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Archbishop of Uganda takes Welby to task over criticism of anti-homosexuality law

12 June 2023

Church of Uganda

The Archbishop of Uganda, Dr Stephen Kaziimba, visits the Butabika National Mental Referral Hospital in Kampala, on Thursday

The Archbishop of Uganda, Dr Stephen Kaziimba, visits the Butabika National Mental Referral Hospital in Kampala, on Thursday

THE Archbishop of Uganda, Dr Stephen Kaziimba, has criticised as ill-informed the Archbishop of Canterbury’s recent comments on Uganda’s Anti-Homosexual Act.

On Friday morning, Lambeth Palace released a statement in which Archbishop Welby said that he had written to Dr Kaziimba to express his “grief and dismay” at the Church of Uganda’s support for the Act. The new law criminalises the “promotion” of homosexuality and introduces long prison sentences for offences, as well as the death penalty for “aggravated” offences (News, 2 June).

Archbishop Welby said: “Supporting such legislation is a fundamental departure from our commitment to uphold the freedom and dignity of all people. There is no justification for any province of the Anglican Communion to support such laws: not in our resolutions, not in our teachings, and not in the gospel we share.”

On Friday evening, Dr Kaziimba published a series of tweets in response.

“Archbishop Justin Welby, Primate of All England, has every right to form his opinions about matters around the world that he knows little about firsthand, which he has done in his recent statement about Church of Uganda’s widely held support for the Anti-Homosexuality Act 2023,” he wrote.

“He and many other Western leaders seem to think that the Anti-Homosexuality Act 2023 criminalizes homosexuality. It does not. Homosexuality was already criminalized; it simply reaffirms what was already in the colonial-era penal code, including a maximum sentence of the death penalty for aggravated homosexuality (which the Church of Uganda opposed).

“Even if the Anti-Homosexuality Act 2023 was not signed into law, homosexuality would remain criminalized in Uganda, as it is in more than one-third of the world’s countries. Even if it is overturned by the Supreme Court, homosexuality will remain criminalized in Uganda. What is new is specifically outlawing the promotion of homosexuality and same-sex relationships as a moral alternative to God’s natural design for marriage between one man and one woman.”

Homosexual acts have been illegal in Uganda since it was a British protectorate. A 2016 report by the Institute of Public Affairs (Comment, 24 June 2016) stated that 77 countries criminalised same-sex intimacy between consenting adults, and that “all derive principally from two sources: Islamic Sharia law and laws promulgated throughout the British Empire in the 19th and 20th centuries”. It said that, “in recent years, new provisions have been introduced in Nigeria, Uganda, the Gambia and elsewhere further criminalising aspects of LGBT expression and increasing sentences on conviction.”

In 2014, the then Archbishop of Uganda, the Most Revd Stanley Ntagali, expressed disappointment after an Anti-Homosexuality Act was struck down by the country’s constitutional court (News, 8 August 2014). He highlighted amendments made to the Bill “to remove the death penalty, to reduce sentencing guidelines through a principle of proportionality, and to remove the clause on reporting homosexual behaviour, as we had recommended in our 2010 position statement on the Bill” (News, 31 January 2014).

Archbishop Welby’s statement last week is not the first time that he has raised concerns with fellow Primates about the passage of anti-homosexuality legislation. After the passing of anti-homosexuality laws in Nigeria, described as “draconian” by the UN, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York wrote to all Primates of the Anglican Communion, and to the Presidents of Nigeria and Uganda, recalling the Communion’s commitment to caring for everyone, regardless of sexual orientation (News, 31 January 2014).

In 2021, he condemned the “unacceptable” language that the Archbishop of Nigeria, the Most Revd Henry Ndukuba, used to describe gay people (News, 5 March 2021). In the same year, he said that he was “gravely concerned” about the draft Promotion of Proper Human Sexual Rights and Ghanaian Family Values Bill 2021, which imposed a maximum of five years in prison for identifying as LGBTQ (News, 15 October). But he subsequently issued an apology for not speaking directly to the Ghanaian bishops before issuing his statement (News, 19 November 2021).

In his tweets on Friday, Dr Kaziimba wrote: “We wonder if Abp Welby has written to encourage the Anglican Bishop of Cyprus and the Gulf to publicly advocate for decriminalizing homosexuality in the Arabian Peninsula and the Middle East? Why are African countries like Ghana and Uganda singled out for such virtue signaling [sic]?

“Sadly, as we stated — together with leaders of 85 per cent of the Anglican Communion in the Kigali Commitment of Gafcon IV in April 2023 (News, 21 April), we ‘can no longer recognise the Archbishop of Canterbury as an Instrument of Communion, the ‘first among equals’ of the Primates. ‘The Church of England has chosen to impair her relationship with the orthodox provinces in the Communion.’ We do pray for him and other leaders in the Church of England to repent.”

Commenting on Twitter, the Vicar of St Luke’s, Battersea, the Revd Lorenzo Fernandez-Smal, wrote that the Bishop in Cyprus and the Gulf, the Rt Revd Michael Lewis, “has not applauded any new law that was passed by Muslim regimes, and even those brutal regimes’ laws are more lenient than Uganda’s”.

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