The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, has for the first time, publicly expressed his opposition to the Anti-Homosexuality Bill recently proposed in Uganda. His statement follows weeks of pressure, numerous calls for him to speak out and a petition signed by thousands urging him to condemn the Bill.
His office had previously said that he would not be commenting on the issue in public, but today (12 December), Williams said that the Bill was of “shocking severity” and that he could not see how any Anglican could support it.
His comments are likely to be warmly welcomed by human rights campaigners and particularly by the Christian activists in Uganda and elsewhere who are campaigning against the proposals.
The Anti-Homosexuality Bill would introduce life imprisonment for sexual activity between people of the same sex. Following international pressure, Ugandan politicians are considering the removal of a clause that would allow the death penalty in certain cases.
In addition, the law would allow three years' imprisonment for anyone in authority, such as a teacher, priest or minister, who failed to report an instance of homosexuality.
“Overall, the proposed legislation is of shocking severity,” said Rowan Williams in an interview with today's Daily Telegraph, “And I can't see how it could be supported by any Anglican who is committed to what the Communion has said in recent decades”.
He added that “Apart from invoking the death penalty, it makes pastoral care impossible – it seeks to turn pastors into informers”.
On 3 December, the Archbishop's office had insisted that he was working behind the scenes to influence the Anglican Church in Uganda, which has still not taken a position on the Bill. They said that his discussions on the issues would be “intensive but private”.
However, the international pressure to speak out seems to have become so great that this position became unsustainable.
The tension around the issue rose dramatically this week, after Williams criticised the election of a lesbian bishop in the USA while remaining silent on Uganda. The LGBT Anglican Coalition described his stance as a “double standard of justice”.
Meanwhile, a petition urging Christian leaders, and Williams in particular, to oppose the Bill has attracted over 3,000 signatures, including those of priests and ministers in Britain, Africa and elsewhere.
“The Archbishop's comments are very welcome, not least because of the importance of Anglicanism in Uganda,” said Symon Hill, associate director of the religion and society thinktank Ekklesia, who started the petition.
He said, “Rowan Williams has demonstrated his willingness to listen to thousands of people from around the world. Other church leaders and Christian groups can demonstrate the same trait by joining him in opposing this legislation”.
Hill added that “Christians with a range of views on sexual ethics have united in opposition to this draconian Bill. Those who refuse to speak out may effectively be giving up any claim to be taken seriously in debates on sexuality”.
Several Christian organisations in Britain have already expressed their opposition to the Bill, including Accepting Evangelicals, Changing Attitude, Courage, Ekklesia, Fulcrum and the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement.
The United Reformed Church condemned the Bill at the end of November, while the Methodist Church did so yesterday (11 December).
Williams' comments are likely to add to the pressure on other Christian leaders, including the Pope, to oppose the legislation.