On June 20 the Adventist News Network publicized Pastor Moses Maka Ndimukika’s June 8 statement regarding the anti-LGBTQ legislation passed in Uganda. The law, which was signed by the Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni on May 29, provides exorbitant punishments for LGBTQ support and advocacy, as well as the death penalty for certain sex acts. Maka is the president of the Uganda Union Mission, and by virtue of that position is a member of Inter-Religious Conference of Uganda (IRCU), an organization that supported the passage of this legislation. Other than the assumption that the official news agency speaks for the General Conference (GC) through the publication of this statement, the Adventist Church as an institution has given no comment on what appears to be a union president’s support for the criminalization and death of members of the LGBTQ community and their supporters.
Maka’s statement, on the surface, appears to distance the church from the legislation. At one point the statement reads, “We decry every form of persecution, violence, and bigotry against any individual or group of people.” At another it states, “We neither seek, nor advocate, the imprisonment or killing of individuals engaging in LGBTQ practices.” Maka also notes that the Adventist Church as an institution has not considered the Ugandan legislation in any official form nor taken any action with respect to the legislation. He says that he does not speak for the church in his position on any boards or committees outside the Adventist Church, unless he is representing a conclusion the church has already reached about the particular subject matter. To some, these statements would seem to settle the matter—but they do not.
Unfortunately, this statement raises more questions than it answers. At best, it is a partial defense of the institutional church. If the pastor’s statement is clear on any point, it is clear that the church was not directly involved in the support of this legislation. That is fine, except I would surmise that most people already assumed that. I doubt there were many people who thought someone at the General Conference was directly monitoring the situation of this bill in Uganda and offering their support, guidance, or even an opinion. What is less clear is how the pastor feels about the legislation itself. The statement uses “we” on more than one occasion, but it isn’t clear whether the pastor is included in that “we.” If he is, then it raises the question why the public is only hearing about his objection to this legislation now, when very little can be done. The pastor is pictured and mentioned by name accompanying an article about the IRCU’s support of this bill. Why not raise the objection and separate himself from the actions of the group then? Why does the statement given this month not make a more declarative assertion of his objection to the legislation, as opposed to vague comments regarding some of the substance of the bill? After reading the statement, one can conclude the institutional church was not involved in supporting the bill. It is not as clear that the pastor did not support it either.
That lack of clarity undermines the statement’s defense of the institutional church. The ambiguity of the statement, compounded by the silence of the General Conference, places church leaders in a Catch-22. Either they tacitly support this type of legislation, or they a have pastor working in their employ who does. Neither of these outcomes allows the church to avoid responsibility in the matter. The whole thing could easily have been cleared up with a clear statement from the GC. One would think it would not be that difficult to say the Ugandan legislation is wrong, and that even the attenuated appearance of support for this type of legislation by officials of the Adventist Church was a horrible mistake at best and a violation of our beliefs at worst. What an incredible witness it would be to stand firm on the principle that, while the church may disagree theologically about sexual orientation, it can still support the right of the LGBTQ community to live as free human beings without the weight of government oppression. How disappointing that another opportunity has slipped through our fingers.
Notes & References:
 While I thought these two things were almost too obvious to mention, it should be noted that support for this type of legislation would, I assume, not only violate our beliefs about how to love and treat others, but also flagrantly violate our longstanding principles of church-state separation.
Jason Hines is a former attorney with a doctorate in Religion, Politics, and Society from the J. M. Dawson Institute of Church-State Studies at Baylor University. He is also an assistant professor at AdventHealth University. He blogs about religious liberty and other issues at TheHinesight.blogspot.com.
Previous Spectrum columns by Jason Hines can be found by clicking here.
Title image: Demonstrators (credit: Alisdare Hickson, via Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0), Pastor Moses Maka Ndimukika, and the Uganda Union Mission headquarters in Kampala (credit: Daniel Matte)
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