21 August 2011

Today I Saw The Future

Today I saw the future. And it was profoundly touching and wonderful.

Some of you may not know that in 2009, legislation which became known as the “Kill the Gays Bill” was introduced in the national legislature of Uganda, already known as one of the world’s most homophobic countries. This law would have imposed the death penalty for homosexual activity and for being HIV-positive (such activity is already punishable by lengthy imprisonment there). It contained extradition provisions to impose these penalties even on Ugandans who engaged in same-sex relations outside Uganda, and it included penalties for individuals, companies, media organizations, and other non-governmental organizations who expressed any support for LGBT rights.

It’s one of the dirty secrets of American Evangelical Christianity that this draconian bill was introduced swiftly in Uganda after a conference there that featured speeches by three prominent American “Christian” ministers who claimed, among other things, that homosexuality was a "direct threat" to the cohesion of African families. LDS friends who supported the Yes on Proposition 8 campaign, these are the types you made common cause with during that effort. People who actively promote the imprisonment, persecution, and the execution of God's gay children. Perhaps you should re-think those alliances.

Uganda is one of over thirty countries to criminalize any homosexual activity, which in many places also makes the provision or even advocacy of health or prevention care for HIV illegal. If you’ve ever wondered why AIDS is such a problem in Africa, there’s one of the reasons right there.

This proposed Ugandan legislation provoked significant international outrage, as well it should have, and the bill was ultimately put on hold. So it hasn’t passed, but it hasn’t been voted down yet either. It remains a potential threat.

Uganda was for a long time a British colony, so British cultural influence remains strong there. And one brave Anglican bishop, believing that the message of Christ required charity for all—imagine that—decided that his Christian discipleship wouldn’t let him go along with this pernicious legislation. So he spoke out against it. And soon became the target of death threats himself, along with his family. Undeterred, he continued to confront Uganda’s raging homophobia and to support acceptance and tolerance for everyone regardless of sexual orientation.

For his efforts, Bishop Christopher Senyonjo not only put his own and his family’s lives at risk, he was also named one of 2010's most influential religious figures by the Huffington Post.

And today, Bishop Christopher was the special guest at St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral in San Diego. I wanted to see him and I thought it was important for the kids to hear his message too, so I took them along. He spoke eloquently of compassion for all and the duty of every Christian to have it for everyone. This, he said, was what compelled him to speak out in his own country even at the risk of his own life.

I pointed out to the kids that they’d never had to face the choice between exercising their Christian faith and having their lives threatened. Their eyes got a little big at even thinking about such a thing. I was glad to be able to show them a little of what the wider world is like.

And then the moment when I saw the future, represented by the three members of the clergy who conducted the service. First was the presider, who is openly gay, and whose depth of faith clearly showed in his beaming smile as he led the proceedings. Second was Bishop Christopher, resplendent in his bishop’s robes and the only African up front. Third was the assistant dean of the cathedral, a 5th (?) great-granddaughter of Joseph Smith. I looked at the three of them and thought “How wonderful. This is what it will look like years in the future. This is what heaven should look like. Race, ethnicity, gender and its straitjacketing, sexual orientation, none of that will matter. All God’s children will have an equal place at the table, just as they are, all commemorating the Savior’s life together, equally privileged." It was as moving and touching a moment for me as any I’ve ever had. Someday, God willing, someday other churches will get that same message and see that same eventuality.

The presider was a friend of mine, so after the service we were invited to a reception and got to meet Bishop Christopher and his very sweet and gracious wife Mary. She must have the patience of a saint to have endured the persecution they have, especially with ten children to worry about! We had a wonderful chat with them, and I was particularly glad that the twins got to learn a little about life in a far-away place from someone as brave and dedicated as Bishop Christopher.

As we walked back to the car, enjoying the sunshine and the beautiful park, I was sure this had been one of the best ways to “keep the Sabbath holy” in quite some time. Attend church, focus on the Savior, hear from an inspiring Christian servant who has actually put his own life at risk for his faith, and be able to teach the kids about all of it, as well as show them—and see myself—what the future must inevitably look like. A wonderful day indeed.


Jordan said...

Have you seen this documentary? http://current.com/shows/vanguard/92468669_missionaries-of-hate.htm
It's crazy and so sad. I'm glad you were able to meet someone who stood up for what's right.

Great blog by the way.

Pablo said...

Thank you Rob. There should be a reference to this experience under the dictionary entry for "inspiring." What a wonderful experience for you and your kids.

This is also a reminder about how much impact words can have---for good and ill. The alliances among groups who oppose gay marriage have had much greater negative impact than most imagine, and that impact goes far beyond any debate about marriage. Unfortunately, there are those within those alliances who were hoping for exactly that.

Although I'm not as optimistic as you are about the future of Christianity in the United States, this does give me hope in the power of brave individuals to change things for the better.

Chris said...

Sounds like a great experience!