On not shaking hands – Ugandan Anti-Homosexuality Law


This morning, I heard that the President of Uganda has signed into law the anti-gay law that there has been such a huge amount of discussion about.

The law itself has become iconic. It is almost the definitive answer to what draconian anti-gay legislation looks like. The Ugandan Anti-Homosexuality Law brings in terrible punishments for those who are gay in Uganda. It also criminalizes those who don’t report those who are gay to the authorities. This then has an obviously detrimental effect on those who are trying to work against HIV infection – those who know of men having sex with men are supposed to report them. The bill has exacerbated hatred of gay people in that land.

Furthermore, the bill asserts that Uganda has jurisdiction on Ugandans abroad suggesting that they could seek extradition for punishment back in Uganda if they commit “homosexual offences” whilst abroad. Yes – that’s right – that could criminalize people who live in Scotland. It could criminalize people attending my congregation.

There are a number of people in the Scottish Episcopal Church who have links with Uganda – the Primus, the Most Rev David Chillingworth is one. Gill Young in my own congregation is another. They are the most obvious people who need to be given all our support and encouragement to speak out against this bill whenever they are talking about overseas relations between the churches, international aid and homosexuality generally. The Primus in particular made a visit to Uganda recently which some of us in the church believed to be unwise and attended a service which was addressed by President Museveni himself. However, it was supported by the rest of our bishops so they each share some responsibility for his actions.

The question for those who go to Uganda and meet with church leaders and politicians there which needs to be asked is whether they have met and greeted those who have blood on their hands. I know no-one involved in any aid agency, NGO, equality organisation nor in the wider gay communities who do not believe that this law will lead to further direct violence against gay people in the region.

The hand that signed the bill this morning belongs to President Musoveni. The bill has terrible consequences for gay people in Uganda and stretches its reach to people here in the city of Glasgow.

This summer, the eyes of the world will be on the city of Glasgow as we welcome sports people from around the world for the Commonwealth Games. It is very clear to me that politicians (and church people t00 – for the churches muscle in on these sports fixtures just like many organisations and businesses do) must not be seen to shake hands with any Ugandan official. In particular, it must be made clear in this city that President Musoveni and other officials of the Ugandan government are not welcome here. That must apply to local council leaders as well as Scottish and UK government ministers. It would be particularly sickening to see SNP leaders welcoming the official representatives of a foreign government which is attempting to criminalize Ugandans living in Scotland just weeks before the Independence Vote.

Ugandan athletes should be warmly welcomed in Glasgow this summer. They should be greeted with welcoming banners in all the colours of the rainbow.

Ugandan government officials should be met with a refusal on behalf of all people of goodwill to shake hands.

That’s a language that is well understood internationally and particularly well understood in Africa.

The Archbishop of Canterbury is not a Pope

There’s currently a petition doing the rounds demanding that the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Archbishop of York make some kind of statement deploring the support the Church of Nigerian (Anglican Communion) has given to recent anti-gay laws. Similar calls have been made in regard to Uganda.

I’m refusing to sign it. We should not make that demand of Archbishop Justin, it is entirely misplaced.

The first place that people in the UK should go to with objections about the Nigerian anti-gay legislation is their MP, with a demand that the Foreign Office exerts further pressure on Nigeria.

To demand that the Archbishop of Canterbury discipline or criticise Nigerian bishops is unhelpful because it plays right into the idea that the Archbishop of Canterbury has some kind of papal role within the Communion. The Archbishop of Canterbury is not a Pope and we would be wise not to treat him as though he is.

I get very cross if Archbishops of Canterbury make statements about Scotland. I’ve been very hot under the collar when they’ve made statements about Scottish Independence, for example without reference to the Scottish College of Bishops. Indeed, I took a sharp intake of breath when I heard that the Church Commissioners of the Church of England have been buying up land in Bishop John’s Diocese of Edinburgh to use for wind farms.

Primates commenting on the political affairs of another country is always going to undermine collegial relationships amongst bishops and we should never impute authority to archbishops that they don’t have within our polity. One Anglican church meddling in the affairs of another’s patch is a serious business indeed.

It is particularly the case that US Episcopalians and Canadian Anglicans need to be very wary of demanding that the Archbishop of Canterbury should interfere in Nigeria. Do they want the same thing to happen to them when the wind blows in the other direction? When it happened in the past, did they think it was legitimate?

The Archbishop of Canterbury may well be making contact with the Nigerian church in private. Indeed, I’d be surprised if he were not. The demand that he rebuke that church in public is misplaced.

Having said that, any bishops who are members of the House of Lords might well add their voices to those of other parliamentarians supporting the statements that the UK government is making in relation to the way LGBT people are treated abroad, particularly in Nigeria or Uganda. The relevant statement from the Foreign Secretary is here: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/foreign-secretary-expresses-disappointment-with-anti-lgbt-legislation-in-nigeria. Increasingly, I suspect that there will be a moral focus on the Church of England which is sharpest in parliament rather than in Synod. That Church seems to have departed from the morals of decent people in England and parliament is probably the place where that will play out. However, that is to digress and perhaps for another day.

Incidently I think that the Archbishop of York is in a different position to that of the Archbishop of Canterbury. He might well be expected to say something regarding Uganda but not because he is an Archbishop but because he is Ugandan. One suspects, given his lack of support for gay rights in this country that we might be waiting quite a while for him to offer much support to gay and lesbian Ugandans back in that country though.

And locally, what about Scotland? Well, we’ve a personal connection with Uganda in that our Primus, the Most Rev David Chillingworth went to the consecration of the Most Rev Stanley Ntagali as Archbishop of the Church of Uganda. I thought that he was unwise to attend this event. However it now presents him with the opportunity of speaking as an episcopal friend of that country and saying clearly that when proposals are made to kill gay and lesbian Ugandas, lock up gay and lesbian Ugandans for life or risk a exacerbating the AIDS pandemic by making it impossible for gay and lesbian Ugandans to assemble and distribute information then these proposals are unacceptable. Support for such proposals from the Church of Uganda alienates that Church from Christian fellowship around the world.

It is not unreasonable to expect David Chillingworth to do this for two reasons – firstly that he personally chose to go to Uganda and associate himself with that country and secondly because no-one would mistake him for a pope.

The Archbishop of Canterbury is another matter altogether.

Oh, and whilst I’m thinking about it, the Anglican Communion Office is another legitimate place where pressure could and should¬† be applied. It is perfectly reasonable to ask the Secretary General to comment on the business of the churches of the communion. It is particularly important that we state often and loudly that there can be no “indaba” process with churches who are encouraging the oppression of LGBT people.

None at all.