By Dave Jenkins
Here is why Andrew Mwenda could try being a Christian pastor instead
On Sept.15, my good friend, Andrew Mwenda wrote in The Independent “AHA: A reply to “Christian” critics”. He raises many good points that are both Biblical and represent historic Christian teaching. Yet, I think a deeper discussion is merited.
Social media now shows us how deeply misplaced some theories of Christianity are. Those commentaries miss what it means to be “Christian?” Though our contemporary times frequently use the term, “Christian” it is only used in the Bible three times (Acts 11:26; 26:28; 1 Peter 4:16.) Many scholars conclude the first usage of the word “Christian” was actually an insult to those who believed in Jesus of Nazareth’s resurrection. The second time is when an imprisoned Paul tries to persuade King Agrippa to believe, and King Agrippa flippantly asks, “Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?” Lastly, Peter uses the word, “Christian” to explain suffering without shame. Thus the very use of the name Christian should never entail a sense of towering over one’s opponent. Instead to be “Christian” means coming to be near and suffer with those suffering. It is in that relinquishment of hunger for human dominance that we become truly “Christian.”
With fear and trembling, but with hope of forgiveness, Christians live an ethic that makes many friends (Luke 16:1-14,) and treats others as we want to be treated (Leviticus 19:18; Matthew 22:39; Mark 12:31-33; Luke 10:27.) With this Christian ethic of shared suffering because of humanity’s shared failings, I offer humble suggestions.
First, can we stop the name calling? An old pastor, Dr Royce Dickinson once told me, “Always, describe people the way they describe themselves. Otherwise we are name calling, and stripping people of their dignity.” I’m using the word “gay” now as homosexual seems offensive. When a few use courser language, let us either ignore it or call it unacceptable to our civil community. With the same reasoning, can we cease to use the term “homophone” or “homophobic?” The terms assign the motive of fear and hate. Let’s allow God to sift our motives.
Second, Uganda is a sovereign nation. She has the right to make her own laws. History tells us only emperors try to tell sovereign nations what to do. Those of us who do not hold Ugandan citizenship can speak as friends offering advice (as Ugandans also speak to us.) However, let us not take the place of God and attempt to direct history. After all history calls those who attempted to direct history names such as “emperor” and “dictator.” We would not want those names assigned to us.
Third, Andrew, Fox Odoi, and others went to court and raised an important issue of justice. The Anti-Homosexuality Act was passed in Uganda’s Parliament without quorum. All laws that are just must be established by respecting constitutional process. The Anti-Gay bill did not follow a just process.
Fourth, since we are all guilty, let us very cautiously offer anecdotal evidence of hypocrisy. I have been a respected husband, father, uncle, coach, teacher, pastor, and mzee to my community, but I am just as guilty of hypocrisy as any. I’m thankful to all who treat my failings with grace.
Fifth, Andrew raises a contemporary Christian proverb, “Love the sinner. Hate the sin.” It’s a good attempt to live out a difficult Christian ethic. Yet, I think Tony Campolo recently said it even better, “Love the sinner. Hate my own sin.”
Paul said it well when he wrote, “Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men, nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God (1 Corinthians 6:9-11.)”
If Paul planted a church in Kampala it would be made up not only of reformed gays, but reformed street thieves, religious conmen, corrupt government officials, drunkards, bang smokers, and sensationalist journalists. I hope Uganda’s pastors have similar visions today.
Yes, Andrew gets it right that the best pastoring helps people become new. Churches must lead in the process of human redemption. When we pastors do not lead in the process of redemption we should repent before we demand another’s repentance. Andrew also gets it right that Uganda is not a theocracy and Christianity is itself very divided on many issues related to gays. Most importantly Andrew gets it right when he writes, “Jesus said he came to earth to save sinners, not to dine with the holy.”
Yet, I think Andrew misses that a significant part of being a religious leader is being a prophet. Contemporary health and wealth pastors miss it when they think being a prophet is a profitable way to predict the future. Instead being a prophet is a lone voice of truth to intimidating earthly authorities and howling mobs. Uganda’s history has had many. Some were missionaries like Alexander McKay who spoke against slavery, war, human sacrifice, and homosexuality. Some were leaders like Bishop Festo Kivengere who with a pure heart proclaimed his love for Idi Amin while calling Amin’s killings evil.
Those voices of the past remind us again that the colonial impulse to control is wrong. Sexuality should be practiced between a man and woman who are married. Murder is a heinous sin. We’re all guilty, but redemption is possible. Thus we will preach, not only on homosexuality with which a small percentage struggle, but also address our more pervasive sins of greed, prejudice, and lust. We are all part of the sin problem.
Andrew closes his column with a story of a gay Christian in Uganda. It’s heart breaking. How about if the next time I’m in Uganda Andrew and I go visit him with the same grace we give one another? Friendship is about loving one another when we know each other’s failings. Then we gently point to the ultimate friend, Jesus of Nazareth who ultimately makes us into something new.
Bottom line: Andrew has well pointed out Biblical holes in the Anti-Homosexuality Act. He does a masterful job in writing “pastoral concern.” However, I think he should consider taking more “pastoral responsibility.” I hope Andrew’s closing story is a whisper of God that a day will come when Andrew combines his journalistic excellence with a pastor’s calling.