Thursday, 27 January 2011

Them and us

David Kato, the advocacy officer for Sexual Minorities Uganda, was bludgeoned to death in Mukono, Kampala, yesterday afternoon.  The Ugandan Archbishop Henry Luke Orombi is numbered among  those primates who have boycotted the Primates meeting this week simply because Katherine Jefferts Schori, who has consecrated those in gay partnerships, has also been invited. 
In 2008 Orombi reportedly described gay people as "dangerous" saying,
" They can harm anybody who is against them. Some of them are killers. They want to close the mouth of anybody who is against them.”
Those words are sadly ironic, firstly Orombi does not seem to be above closing the mouth of others, secondly it is clear that they could be applied with deadly accuracy to Kato's killers and opponents, not to a man who took the courageous step of suing a paper for breaching his human rights.  Here in Britain we have been debating another legal action, and I have been saddened to read on some blogs the words of Christians who have described Hall and Preddy as "obnoxious", "repugnant", "bullies", "homosexualists", - and - "Gaystapo" and "Nazis" - rather ironic on  Holocaust Memorial Day, a day when we remember countless who died  because of their race, disabilities or sexual orientation.

It is natural to use emotive language when we hold strong opinons, and sometimes it is right to speak out using strong language-  but if language is a powerful tool then we  also need to be careful how we use it. I also read a commentor on a blog recently who said that if you believe that homosexual sex is wrong, you are automatically homophobic. I thought long and hard about this and  I do not think it is right to automatically apply the word "homophobe" to someone who has thought carefully about the issue and has in all conscience come to such a conclusion. I also feel that when we trade insults we close down debate, we also force people into polarised positions, you are either "completely in" and agree with everything I say - or you are "completely outside" the fold and can be demonised and labelled accordingly. Once people are  on the "outside" , it is too easy to start to regard them as "the other" - someone who does not count, someone who is not our fellow human being, someone who can be disregarded, or worse...

The paper which named Kato carried the legend, "hang them."  Two words, but what terrible terrible words - one an injunction to kill, the other an invitation to regard fellow human beings as "other". I think we all condemn those words, but as we too need to think carefully about the words we use,  that our words speak with power but with fairness - or else they can say more about  us  than them.


  1. Thanks for this thoughtful piece, Suem. I find it difficult to summon up much warmth for Christianity when this kind of thing happens, sadly.

  2. It's just so sad that Christians, (particularly those in high places) can so easily sink to the lows of name calling, threats and even violence, rather than reaching to the highest and being the example of Christ that we should all be.
    Incidentally I agree about the term homophobic -'phobe' implies some sort of fear, usually irrational. Just because someone doesn't 'agree' with homosexual behaviour, doesn't make them a homophobe.
    red x

  3. I think the time has come when we have to say there is an unsavoury element of prejudice and bigotry in SOME aspects of sub-Saharan Christianity. Yet how this is said is the problem. At present my own post-grad research has meant spending several months at a Christian run (tho’ mainly taxpayer funded) homeless hostel in London. There is a disproportionate number of staff who are sub-Saharan Christians. Among these there are some very good staff, yet there are also a number who are clearly in the wrong job. I have been shocked at how they view the homeless in their charge: judgemental, dismissive, arrogant towards them and even bullying - when they think they are not being observed. Initially I kept a low profile in my research and was often taken to be resident of the hostel by staff who had not been introduced to me – I was shocked at how I was treated. Several of those most vocal about their ‘Christian’ credentials were also the ones most arrogant and uncaring in their work. I really don’t know what to do with this information, because to including it in my thesis will be divisive and contentious. Yet it needs to be said...

    There is something unwholesome about aspects of much African Christianity. Attitudes to homosexuality are a case in point. In Uganda there was, until recently, a clear example of a phenomenon that is peculiar to African. That is, the more Christian a nation the higher its HIV infection rate – the more Muslim the lower (see: - there are several similar research papers that come to the same conclusion). My own experience of working in palliative care in central London reflected these findings. When I made my visits I would often be met with the same scene. The African patient at the side of the bed and a rather overly large Bible either being read or in a prominent position. On these wards there was a palpable antipathy from the African Christians towards the few (now in the minority in London) gay men on the ward. I found it curious that there were such outward displays of ‘moral’ indignation from those who had a disease that cannot be caught (unless you’re a child or the victim of sexual assault) if you live by a conservative view of ‘Biblical’ sexual morality.

    A friend of mine, an Anglian priest, once berated me when I showed signs of leaving the ‘orthodox’ Christian fold and dabbling with liberalism around homosexuality. ‘Look at the African Churches! They are holding fast to the truth of Scripture.’ He said. Several years later he and his wife went out with CMS, where he became the vice principal of a Bible college in Sub-Saharan African. He returned a few years later disheartened with African Christianity and oddly enough with a more liberal stance on homosexuality. He found at the Bible college that marital infidelity was seen as culturally acceptable in addition to corruption and all it entails.

    So we have to ask ourselves, is this overt condemnation of homosexuality that has resulted in violence and deaths merely a desire to uphold a certain Biblical stance? Or is it the resurrection of the Scapegoat and the ‘easy morality’ of condemning the queers while not turning the same scrutiny upon yourself? Whatever, we need to stop this ‘romanticism’ when it comes to African Christianity. There are serious flaws in a good deal that passes for Christianity in Africa – not all, probably not even the majority, but flaws nevertheless. Evangelicals and conservative Christians from whatever hue, here in the UK should tread with care before aligning themselves with churches that go in for cheap morality based on sexuality. Look at the whole – Africa has far more pressing problems than homosexuality and the fact this has become such an issue, suggests it is being used, as is often case, as a distraction to evade more costly questions about integrity and purpose for the majority.



  4. Bo, I find it hard to summon up much warmth for Christianity when these things happen as well!

    I agree about needing to lose a romanticised view of African Christianity, S.