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UPDATED: Ugandan Union President Supports Anti-Gay Bill

UPDATE: See church statement in response.

The Ugandan government is considering a bill which states that a person who "commits the offence of homosexuality. . .shall be liable on conviction to imprisonment for life."

In addition, the bill states "a person who commits the offence of aggravated homosexuality shall be liable on conviction to suffer death." In the context, aggravated homosexuality includes "serial offender."

The Ugandan bill also extends existing laws to make it illegal to promote homosexuality by talking or writing about it, and threatens imprisonment to those who do not reveal the identities of homosexuals.

According to a report by Uganda's New Vision,

Seventh Day Adventist’s John Kakembo noted that homosexuality has been in Uganda since the 19960s. He called on Parliament to quickly enact the Bill into law, so as to curb the vice (sic).

John Kakembo is the president (executive director) of the Uganda Union Mission.

According to this transcript, during a recent meeting between religious leaders and Ugandan government officials John Kakembo shared his "discomfort" with the death penalty aspect, but provided attendees with the 1999 official church statement on homosexuality justifying his support for the bill. Elder Kakembo then said, "Seventh-day Adventists don’t recognize homosexual unions. Foreigners running a gymnastic company victimized young boys and I was almost a victim. Thank god I escaped. The actions of these people are predatory. . . ."

In addition to making the Ugandan papers with his Adventist support for this bill criminalizing gays and lesbians, sites like Box Turtle Bulletin in the U.S. have picked up the story and asked, "what does the Seventh Day Adventist Church parent denomination in America have to say about this?"

This is interesting in light of Adventist World's report that John Kakembo and John Graz, Public Affairs and Religious Liberty director at the General Conference attended a conference on ecumenism and religious understanding. In the report on the conference, William Johnsson notes that "for some 80 years the Working Policy of our church has stated. . .Where possible, we make common cause in endeavors such as religious liberty and aid to the needy."

As the New York Times reports, this common cause legislation grew out of recent visits by conservative evangelicals to Uganda. But these three men, including a self-described "ex-gay" who leads an "orientation change" ministry, one from Exodus International, and another, Scott Lively, wrote 7 Steps to Recruit-Proof Your Child, are so divorced from the Christian mainstream that even Rick Warren has distanced himself from this legislation. He called it, "unjust, extreme and un-Christian toward homosexuals." It appears that the close relationship between many politicians in Uganda and these conservative Christians led to this theology-driven legislation.

Given this attempt to mix church and state, it is particularly troubling that the highest ranking Adventist leader in Uganda would support this law.

Furthermore, the law states that,

Where the offender is a corporate body or a business or an association or a non-governmental organization, on conviction its certificate of registration shall be cancelled and the director or proprietor or promoter shall be liable on conviction to imprisonment for seven years.

Thus, if, as has happened in the Seventh-day Adventist Church, a church administrator turns out to be gay, John Kakembo's support for this bill could actually threaten the work of the church in Uganda.

Given the parameters outlined in the Working Policy of the church, John Kakembo's common cause on the Ugandan Anti-Homosexuality Bill of 2009 lies outside our religious liberty principles, breaks church policy, and is opposite the goal of following Christ in helping, not jailing, the least of these.

UPDATE: See church statement in response.

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