The archbishop of Canterbury has urged the Anglican church in Uganda to reconsider its vociferous support for the world’s harshest anti-LGBTQ+ law, which imposes the death penalty for certain homosexual acts.
Justin Welby said there was no justification for supporting the legislation, in a move that highlights deep divisions within the global Anglican church on LGBTQ+ issues.
Uganda’s president, Yoweri Museveni, signed the bill into law last month amid condemnation. The UK government said it was appalled by the “deeply discriminatory” bill. Joe Biden decried the act as “shameful” and a “tragic violation of universal human rights”.
Archbishop Stephen Kaziimba, the leader of the Ugandan church, praised the new law. He said homosexuality was “currently a challenge in Uganda because it is being forced on us by outside, foreign actors against our will, against our culture, and against our religious beliefs”.
Welby said he had written to Kaziimba to express his “grief and dismay” at the church’s support for the law, describing it as “a fundamental departure from our commitment to uphold the freedom and dignity of all people”.
In a statement, Welby said: “I am deeply aware of the history of colonial rule in Uganda, so heroically resisted by its people. But this is not about imposing western values on our Ugandan Anglican sisters and brothers. It is about reminding them of the commitments we have made as Anglicans to treat every person with the care and respect they deserve as children of God.
“Within the Anglican communion we continue to disagree over matters of sexuality, but … supporting such legislation is a fundamental departure from our commitment to uphold the freedom and dignity of all people. There is no justification for any province of the Anglican communion to support such laws.”
He urged Kaziimba and the Ugandan church “to reconsider their support for this legislation and reject the criminalisation of LGBTQ people”.
The global Anglican communion, which claims more than 85 million members worldwide, has been divided for decades over sexuality. Broadly speaking, liberal, declining churches in the developed world are more accepting of LGBTQ+ people while conservative, growing churches in sub-Saharan Africa insist on traditional biblical teaching on sex and marriage.
Welby’s statement said the Ugandan church, “like many Anglican provinces, holds to the traditional Christian teaching on sexuality and marriage set out in resolution i.10 of the 1998 Lambeth conference. That resolution also expressed a commitment to minister pastorally and sensitively to all – regardless of sexual orientation – and to condemn homophobia.”
He called on international bodies that represent conservative churches “to make explicitly and publicly clear that the criminalisation of LGBTQ people is something that no Anglican province can support: that must be stated unequivocally”.