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Diocese of Bristol reviews Ugandan link after Anti-Homosexuality Act

02 August 2023

Clive Mears/Church Times

The Bishop of Bristol, the Rt Revd Vivienne Faull, addresses the General Synod last year

The Bishop of Bristol, the Rt Revd Vivienne Faull, addresses the General Synod last year

THE Bishop of Bristol, the Rt Revd Vivenne Faull, has announced that she is reviewing her diocese’s link with Uganda because of the Anti-Homosexuality Act recently passed in that country, and its endorsement by the Ugandan Archbishop, Dr Stephen Kaziimba.

In May, Dr Kaziimba expressed his Church’s gratitude for the approval of a hardline anti-homosexuality law (News, 30 May). Homosexuality was already illegal in Uganda, but the Act introduced new offences, such as the “promotion” of homosexuality, and harsher punishments, including the death penalty for “aggravated” offences.

In a statement on Tuesday, Bishop Faull said that her diocese had been blessed by “enduring friendships” within the Church of Uganda for 50 years, but that, “For the time being, the Diocesan Link Committee will cease to meet and the diocese will be reviewing all institutional links — current and prospective — at the next Bishop’s Council in December.”

She explained that, while she welcomed Dr Kaziimba’s opposition to the death penalty, “as the Bishop of Bristol, I am compelled to reiterate that the basic dignity and safety of LGBTQ+ human beings in Uganda must not be conflated with theological debates about same-sex marriage in church or matters of abusive behaviour. However, there is a legitimate space for those conversations amongst well-meaning people who can disagree without threat of imprisonment or danger.”

It was “disappointing”, she said, that church leaders in Uganda “have not been able to stand against decisions made by their government, which endanger the lives of vulnerable people on the grounds of their sexuality. Our response as a diocese to cherish the human relationships we have nurtured in Uganda, whilst reviewing our institutional links with the Anglican Church in that country is the right response to our Christian calling to love one another, as Christ first loved us.”

The diocese has been linked with Uganda since 1969, owing to a friendship between the then Archbishop of Uganda, the Most Revd Erica Sabiti, and the then Bishop of Bristol, the Rt Revd Oliver Tomkins, whose son had been teaching in the country. The relationship has been developed through deanery and diocesan links “based in friendship rather than charity”, the diocesan website says.

The diocese of Bristol has held several fund-raising appeals over the decades, however, most recently in 2020 to support Ugandan clergy with food and supplies.

Bristol Cathedral Choir School has also been linked with St James’s School, an independent co-educational secondary school in the centre of Jinja, since 1987.

Bishop Faull began her statement: “Jesus did not come into the world to judge humankind, but rather to shepherd others to join in God’s plan for humanity. His harshest condemnations were reserved for those who held up systems of oppression within the political and religious institutions of his day. The scriptures challenge us all as followers of Christ to go and do likewise.”

She continued: “I commend the Church of Uganda in its commitment to protecting vulnerable children and adults from abuse but believe that this would be most appropriately addressed through safeguarding legislation.”

Dr Kaziimba’s endorsement of the new law has also been condemned by the Archbishop of Canterbury (News, 16 June), as well as international organisations and political figures.

Archbishop Welby said in a statement in June that he had written to Dr Kaziimba urging him to withdraw his Church’s support of the new law. “I have reminded Archbishop Kaziimba that Anglicans around the world have long been united in our opposition to the criminalisation of homosexuality and LGBTQ people,” he said.

Dr Kaziimba later responded in a series of posts on Twitter in which he said that “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.”

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