The bishops of the Anglican Church in Southern Africa say they are disturbed by the debate among Ugandan lawmakers and clergy of a draft law that seeks to criminalise homosexuality - writes Munyaradzi Makoni.
"It even proposes imposing the death penalty, which we regard as a breach of God's commandment, 'You shall not murder,' given in Exodus 20:13," the bishops, who are meeting near Mbabane in Swaziland, said in a statement made available to Ecumenical News International on 15 February 2010.
The bishops called on all Christians to stand up against the proposed law so that it is not passed in Uganda or anywhere else in the world, and called on Uganda's president and lawmakers "to engage in dialogue with their counterparts on the rights of minorities".
The statement that was issued by the office of the Archbishop of Cape Town, Thabo Makgoba, also deplored a statement, "attributed to our fellow bishop, describing those who are opposed to this legislation as 'lovers of evil'."
On 9 February, Anglican Archbishop Henry Orombi said from Kamala, "The Church of Uganda associates itself with the concerns expressed in the Anti Homosexuality Bill 2009". He also described sexual acts by persons of the same sex as a "perversion".
Orombi added, "However, instead of a completely new bill, the church recommends a bill that amends the Penal Code Act, addressing loopholes, in particular: protecting the vulnerabilities of the boy child; proportionality in sentencing; and, ensuring that sexual orientation is excluded as a protected human right."
For his part, Archbishop Makgoba said, "Though there is a breadth of theological views among us on matters of human sexuality, we see this bill as a gross violation of human rights and we therefore strongly condemn such attitudes and behaviour towards other human beings."
The southern African bishops, who represent Anglican churches in Angola, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, St Helena and Tristan da Cunha, emphasised that in terms of the teaching of the Scriptures "all human beings are created in the image of God" and that therefore they must be treated with human dignity.
"We are therefore also deeply concerned about the violent language used against the gay community across Sub-Saharan Africa," said the statement. "We thus appeal to law makers to defend the rights of these minorities.
"As bishops we believe that it is immoral to permit or support oppression of, or discrimination against, people on the grounds of their sexual orientation, and contrary to the teaching of the gospel, particularly Jesus' command that we should love one another as he has loved us, without distinction," said the bishops quoting the Gospel of St John verse 13:34-35.
[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and the Conference of European Churches.]