On 29 October the Archbishop of Canterbury named a group appointed to discuss issues of homosexuality. The day, marked in the Anglican calendar by the martyrdom of Bishop James Hannington, seems singularly appropriate. He was sent by the Church Missionary Society to Uganda in 1884. Exciting Holiness gives the following details of his fate: ‘The King of the Buganda, Mwanga, who despised Christians because they refused to condone his moral turpitude, seized the whole party, tortured them for several days and then had them butchered to death on this day in 1885.’
Rulers with absolute power have always felt free to indulge their sexual appetites, usually taking many wives and ‘concubines’ irrespective of the wishes of the women concerned. But Mwanga was interested in young men, and his committing of homosexual rape was considered shocking. Those who were killed for refusing his advances have been regarded as Christian martyrs. Many African men suffered the fate of James Hannington.
With such a history, it is easy to see how Christians in Uganda would find all homosexuality utterly repugnant, as they continue to venerate the memory of their first Bishop and all who died at the orders of King Mwanga.
Had the King abducted and raped young women, far less would have been said. Indeed, those who introduced the Christian faith had to come to an accommodation with polygamy of various kinds in Africa. To some extent it still continues, and in many parts of the world women are still ‘married’ against their will.
Sexual union should be based on mutual love, care and respect. Christianity has always recognised this as being best exemplified within freely chosen monogamous marriage.
However many people have come to recognise that for those whose desire is for someone of their own sex, the same qualities of mutual love, care and respect can be exhibited. The love the couple have for each other can make them more able to share love, expressed other than in sexual ways, with many others.
This kind of relationship has nothing to do with homosexual rape, just as Christian marriage is not expressed in forcible abduction of young women for sexual purposes.
Today we need to redefine what the issues are. At the moment we risk ignoring the capacity for good in loving homosexual relationships, and also turning our backs on women who are forced into sexual relationships and ‘marriage’ against their will.