Christian persecution in the 21st century: A call of conscience to defend the lives of LGBT people worldwide

Gil Caldwell

Two weeks ago the United Methodist General Conference reaffirmed 40 years of anti-gay prejudice, voting to continue to bar lesbian and gay people from ministry and marriage while faithful gay United Methodists had to endure speeches accusing them of bestiality, calling them drug dealers, and worse. In April, a North Carolina minister used his pulpit to urge parents to beat their young children if they showed any signs they might be gay. In March, the Kansas House approved a bill allowing people to discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people based on their religious beliefs. And last year, Christians in Michigan fought to include an exemption from Michigan’s anti-bullying law for people with “a sincerely held religious belief.” In their view, it is OK to torment kids as long as you believe God wants you to.

Christians, I am very sad to say, are at the forefront of oppressing LGBT people all over the country.

But scapegoating LGBT people in the U.S. is not enough for some Christians. They have begun an export business – peddling homophobia and suggestions on how to further criminalize gay people to legislatures all over the world, from Russia to Africa. “Homophobia…is being imported to the [African] continent by neocolonialists with an agenda to spread U.S. culture wars worldwide,” Rev. Dr. Kapya Kaoma recently wrote in an analysis in the American Prospect.

If you’re a Christian reading this, by now you should feel very uncomfortable. How can it be that followers of Jesus Christ – who championed the outcast of his day and castigated religious leaders for not welcoming “the least of these” – are leading the efforts to suppress the rights of minorities? And how can we let this go on in the name of our religion?

There is one case above all that should rock the conscience of every Christian, and that is the case of Rev. Scott Lively, the head of Abiding Truth Ministries in Springfield, MA and the man who has worked for at least a decade to deprive LGBT people in Uganda of their fundamental human rights. His book Redeeming the Rainbow is a how-to guide on demonizing and criminalizing LGBT people.

And he has done all of this in the name of the Prince of Peace, the one who said blessed are the poor, blessed are those who mourn, blessed are the merciful.

Since Scott Lively and other U.S. evangelicals showed up in Uganda, repression and violence have been on the rise. Meetings have been raided, activists detained, abused, forced into hiding, and more oppressive laws have been proposed. The media have called for further repression, and one newspaper called for lynching LGBT leaders. “Hang them” the headline said above their photos.

The situation is so bad that Sexual Minorities of Uganda (SMUG), represented by the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), is suing Lively for his efforts to further strip away their rights. The legal basis of the lawsuit (filed under the Alien Tort Statute) is the fact that what Lively is doing in Uganda constitutes persecution as defined under international law.

Persecution. That word associated with the actions of Christians ought to make every Christian’s blood run cold. it conjures up the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, the Salem witch trials. We do have a bloody and shameful history. In the 21st century, we would like to think that we have evolved beyond that. But there it is in black and white in CCR’s legal complaint: A Christian clergyperson accused of a crime against humanity “for the decade-long campaign he has waged, in coordination with his Uganda counterparts, to persecute persons on the basis of gender and/or sexual orientation and gender identity.”

As Christians who understand that homophobia, and not homosexuality, is a sin, we must respond to the rising intolerance carried out in our name in our own country and the violence and repression in Uganda and elsewhere. If we do not, then we will have blood on our hands as well – the blood of those beaten and killed for their sexuality or gender identity and the blood of children bullied to the point of suicide. Our silence is complicity – we must speak out.

Today is International Day Against Homophobia, so I would like to suggest that we honor this day by each making a commitment to redouble our efforts to end religious bigotry against LGBT people. I ask you to begin by reposting this article and identifying yourself as a CHRISTIAN AGAINST CHRISTIAN HOMOPHOBIA in your Facebook status and elsewhere. Then ask your Christian friends to share that message and do the same.

And on Sunday, will you join me in standing up in your church and asking everyone in your congregation to take up this fight against the scapegoating and persecution of LGBT people in our name?

Gilbert H. Caldwell is a retired United Methodist minister, a veteran of the Black Civil Rights Movement, a founding member of Black Methodists for Church Renewal, an outspoken advocate for the civil rights of LGBT people and a founding partner of Truth in Progress.

“May you all realise that you really are all members of one family, God’s family, the human family: black, white, Hispanic, Native American, Asian, lesbian, transsexual, gay, bisexual, and so-called straight all belong together in the bundle of life.”
~ARCHBISHOP DESMOND TUTU