In recent days, the politics of Uganda have once again captured the attention of the global audience, as lawmaker David Bahati has sought to introduce a bill into the National Assembly that would call for homosexuals to face life imprisonment for their crimes. Three years ago, a similar bill, which also included the death penalty for certain sexual acts, was voted down when pressure from the international community was brought to bear on the largely “Christian” nation. But according to Bahati, “This is a piece of legislation that is needed in this country to protect the traditional family here in Africa.” In an interview with the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), Bahati went on to say:
“There has been a distortion in the media that we are providing death for gays. That is not true. When a homosexual defiles a kid of less than 18 years old, we are providing a penalty for this.”
So who is telling the truth? Is Mr. Bahati correct when he asserts that this is all one big distortion or fabrication? Or has the media gotten it right? Judge for yourself. Right now, as lawmakers debate this bill, there is a provision within it that relates to what is being called “aggravated homosexuality.” And in short, “aggravated homosexuality” is being defined as any homosexual act that occurs between an HIV-infected individual and a partner under the age of 18. Now consider the reality. The vast majority of HIV-infected individuals have no knowledge of their medical standing until the signs and symptoms of the disease begin to emerge. Therefore, it is entirely possible, and indeed, even likely, that a gay teenaged couple could be participating in a capital crime with absolutely no awareness that their activities are putting them in danger of receiving the death penalty.
Further complicating the matter is the fact that the law, if passed, would also require a 14-year period of imprisonment for anyone who failed to report known homosexual activity. So imagine this scenerio. A pastor begins to counsel a boy, who eventually reveals that he is in a gay relationship with a peer. In this scenerio, the pastor faces a decision. If he fails to report the boy, he himself could be reported, tried, convicted and imprisoned for the next 14 years of his life. On the other hand, if he opts to turn the boy in to the authorities, the boy could be tested for HIV, and – if found to be infected – would face the death penalty.
So here is the question that conservative evangelicals in the West face: what do we make of a nation such as Uganda when it attempts to pass legislation ostensibly supported by Christian Scripture such as Leviticus 20:13? Is this an acceptable vision of a “Christian Nation?” If it is, then why are we not pushing for these same sorts of laws in the United States? And if it is not, how can you defend that stance in light of a passage such as that which was just cited above?
Ultimately, this all comes down to how we understand, interpret and apply Scripture in a context that is democratic and not theocratic. Many on the conservative end of the political spectrum are completely comfortable arguing against the legalization of homosexual marriage on the grounds of passages such as Leviticus 18:22. But at the same time, when they see a society such as Uganda make an attempt to legislate on the grounds of Leviticus 20:13, they are horrified. And the question that begs to be asked is: why? What interpretive method is being used to justify the application of the first passage, while the second passage is completely ignored?