An open letter to Rebecca Kadaga
Dear Ms. Kadaga,
I have visited your beautiful country and come to love it deeply. From the reedy shores of Lake Victoria to the hilly game parks near Lake Edward, I have enjoyed your green land and your amazing wildlife. And even more, from small rural villages to the teeming city of Kampala, I have come to love the Ugandan people. Hospitable, resilient, heroic, caring, creative, and resourceful, Ugandan people are among of the kindest and best people I have met anywhere.
That's why it is hard for me to believe what is happening in your country, under your leadership.
It is widely reported here that you as a the Speaker of the Ugandan Parliament have supported a bill that further stigmatizes and threatens gay people. According to reports, you said, "Ugandans want that law as a Christmas gift. They have asked for it and we'll give them that gift."
No doubt some Ugandans want a law like this - whether in its stronger (death penalty) or weaker (life imprisonment) forms. But I find it hard to believe that the majority of Ugandans - especially the good people I have met - would support such a law.
I have visited Uganda as a Christian leader and met with a wide variety of Christian leaders. They have impressed me as people of compassion, not violence ... of grace, not intolerance. They know that Jesus was once put in a situation similar to the one you face in Uganda today. A group of strict religious leaders pressured him to assent to the killing of a woman widely regarded as a damnable, detestable sinner. They quoted the Bible to make their case. But he resisted that pressure and overcame it. He courageously sided with the woman, and he challenged those preparing to throw stones at her to face their own hypocrisy. Rather than handing them a stone "as a Christmas gift," he risked his reputation, even his life, in an effort to protect her. He handed them another gift: a model of compassion, a new way of being religious, a new way of being human.
Your use of the phrase "Christmas gift" is especially painful for people like me who love Jesus and devote our lives to living and teaching his way. The original Christmas gift was a baby born in complete vulnerability within a violent world. Jesus' vulnerability was a message to us all - that the way of God is not the way of Caesar and Herod, political leaders who scapegoat the vulnerable and use violence against them to gain and retain power. No, God is revealed to the world in a vulnerable baby whose love is for everyone, no exceptions.
Every Christmas, we who love Jesus must ask ourselves this question: will our hearts joyfully "prepare him room," or will we turn him away because there is "no room in the inn?" Every Christmas, we must remember that as we do unto the most vulnerable among us, so we do unto Christ. So, ironically, to hand a stone to the Ugandan people or to its parliament in order to harm gay people would blaspheme Christ and Christmas, not honor them.
The Christmas gift that would honor Christ would be this: to drop your stones. To see Christ in the most vulnerable people of Uganda ... rich or poor, powerful or powerless, straight or gay. To banish the darkness of prejudice and scapegoating and let in the light of compassion, respectful listening, and mutual understanding.
So my prayer this Christmas is that you and the people of Uganda set an example to the world - by turning away from what has been planned, by turning toward compassion and understanding, and by making your country not more dangerous and hateful, but even more welcoming and loving.
I am especially touched by the threat of this law because in my own family and among my closest circle of friends, there are many gay people. Like you, I was raised in a cultural and religious tradition that condemned them. But I have come to see that our tradition was wrong - just as it was wrong about slavery, segregation/apartheid, colonialism, and chauvinism.
I would hate to think that in the future, if I again have the pleasure of visiting Uganda, I might be thrown into jail for seeking to follow Jesus by speaking against a misguided tradition and standing with the vulnerable.
So, Speaker Kadaga, I am among thousands who are praying that you will drop this legislation. Instead of following the misguided example of some religious leaders in the West, I pray you will follow the wiser example of one of Africa's moral leaders, Desmond Tutu. He has learned to see in gay people - like my friends and family members - the face of Christ. He was right when he said,
"My brothers and sisters, you stood with people who were oppressed because of their skin color. If you are going to be true to the Lord you worship, you are also going to be there for the people who are being oppressed for something they can do nothing about: their sexual orientation."
Merry Christmas to you, Ms. Kadaga.
With respect and love,
Brian D. McLaren