence, is a moral imperative.

Groundswell has started a petition aimed at clergy members to show widespread disapproval of the bill from faith leaders. It is hoped that signatures on the petition will influence major denominational leaders to speak out in opposition to the bill. It has acquired 2169 of its desired 3000 signatures. 

Hope in Uganda is seeking to elevate the voices of black Christian civil rights leaders, and is hoping to move figures like Rev. Al Sharpton, Rev. Jesse Jackson, and Rev. Dr. Calvin Butts to openly oppose the proposed legislation.

Thankfully, some religious leaders are beginning to answer the call. Ruth Messinger, President of American Jewish World Service, wrote a letter condemning the bill as, “an abhorrent violation of human rights against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people and a grave threat to civil society in Uganda.” Jim Wallis’ evangelical organization, Sojourners, also released an article this week decrying what they called the, “draconian anti-LGBT bill.” While these are earnest steps, much more must be done.  

Why have Rick Warren and other evangelical leaders remained silent? As the bill awaits an imminent parliamentary vote, there is no time for contemplation; direct and decided speech against this bill is the only option as the international community looks to safeguard the LGBT community in Uganda.