For those of us who label homosexual practice as a sin it can be easy to get muddled up about government attempts to legislate and prosecute sexual behavior. There is a difference between legislation designed to protect the vulnerable from victimization and that which tries to monitor and control consensual relationships. We must stand up for children and women at risk. Society must create a safe environment for its citizens, free from rape, chronic abuse and exploitation. But while the church can condemn adultery, fornication, pornography, prostitution and homosexuality as corrosive behavior we shouldn’t try to police them. The church exists as a society within a society. We have an obligation to God’s Word and his flock to strive toward purity. But outside the walls of the church our role is different. We can be prophets of truth but never legislators of behavior. That’s why a theocracy like ancient Israel failed from the beginning. A quick survey of the crude and androcentric laws found in the Book of Numbers show just how wrong we can get it.
I like to quote Jesus’ words to the woman caught in adultery: “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.” This is a good model for our own approach to sinners. But I think I have underestimated the importance of Jesus’ earlier statement, “Let the one without sin throw the first stone.” In other words, Jesus knew she was guilty but he defended her from an unjust political system just the same. That makes me slightly uncomfortable. To be honest, my first impulse is to cheer when I hear that two Malawian gays have been arrested for “gross indecency.” But I think Jesus would have us defend these two men. I read that in Kenya it is estimated that 15% of HIV infections are caused by homosexual behavior. This is meant to be, in the very conservative African culture, a shocking number. But we should be more concerned by the 85% percent of infections that are caused by heterosexual contact. Heterosexuals in Malawi are throwing stones at a tiny homosexual minority. We should be outraged that a Somali woman was stoned to death in November for committing adultery. But we should be just as concerned by the recent move by the Ugandan parliament to expand laws on punishing homosexual behavior.
In the recent BBC/HBO TV series The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, Desmond Dube plays BK, a lampoonish gay character who acts as a foil to Mma Romotswe’s strong feminine character. He’s meant to bring comic relief to a mostly serious cast. Unfortunately, BK is an invention of the show’s producers who never appears in the original books by Alexander McCall Smith. It’s a shame that they chose to invent this gay character since so much of the TV series is excellent. I would give my unqualified recommendation to this series for its depiction of the complex beauty and difficulty of life in Africa except for the unrealistic character of BK. Why not give an honest depiction of the marginalization and persecution of homosexuals in Africa? The TV series tackles serious topics such as human trafficking, corruption and HIV. But on this topic they went for slapstick.
American Evangelical Christians are being blamed in Africa for the recent events in Uganda. That’s a pity. There’s far more culture than religion motivating the events there. As Christians we need to speak clearly about our position on the sanctity of marriage and the dignity of procreation and human sexuality. But we must steer clear of aligning ourselves with human institutions and laws that seek to legislate morality. Jesus was able to promote marriage, condemn divorce and defend an adulteress without any sense of contradiction. We need to master that subtle balancing act before our religion can properly impact our culture.