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Photo by Mike DuBose, UMNS

Thomas Kemper is flanked by Bishop Hope Morgan Ward as he prays at a gathering in China. The two Global Ministries leaders issued a statement Feb. 28 decrying laws around the globe that target gay individuals.

Photo by Larry Nelson, UMNS

United Methodist Bishop Daniel Wandabula.

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Leaders of 2 agencies decry laws targeting gays

By Sam Hodges
March 3, 2014 | DALLAS (UMNS)

Leaders of the two United Methodist general agencies — the Board of Global Ministries and the Board of Church and Society — have issued statements critical of countries enacting laws that target homosexuals. 

“This kind of legislation predictably is leading to increased marginalization, harassment, and exploitation in our global civil society,” said Global Ministries’ statement issued by Raleigh (N.C.) Area Bishop Hope Morgan Ward, the agency board’s president, and Thomas Kemper, its top executive, on Feb. 28.

“Whatever our understanding of sexual orientation, the criminalization of homosexuality is not compatible with the United Methodist Social Principles including the one that states that basic rights and civil liberties are `due all persons … regardless of sexual orientation.’” 

The United Methodist Board of Global Ministries is the denomination’s mission agency. The United Methodist Board of Church and Society, which advocates for the denomination’s Social Principles, issued a similar statement.

“Legislation that denies the human rights of people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender is being deliberated and enacted in states of the United States and countries around the world,” the agency’s board said. “Such legislative actions that discriminate, abuse and commit violence against persons on the basis of their actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity or expression violate human rights and should be condemned. Religious and cultural traditions do not excuse any form of discrimination, abuse and violence.”

The United Methodist since 1972, officially has held that the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. The denomination does not allow the ordination of homosexuals as clergy. Under church law, clergy are not allowed to officiate at same-sex unions and churches are not allowed to host such ceremonies.

Kemper and Ward said the denomination also has “a strong insistence on the fundamental rights and sacred worth of all people in all places,” and called on United Methodists to advocate for “full human and civil rights in their respective countries and on the international level,” and to pray for victims of repression.

The statement by Ward and Kemper specifically mentioned Uganda, Nigeria, Russia and India.

Legislation signed in Uganda

The president of Uganda, Yoweri Museveni, signed legislation Feb. 24 that would impose sentences of up to life imprisonment for those convicted of engaging in homosexual acts. 

President Obama spoke against the measure, and Museveni’s decision to sign it prompted a boycott of financial aid to Uganda by the World Bank, Norway and Denmark, according to news reports.

Uganda is not alone among African nations in criminalizing homosexuality. Amnesty International reports that 38 countries on the continent have laws against homosexual acts.  

Nigerian President Goodluck Johnson recently signed a measure passed by his country’s parliament, outlawing same-sex marriage and civil unions, with convicted offenders at risk of lengthy prison terms. The law also bans clubs, societies or meetings of homosexuals, again with the threat of incarceration.

Russia now has a law against what it terms as the distribution of homosexual propaganda to minors, and, in December, India’s high court upheld a colonial-era law banning homosexual acts.

The Global Ministries’ leaders’ statement described a “concerning trend” in legislation targeting homosexuals.

Uganda bishop raises other pressing issues

Meanwhile, Bishop Daniel Wandabula, leader of the East Africa Episcopal Area including Uganda issued his own statement complaining of an imbalance of attention to issues.

“For instance, so many women and children have suffered rape, so many displaced, so many have lost their lives and so many are starving in refugee camps and yet almost all the emails in my inbox this week are focused on a single issue namely, the plight of the homosexual community.” Wandabula wrote March 1. “Painful as it is, this issue is leaving so many, equally important issues in the shadows.”

Wandabula’s statement did not address the Uganda law specifically but did call for unity and reconciliation.

“No matter how we understand the issue of homosexuality, God calls us to love all of God’s people,” he said. “We cannot claim to be Christians if we harm others by our words or actions, regardless of how they perceive the issue.”

Letter to African bishops

Los Angeles Area Bishop Minerva Carcaño released last week a letter she wrote to retired and active African bishops of the United Methodist Church.

Carcaño, who favors changing the restrictive positions on homosexuality in United Methodist Church law, said news of Uganda’s law prompted her to write her African colleagues.       

“I beg you to act in behalf of those whom Jesus also considers his beloved,” Carcaño wrote. “I do not ask you to stand in support of homosexuality. I ask you to raise your voices against hatred and violence. At my end I pledge to do all I can to challenge U.S. forces that contribute to the fomenting of this hatred and violence in Africa.”

*Hodges, a United Methodist News Service writer, lives in Dallas. Contact him at (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org