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When Religious Freedom Isn't Free: Uganda as Mirror for the US

02/28/2014 04:57 pm ET | Updated Apr 30, 2014
  • Dr. Cindi Love Executive Director, American College Personnel Association (ACPA)

If you are following the public discussions of human rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, you know that recent anti-gay flurries in Arizona, Kansas, Texas and Uganda share the same origin: (1) homophobia disguised as the right of religious freedom and (2) inserting state or regional rights in place of basic human rights for all people.

In Uganda these flurries of anti-gay sentiment have now turned into a den of fire for people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender and those who love and support them. I am deeply saddened for all of the Ugandan people. When the rights of any person are stripped away by law and the church, all suffer. People who identify as sexual and gender minorities in Uganda will be martyred and we will later ask why we did nothing.

It doesn't have to end this way.

In our beloved United States, the outbursts of anti-gay sentiment have provided opportunity to clarify who we really are and what we really want our nation to be -- the United States or the 50 States Divided -- a government of the people and for the people and by the people or a government manipulated by ultra-conservative power brokers. None of us can predict the outcome, but I really applaud the dialogue and debate because it makes us think.

Conservatives in our "secession prone" states claim that our federal government and the gay movement are trying to pressure them into pro-homosexual legislation regarding marriage and other basic rights for human beings in our nation. Uganda says the United Nations and western nations are trying to pressure them into social and cultural values that are abhorrent to them.

The response of Uganda has been absolute. They have passed anti-gay legislation that allows them to profile, round up and imprison gay people and throw away the key. They want to be clear that they will not succumb to the strong arm tactics of the pro-homosexual western influence. Many U.S.-based leaders are appalled by this dreadful outcome yet the same suggestions are made in this country by political and religious leaders and little notice is given.

I can understand how Ugandans feel that we have no right to judge them even though I completely disagree with them on the provision of human rights for LGBT people. As a follower of the life and teachings of Jesus Christ, I cannot agree with them.

I can understand why Ugandans question the authentic commitment of the United Nations and the United States to the principles within the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Why do people in the United States think they can judge the behaviors and choices of the Ugandan government when we can't get all of our states and certainly not all of our churches to align around basic rights for all human beings? When we stand united on the rights of all human beings to dignity and respect, the world will listen to us again.

What can we do as individuals to help the U.S. avoid the spiraling horror of Uganda?

1. Call upon our states to eliminate any legislation and constitutional prohibition to basic rights for all human beings. If same-sex couples want to marry, so be it. If they want to adopt and they pass the same evaluations that other adoptive parents pass, let them be parents. If a person identifies as trans and wants to change their gender identification, driver's license, birth certificate and other legally binding expressions of who they are, let it be so.

2. Call upon our federal government to eliminate any legislation and constitutional prohibition to basic rights for all human beings. Include all of the benefit programs that arise out of the federal sector like Social Security, Medicare and Veteran's Administration.

3. Call upon every minister in the United States to publicly support the basic human rights of all people in all nations -- because Jesus did so and would do so today.

4. Call out ministers within the United States who promote anti-human rights legislation and behaviors in this nation and in others. The lawsuit against Scott Lively is an excellent example of how these ministers can be confronted legally. Even more powerful would be the voices of people sitting in pews and financially contributing to those ministries. Consider the case of Andrew Wommack and Lighthouse Ministries.

Leland Shores, who runs Lighthouse ministries in Kampala, Uganda, claims the support of more than 200 Ugandan Christian leaders in the government's passage of the watered down yet lethal Kill the Gays Bill. Leland Shores and his boss, Andrew Wommack assert that the Ugandans are taking a stand for righteousness and should have the support of American Christians, not their condemnation.

On Wednesday, February 3, 2010 at 2:33:41 p.m., Shores released an appeal to a large list of Andrew Wommack Ministry followers around the world. It was titled:

Please Help Us in Uganda

He said:

As the Director of Andrew Wommack Ministries of Uganda I have been living in Uganda for 5 years now, I am married to a Ugandan and I have been embraced and loved by the people. Our ministry serves this country sharing and teaching the "Unconditional Love and Grace of God" and one thing I have learned, as a foreigner here, is that the Ugandans are passionate about their families and their love for God. It does not matter the denomination. Personally, I support this (anti-gay) Bill, its premise and the proposed changes that are being made in Uganda...this Bill is dealing with the issues that are related to a Third-World Community. These issues are so very different from the Globalized mold Western activists and the press are trying to suggest that Uganda squeeze into.

...I am so proud of this nation for standing up for something they believe in regardless of the threats that have come from around the World and especially from the USA who has threatened to pull funding if this bill is passed.

As counter-point to Wommack, Rick Warren, America's leading evangelist, acknowledging his ties to many Ugandan leaders, released a statement calling the anti-gay legislation unjust, extreme and un-Christian toward homosexuals. He also added:

I oppose the criminalization of homosexuality. The freedom to make moral choices is endowed by God. Since God gives us that freedom, we must protect it for all, even when we disagree with their choices.

We need Rick Warren to repeat and repeat again his opposition to any action that denies the basic human rights and freedom to make moral choices.

We need thousands of ministers around the world to join him in this statement. Only then will we see safety and recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family as the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.

I hope you will consider what you can do as an individual to stop the violence against all human beings by taking one or all of the steps described. I encourage you to join me in reading again the introductory text of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Copy and paste it and include it in your messages to your elected officials and to your ministers.

Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people,

Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law,

Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.

Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.

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