About me.

Andrew M. Mwenda is the founding Managing Editor of The Independent, Uganda’s premier current affairs newsmagazine. One of Foreign Policy magazine 's top 100 Global Thinkers, TED Speaker and Foreign aid Critic

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Museveni and Abraham Lincoln

How the two leaders faced a dilemma of transcending their prejudices to make history and how each reacted

On Sunday while browsing television channels at home, I chanced upon the movie, Lincoln. It is an amazing film about how US President Abraham Lincoln pushed through Congress the 13th Amendment that ended slavery. During the debate, white supremacists defend slavery by arguing that black people are not equal to whites. They challenge supporters of the amendment to defend racial equality knowing that doing so before a white electorate, convinced of its racial superiority, was political suicide.

Throughout the debate, nature, religion and culture are brought in to defend slavery and racial discrimination. White supremacists argue that it is “against the order of nature” for white people to sit at the same table, leave alone have sex, with black people. They bring forth evidence from the Bible to justify their racism. They also argue that racial equality is against “American values.”

In spite of all this, many Congressmen hold firm to their conviction of racial equality. But arguing this way would mobilise opposition to their point of view. So instead they argue for “equality for all races before the law.” This trick works, and Congress passes the amendment by a margin of two votes. And this after Lincoln has cajoled, bribed, and blackmailed many Congressmen.

The movie came as a reminder of the struggle against another cultural prejudice in Uganda – the one against homosexuals. Last week many Ugandan “Christians” were using the Bible to justify their support for President Yoweri Museveni’s assent to the Anti-Homosexuality Bill.

I was besieged on social media with Biblical references backed by a holier-than-thou attitude. Yet Uganda is a secular state, not a Christian theocracy. We cannot impose Biblical morality on believers of other faiths or non-believers. Indeed, even within Christianity, there is no agreement that the state should usurp the powers of God to punish human sin.

Although I am not a practicing Christian, I am a Christian by upbringing and I read the Bible regularly. My interest in Jesus is not as a Son of God but as a moral philosopher. It would be difficult to use Jesus’ teachings to persecute homosexuals with prison sentences.

In Matthew 7:1, Jesus warns that “do not judge others so that God will not judge you.” Upon finding a crowd about to stone a woman to death for committing adultery, as was actually provided in the old law, Jesus says: “Let he who has not sinned cast the first stone.” They all walk away. Where his disciples complained about the attention he gave to those considered unworthy, Jesus said he had not come for the virtuous but for the sinners. On almost every single issue where today’s church leaders and other Christian-moralists judge, condemn, denounce and call for punishment, Jesus took or would have taken a more accommodating position.

Throughout his teachings, Jesus condemned many sins but not once did he mention homosexuality. I have read the New Testament back and forth and I cannot find one reference where Jesus condemns homosexuals. The reference to homosexuals in the New Testament is in Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians 6:9 and it says: “Do not fool yourselves; people who are immoral or worship idols or are adulterers or homosexual perverts or who steal or are greedy or are drunkards or who slander others or are thieves – none of these will possess God’s Kingdom.” Homosexuality is mentioned as one among eight other sins with no special attention given to it.

Even in the Old Testament (Genesis and Leviticus) where God issues an edict on “forbidden sexual practices,” homosexuality again comes among a long list that includes adultery, incest and fornication – the sins our Christian moralists indulge in daily. Jesus would ask them how they seem obsessed with a speck in the eyes of homosexuals when they have a log in their own. The Old Testament prohibits many other things – eating pork, envy, slander, greed, etc. If we make all these sins crimes deserving a prison sentence, 100% of adult Ugandans would go to jail. So why choose to be revolted by homosexuality and not these other sins?  Nowhere in the Bible does God say homosexuality is a worse sin than others.

Those using the teachings of the Old Testament to support their prejudices would find themselves in intractable contradictions. The Old Testament (Dueteronomy 23) says anyone born out of wedlock or has been castrated will not enter the Kingdom of God; even a descendant of that person up to the tenth generation will not enter the kingdom of God. In 19th century Europe, this was used to demonise such children, calling them bastards.  Genesis 17 has a similar fate for those who are not circumcised. None of our Christian moralists who use the Old Testament to promote hate against homosexuals stands a chance of going to heaven under its dos and don’ts.

Therefore, if we insist on a law sending adulterers, liars, the envious, fornicators etc to life imprisonment, the entire leadership of our country – in politics, business, academia, the church, youth, students and in our clans would head for prison. Indeed, I am sure many of those reading this article will slander me in the comments on our website accusing me of having been paid by the West to write it – a factor that should give them a life sentence as well. Thus, the repulsion Ugandans feel against gays has little to do with religious belief but deeply entrenched prejudice born of bigotry and intolerance.

It is sad that Church leaders who should be the voice of Christ’s teaching on tolerance are the ones seeking to rely on the repressive institutions of the state to send homosexuals to jail for life. In a country teaming with robbers, thieves, rapists, liars, the greedy and the envious whose actions harm others, it is disheartening that our religious leaders are pursuing people whose “sin” does not harm anyone else. May be a return to Jesus’ teachings by religious leaders is much more necessary now than a persecution of homosexuals.

Abraham Lincoln was a racist who publicly argued that black people were not equal to white people and should therefore remain in an inferior status, just like Museveni admits to being a homophobe. Yet when confronted with an opportunity to transcend his prejudices and make history by defending something most white Americans disagreed with, Lincoln grabbed the chance. When faced with a similar opportunity, Museveni (whose position on gays has been more progressive than Lincoln’s position on racial equality) allowed short term political considerations to blind his judgment.


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