Interpretation of history, particularly religious history, must always be done with the meticulous skill of a surgeon, or the patient may die. Left to the devices of amateurs or God forbid, politicians, lots of people will get hurt or be killed needlessly.
Interpretation of history, at its highest calling, must be to enable the healing of the past and repair some kind of communal “wound.” The Jewish concept of “repairing the world” while avoiding humanity’s most dangerous sin – amnesia -- remains a constant theme engrained in holy Scriptures and epic stories. “Remembering rightly” is ultimately about community health and survival. Every devout religious person shares in this responsibility.
Simply put, when history is deliberately distorted, we get in trouble and repeat the mistakes of the past. Another way of saying this is: “When we believe our own bulls**t, people get hurt, including ourselves.”
Pastor Scott Lively is a recent example of what can happen when history is distorted to promote a contemporary agenda. At his now infamous meeting in a Kampala hotel where he blamed LGBT people for the Holocaust and Rwandan genocide, he incited Ugandan parliamentarians to further criminalize homosexuality and use the scientifically disproved “ex-gay” therapy to heal us of this unnatural state of being.
Weeks later, the draconian Bahati bill, aka “Kill The Gays” bill, emerged while Lively slinked back into the shadows. His interpretative religious and historical work had been completed. He also thought he could not be held accountable for his own historical actions. Video fortunately triumphed his delusion.
I am amazed that only 16,000 people have watched this extremely incriminating video since it was produced by Box Turtle Bulletin three years ago!
Religious and political distortion of history
What should be done when political and religious leaders to deliberately distort history or cultural heritage to promote fear and hatred of a minority and promote a contemporary political agenda?
Another recent example of this abusive historical revisionism also comes from Uganda, where Ugandan Martyrs Day is celebrated on June 3 by 20 million Anglicans and Roman Catholics.
Saint Charles (Carl) Lwanga and his companions, were a group of Christians (both Roman Catholics and Anglicans) who were murdered by Mwanga II, the Kabaka (King) of Buganda, between 1885 and 1887. Their deaths were part of a three-way religious struggle for political control of the Buganda royal court. In 1877, the Church Missionary Society in London had sent Protestant missionaries to the court, followed two years later by the French Catholic white fathers. These two competed with each other and the Zanzibar-based Muslim traders for converts and influence. By the mid-1880s, many members of the Buganda court had converted and become proxies for the religious and nationalist conflict being played out in the court. Kabaka Mwanga II, upon his ascension to the throne, attempted to destroy the foreign influences he felt threatened the Buganda state, but was instead deposed by armed converts in 1888. Twenty-two of the martyrs were Roman Catholics and were canonized by Pope Paul VI on Oct. 18, 1964. Their shrines are in Nabugonga. Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims (many walking for days) made their pilgrimage to the shrines just outside Kampala to remember the sacrifice of Africa’s first canonized martyrs.
The Roman Catholic historical interpretation of the story of their martyrdom emphasizes the young courtiers to the King refused to deny their loyalty to “King Jesus” and their newfound Christian faith within a highly contentious and changing political landscape. The inexperienced King Mwanga interpreted their loyalty to European religion as treason.
The Anglican version of the martyr’s story was relatively similar to the Catholic version until around 2006, when the crime of the King also involved pedophilia and the “faith of the martyrs” was elaborated upon to include their resistance to the homosexual advances of the King. All Bugandan subjects (men and women) were deemed to be the “wife” of the Kabakka, whose power was never to be challenged. Interpretation of events and sites remains controversial and if you happen to be a contemporary Ugandan gay or lesbian person, June 3 is a dreaded day when you are advised to stay home and lock your doors. The national hatred of LGBT people is tangible and I was in Uganda myself last year and felt it.
This past years observances were even more controversial because they recalled failed attempts by Member of Parliament and Anglican lay leader David Bahati to introduce a bill to parliament calling for the death penalty for “repeat offenders of homosexuality,” families and professionals to report known homosexuals and the extradition of exiled LGBT Ugandans to face life imprisonment. President Musevene’s message to the churches that day thanked them for helping him fight the exterior threat of homosexuality.
Is it lawful?
Lively and Bahati represent a conflicting foreign policy strategy to the positions of their governments. President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have made it clear that LGBT people share the same human rights are other citizens. Even Musevene has opposed the Bahati bill and believes Uganda’s existing laws can be used against the emerging LGBT community there.
Will the federal lawsuit filed in the U.S. by Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) against Lively prove that Lively was instrumental in waging a war against LGBT people in Uganda that could be termed “crimes against humanity”?
Additionally, the focus on Lively’s so called missionary activity in Uganda may help to reassert the claim that no American citizen has the right to conduct their own foreign policy against that of the U.S. government abroad, particularly when it deliberately misinforms about historical facts to focus on a new minority scapegoat. Lively told The New York Times “That’s about as ridiculous as it gets. I’ve never done anything in Uganda except preach the Gospel and speak my opinion about the homosexual issue.” If SMUG can prove that Lively’s opinions about homosexuality contributed to their recent persecution, this case will send a very clear message to American Fundamentalists (who have been aiding and abetting anti-gay movements across the globe) that their activities are not only illegal but immoral. Win or lose the Lively case, they know their activities are being watched and their words and deeds may eventually come to light in an American or international court.
A Lively martyr
No doubt Lively’s legal defense fund will overflow with donations in the months to come. “Big government” will, no doubt, be blamed for its abuse of religious conscience and his supporters will look to the martyr Lively as a tangible example of the state telling the church what it should believe while persecuting God-fearing, Gospel-preaching Christians.
The American supporters of Bahati and Lively will write checks in their upscale neighborhoods of Virginia and Newport Beach in California, reminding us that Uganda, like it or not, is indeed caught in a cultural proxy war. The core issue appears to be the church’s inclusion or exclusion of LGBT people and honoring or not honoring internationally recognized protections and standards of human rights.
A secondary issue is: “Can I do and say what I want in the name of God without having any accountability in my home or another’s country?
A third issue is concerned with the role of the courts in deciding when issues of faith can actually cause bodily harm to another. Read the 2007 report from the American Psychological Association’s Task Force on reparative therapy and sexual orientation and ask Lively why is he promoting “ex-gay” therapy to Ugandan parliamentarians as scientific evidence that actually works? I would love to see the proponents of so called “ex-gay” therapy have an opportunity to prove their “belief” in a court of law that what they practice and teach actually has validity. Lively may be our first candidate.
The policy of allowing propaganda and misinformation to terrorize the Ugandan masses with stories of a gay pedophile king whose advances were fought off by upstanding young heterosexual Christians, is, for now, allowed to go unchallenged. So are the myths of mass homosexual recruitment in Ugandan schools and the so called benefits of “ex-gay” therapy.
The 15-year “undercover” foreign policy of the Christian Right is coming to a sad end. Millions of lives have been traumatized and some people have been killed, forced into exile and spent time in prison in Uganda and 75 other countries where religious beliefs continue to undergird LGBT criminalization. The footprint of these words and deeds, many recorded and in print will not disappear in the sand and it is our duty to hold these people accountable for the consequences of their words and deeds.
This is why the Lively case is so important. We will not forget, however long it takes and we will not allow revisionist views of historical reality to deflect attention from contemporary crimes against humanity, as Lively has attempted.
I admire the courage of the Catholic Archbishop of Uganda who not only opposed the Bahati bill on moral grounds but refused to allow the holy story of the Ugandan martyrs to be tainted with hate-filled propaganda that continues to maim and hurt many people who have been inspired and love the Ugandan martyr’s story.
The Anglicans have sadly forgotten their own true history and the Bible teaches us when we forget (amnesia) we often get ourselves in trouble. Religious people need to be very clear that we are subject to the same laws and protections afforded to other human beings and we are all accountable for our actions. We are not above the law by claiming our own version of it or distorting the past to justify our own present agenda.
As religious people, we cannot turn our backs on 70 years of international rights and standards just because our interpretation of Scripture and science would like us to do so. An Irish poet once wrote about a longed-for time - “when history and justice rhyme.” We may all be living into it, Scott Lively included.
RGOD2, written by the Rev. Canon Albert Ogle of St. Paul’s Cathedral in San Diego, looks at faith and religion from an LGBT point of view. Ogle is known around the world for his work in support of LGBT rights and HIV-prevention efforts. He is president of St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation. Donations to the foundation can be made by clicking HERE.