Readers of MoJ know that Michael Perry and I don’t always see eye to eye, especially on matters of sexual morality. However, a couple of weeks ago Michael brought to our attention a piece of legislation now pending in Uganda that would impose outrageously harsh punishments for homosexual conduct, and rightly noted that Catholic leaders in Uganda who have so far been silent about this legislation have a responsibility to speak against it. In recent years, I have had the opportunity to build relationships with both Catholic and Anglican leaders in Uganda and other African nations. The same is true for my friends Charles Colson of Prison Fellowship Ministries and Timothy George, a distinguished Southern Baptist theologian and Dean of the Beeson Divinity School at Samford University. I shared Michael’s information with Chuck and Timothy and we agreed that we, too, have a responsibility to speak. I will reproduce below a letter we have sent to Ugandan Christian leaders of all traditions. We have also written to His Holiness Pope Benedict respectfully but urgently requesting that Catholic leaders in Uganda be encouraged to speak strongly and clearly against the pending legislation. I hope our efforts will help in preventing it from being enacted. Chuck and Timothy join me in thanking Michael for calling this to our attention and the attention of other MoJ readers, and stressing the obligation to speak.
Beloved Christian Brothers and Sisters of Uganda,
We greet you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, and embrace you in the spirit of his love. As we seek to follow his path, we are inspired by your fidelity to the Gospel and by the example you provide the world of courageous discipleship.
We especially commend your witness to the timeless moral truths that are of the essence of man’s dignity as a creature fashioned by God in his own image and likeness. In the West, many of these truths are under severe attack from those who believe them to be unwarranted impositions on the freedom of the individual to seek his own satisfactions and fulfillment in his own way. Nowhere is this clearer than in the domain of sexual morality, where actions condemned by divine authority and natural law as contrary to the dignity of the human person are celebrated as expressions of individual autonomy and even personal identity.
We know that it is with dismay that you have observed these attacks and with them a cultural erosion of moral understanding, and we are grateful to you for standing in solidarity with us as we have sought to bear witness to the truths of the Gospel and the dignity of man. We especially appreciate your support for our work to protect and defend marriage as the life-long, exclusive, and faithful covenant uniting husband and wife.
Brothers and Sisters, we approach you today about a development in your country that is a source of grave concern for us. We have learned that a bill has been introduced in your parliament that would penalize even a single act of homosexual conduct with life in prison. Repeated homosexual acts and certain other specified behaviors would be punishable by death. The harshness of these proposals is, we believe, inconsistent with a Christian spirit of love and mercy. We urge our brothers and sisters in Uganda to follow the example of Jesus when he was presented with the woman caught in the very act of adultery. He did not hesitate to call the woman’s offense what it was, namely, a sin; but by his powerful words our Lord prevented her life from being taken by the men who were preparing to stone her to death. “Go,” he said to her “and sin no more.”
In a spirit of Christ-like love, let us recall that many men and women who experience same-sex attraction struggle to live chaste and holy lives. Many succeed; yet many sometimes falter. Is the same not true of all of us? We are all tempted by the lure of sin, be it in the domain of sexuality or in other areas of our lives. And none of us is perfect in resisting temptation. All of us from time to time fall short of fulfilling God’s intention for us, and we therefore stand in need of the Lord’s mercy and forgiveness. Surely, no one guilty of a single act of homosexual conduct (or fornication, adultery, or other sexual offense) should spend the remainder of his life in prison as a consequence of his sin. Such harshness, such lack of mercy, is manifestly contrary to the example of our Lord and cannot be given the support of those who seek to follow Christ. In response to a proposal to punish consensual sexual crimes with such extreme penalties the Christian must surely echo the words of Jesus: “Let the one who is without sin cast the first stone.”
We recognize that the scourge of AIDS has been devastating to the people of Uganda. Measures must be taken to encourage faithful marital love and to discourage sexual immorality of every type. It is critical, however, that these measures be shaped in a just and Christian manner, and not in a punitive spirit. Harshness and excess must be avoided. Those who experience homosexual desire and yield to it should not be singled out for extreme measures or for revulsion. Homosexual persons, whether they struggle to live chastely or, alas, do not, are human beings. They are children of God made in His very image and likeness. They are our brothers and sisters. Christ loves them as he loves all of us. We must love them, too, even as we encourage them and all men and women—precisely because of our love for them and concern for their well-being—to avoid sexual sins and lead lives of virtue and dignity.
Brothers and sisters, we do not reproach you or hold ourselves out as your teachers. In so many ways today, you are our teachers. We recognize that in view of the moral crisis of the West, we are scarcely in a position to lecture to people in Africa and other parts of the world. We are ashamed of the pornography, promiscuity, and other manifestations of licentiousness that you (and we) find shocking and appalling. We applaud your desire to prevent such unrighteousness from gaining a foothold in your culture. You are right to care about the protection of public morals. You are right to call sin by its name, just as Jesus did. Our message is simply that the Lord’s example of gentleness and love, of mercy and forgiveness, must be followed, too. Let all of us, as his disciples strive to be Christ-like in all things.
Charles W. Colson
Founder, Prison Fellowship &the Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview
Dr. Robert P. George
McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence, Princeton University
Princeton, New Jersey
Dr. Timothy George
Dean and Professor of Divinity, Beeson Divinity School at Samford University