John Humphries interviewed the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, on the Today programme this morning about the Ugandan Anti-Homosexuality Bill. This is my transcript of what he said:
“I think that the context in which this whole bill is coming, which is a private member’s bill not a Government Bill, it’s now going through the Committee stage and they have invited everybody who’s got interested to make some kind of comment and it shall return probably back to Parliament in February next year. My feeling is that in order to understand what is all behind all of this is that unfortunately, or whatever one wants to say, the Penal Code, Chapter 20, Section 145, which dates back to the time when England had similar legislation, that is still what they call unnatural offences, and anybody who commits them at the moment is liable to imprisonment for life. But also that penal code, in cases of rape as what they call aggravated sexuality, in cases of rape, you also face a death penalty, if you have got sex with a girl under the age of 18, you are liable again to suffer death. So this particular high, extreme sentencing already exists. Now what they have done in cases of homosexuality in this particular Bill, they are talking about aggravated in terms of again, a girl of eighteen, somebody living with HIV, a guardian or a parent, and the trouble is, it tends to confuse all of homosexual relationships with what you call aggravated stuff and that’s the problem”
What’s your general moral reaction to this kind of approach?
“I want to go back to the Dromantine Communiqué in 2004 by the Primates of the Anglican Communion where we said, we wish to make it clear that our discussion and assessment of moral appropriateness of specific behaviours; we continue unreservedly to be committed to the pastoral care and support of homosexual people;the victimisation or diminishment of human beings whose affections happen to be ordered towards people of the same sex is anathema to us. We assure homosexual people that they are children of God, loved and regarded by him and deserving the best we can give of pastoral care and friendship.”
So it is anathema to you?
“I think when you begin … I am opposed totally to the death penalty I am also quite not happy when you describe people with the kind of language you find in this Private Member’s Bill, which seems also not only victimising but diminishment of individuals.”
Well, they are being demonised in effect.
“Yes, I think that is not a very helpful way, but having said that, already the law in Uganda is where we were before the 1967 Act.”
Well absolutely. There’s a question about what those people who are affiliated to the Anglican Communion in Uganda feel about this and what they can do about it. There’s been a great deal of publicity in recent years about the difference between the views, generally speaking, of the Church of England, and the views of many people in the African Churches in the Anglican Communion. How concerned are you about that huge gulf which seems to exist?
“Well, I am absolutely convinced that Dr Zac Niringie, the assistant bishop of Kampala, assistant to Archbishop of Uganda, is now carrying out an assessment and they will be making their responses to this particular Bill. The gap can actually grow when is seems as though we are have a dialogue of the deaf, and the reason why Canterbury and I haven’t actually come out publicly to say anything is not because we don’t want to say anything, because the position is very clear, but rather ..”
Because you were trying to help?
“We were trying to help, and we are trying actually to listen, and sometimes people are not understood that actually the law in Uganda at the moment without this Bill does exactly the same thing and what this Bill has done….”
So in other words in your view it’s bad enough already even without this.
Without this, and therefore it seems to me that what we need is greater understanding of the context and I’m absolutely committed that the Church of Uganda, and I can only speak about the Church of Uganda, is committed to the pastoral care which is in the Dromantine Communiqué, is also committed to the listening process to the experience of homosexual people, and people may have very clear, what I may call traditional views about sexuality, but we as a Communion are actually committed to listening to the experience of homosexual people. You can’t do that on one hand and then have language which in many ways seems to suggest that all these people are not children of God. I mean, they are valued by God, they deserve the best we can give in pastoral care and friendship and I’m quite sure that the response the Church of Uganda will make in due course will have to take account of all these realities.”