HRC Blog

Op-Ed: Bearing False Witness in Uganda

Ed. Note: This op-ed comes from Harry Knox, director of HRC's Religion and Faith Program, responding to American leaders who have spread lies about LGBT people in the African nation of Uganda.  The Washington Post also editorializes on the issue today. Bearing False Witness in Uganda By Harry Knox harryknoxIt’s not easy to be lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender in Uganda.  There are no legal protections for LGBT people or families and there is a criminal sodomy statute on the books.  Anti-gay violence is common.  It looks like one of the last places on Earth that would need to be saved from the “homosexual agenda.”  But last March, three American Evangelicals, posing as “experts” on homosexuality, led a conference there about what they called the dangerous gay agenda, and provided advice on making gay people straight.  In October, when Uganda’s legislature introduced a bill making homosexual acts punishable by death, those American “experts” and their peers tried to distance themselves from the Ugandan government’s homicidal hatred of gay people.  But they can’t.  We now have 40+ years of education that homosexuality is not a choice, that homosexuality does not harm people, and that people who are homosexual don’t harm their neighbors.   When these extremists  said in Uganda (as they also say in America) that gay men prey upon teenagers, that there is a gay agenda to destroy families, and that gay people can and should be changed to straight, they were bearing false witness against their neighbors.  When they brought their roundly discredited “ex-gay” ideology to Uganda, they both bore false witness and violated God’s command that we treat others as we wish to be treated. Who, indeed, would wish to be subjected to a counterfeit therapy rejected by the medical profession in order to erase who they are?  That is what the “ex-gay” movement is peddling. To believe that there is no relationship between their actions and this legislation, you have to believe that a person can travel to another continent, present themselves as an expert, lie about a group of people who already have it pretty bad, and urge that this group be treated differently based on the lies without being responsible for fomenting hatred.  Theirs is a message of hate.  When you bear false witness, when you tell the majority to treat a small group of people very badly based on falsehoods, you send a message of hate. Because the messengers are Christian and tie their message to Christianity, I’m running the risk of inviting outrage for shutting down religious speech.  I’m not. The three Evangelical leaders have a full legal right to say whatever they believe.  As their fellow Christian, I have moral mandate to hold them responsible for what they say, especially when their speech harms those most beloved by God – the marginalized and rejected in any society.  Free religious speech allows hate-mongers to tell the biggest whoppers they can devise, but lies must  never go unchallenged lest God’s concern for the “least of these” cease to be the Church’s and our nation’s priority. Scott Lively one of the participants, who also consulted with lawmakers, is reported to have been disappointed that the legislation went as far as it did.  How far is far enough?  Far enough to subject gay people to discredited, damaging “therapy” that seeks to change who we are?  Is keeping us from giving children a loving and permanent family far enough?  Is the denial of a life-sustaining and community-enhancing job enough?  Is it enough to make us outcasts in our families and communities?  The jail time that gay people already face in Uganda – is that sufficient?   What fruits of his lying would Mr. Lively accept?  I admonish him to remember the scriptural wisdom that we reap what we sow. You might argue that the real problem here was not the message but the missionaries’ misreading of Uganda.  After all, Americans have been subjected to the same views for years and there has never been a death penalty law proposed here (though private executioners commit thousands of hate crimes against us).  Wherever they go, these people preach that it is wrong to be gay like me and dangerous for a society to let people like me be ourselves.  Even when it does not spawn atrocious legislation, it is still false witness; it is still mistreatment of other human beings; it is still lying to achieve power over others.   There are many unanswered questions about American involvement in Uganda’s consideration of a homicidal stance towards gay people, and we need answers.  By all accounts the State Department is taking this horrendous situation seriously, and the next step is for the United States to condemn the legislation outright.  We must then take the necessary steps to stop Uganda from passing a mass death sentence for its gay citizens.  Some of our voices have imperiled our brothers and sisters.  We have the power, and the responsibility, to protect them.

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