THE BLOG

Why Uganda Should Consider the Greatest Commandment

03/18/2014 12:27 pm ET | Updated May 18, 2014

It may be the single most challenging concept for those who believe passionately in God, Allah or any other deity: How are we to behave in the face of behavior, attitudes or laws with which we disagree? When we feel in the core of our soul that what we are witnessing is not only inappropriate, but also forbidden by our Holy Book?

As ongoing global monitoring of issues associated with religious freedom continues to demonstrate, these are far from hypothetical questions. In a significant portion of the world, persecution of religious minorities is not only a routine occurrence, but often government-sanctioned. Those who are out of step with the views of the majority may or may not be putting their very lives at risk. But even short of that, religious minorities around the world risk imprisonment, torture or other forms of degrading treatment every day, just for daring to follow their own conscience.

If we needed a reminder, it was vividly provided recently by the signing into law of an astonishingly severe "anti-gay" law by Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni. The law calls for life in prison for certain homosexual acts. Even more surprising, this legislation actually represented an improvement over earlier versions of the bill that called for execution of those who engaged in certain same-sex behaviors. Further, this legislation imposes imprisonment for the "crime" of counseling members of the LGBT community.

The Seventh-day Adventist Church -- along with many other faith groups -- finds this legislation abhorrent. While we subscribe to the Biblical definition of marriage as a union between a man and a woman, we vehemently oppose governments passing legislation to compel morality. In fact, as Dr. Ted Wilson, president of the Adventist world church, wrote several months ago, we believe that church and state should remain far apart. Bad things happen when governments assume the role of "religious enforcer" or when churches unduly seek to influence government.

For people of faith, laws such as the one just passed in Uganda are incomprehensible. It is the responsibility of all of us who believe in the biblical admonition that we are our brother's keeper to speak up and speak out strongly when we see human rights being violated. We must love and do our utmost to protect everyone, even if we are not in theological agreement.

President Museveni originally wavered about this onerous Uganda legislation, describing members of the LGBT community as "sick people who needed help," not imprisonment, but later changed his position when scientists said that there was no gene for homosexuality.

Unfortunately, all of this misses the point. Regardless of how one views homosexuality, it was wrong to criminalize this behavior in the first place.

Religious belief is about informing, educating and persuading. It's about loving our neighbors as ourselves.

What it's not about is forcing people to adhere to our views ... or the views of the majority. The Adventist Church long has been a staunch defender of people's rights to follow their conscience, and to believe in God or not as they see fit.

But if you are a person of faith, you should recognize that if our foundation is love, the hatred represented by the persecution of those who disagree with us, the hatred that causes life to be taken in the name of religion, the hatred embodied in Uganda's anti-gay law ... cannot be allowed to go unchallenged.

Even those who do not believe in the Bible can acknowledge this wisdom contained in Mark 12:30-31: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this, "Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these." (New International Version).

So how are we to behave in the face of behaviors with which we disagree? Clearly, with love.

Love is always the answer.