The Archbishop of York, who grew up in rural Uganda, has said that he intends to stay silent about proposed legislation in the country which would introduce the death penalty for certain consensual homosexual acts.
The Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement (LGCM) attempted to contact both Archbishop John Sentamu and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, hoping they would speak out unequivocally against the proposed laws.
The Archbishop of York’s office told LGCM that Archbishop Sentamu “will not be making a statement on this issue”. The Archbishop of Canterbury has not responded.
In an open letter published by the Guardian on Wednesday, the prominent gay Christian Nigerian activist Davis Mac-Iyalla also called on the Archbishop of Canterbury and other Anglican primates to speak out against the bill, whatever their views on “homosexuality as a moral issue”.
“As a practising Anglican Christian, I believe it is crucial that the Anglican Communion unites to prevent the killing of people on the grounds of sexuality” said Mac-Iyalla, who now lives as a refugee in Britain following homophobic persecution in his native Nigeria.
Like many Christian activists, he is particularly angry that Ugandan politicians promoting the bill claim that they are motivated by Christianity.
Mac-Iyalla points out that the Lambeth Conference of Anglican bishops in 1998 criticised the “irrational fear” of homosexuality and committed the Communion “to listen to the experience of homosexual persons”, assuring them that they are “loved by God”.
Sexual activity between two people of the same sex is already punishable by life imprisonment in Uganda. The proposed bill – backed by certain Anglican figures in the country - would bring in the death penalty for anyone whose same-sex partner is aged under 18 or disabled.
The bill would also introduce a range of new offences, permitting imprisonment for three years for anyone in a position of authority, such as a minister of religion, who knew of a homosexual act but failed to report it.
While some Anglican primates, such as Archbishop Peter Akinola, have refused to condemn physical assaults on gay people, most of those who oppose homosexual practice insist that they do not believe in persecuting gay people. The extent to which they speak out on the Ugandan situation is likely to be seen by many as a measure of their sincerity.
The legislation has already been condemned by a large number of NGOs, including Human Rights Watch and Sexual Minorities Uganda.
“A deafening silence comes from the Anglican Church in Britain towards the proposed draconian private members Bill currently before the Ugandan Parliament regarding homosexuality” LGCM said in a statement.
“If ever there was a time for the Archbishops to speak out to protect human rights, is this not it?”
“The bill proposes the most condemning punishments towards anyone believed to be involved in homosexual acts, ‘promoting’ them, or agencies who know of anyone who is homosexual.”
“It is with great sadness that we note the Anglican Church in Britain is saying nothing.”
Reverend Sharon Ferguson, Chief Executive of LGCM said she was “dismayed and shocked at this silence from the Archbishops regarding this flagrant vilification of LGBT people in Uganda.”
LGCM is calling upon all clergy and laity to speak out about the “blatant disregard for human rights”.
See also: “Anti-Gay bill tests core Christian witness” by Ekklesia associate Savi Hensman: