Living in a border refugee town in Rwanda, you get to meet all sorts of folks. This particular evening was no exception. I spend many evenings enjoying a slightly chilled beverage at a local watering hole, chit-chatting with a few locals about the ins and outs of life. Being one of three white people in my town and having the ability to speak very good English, I am a prime target for conversation. This particular night, my consistent begging to watch the Winter Olympics had finally paid off, as I was explaining to a crowd of men around me my made-up rules for curling and my fascination with the Biathlon. Many nights people just want to share what’s on their minds, from fears of supporting a wife and children, to those who just want to tell me how happy they are to see me and wonder if “how I view Rwanda?” has changed in the last few days since I had seen them and mispronounced their names again.
As I was rounding first base heading for drink number two, two men who spoke very good English approached me with faces eager to talk about what I thought was going to be the Olympics. After a quick introduction, they spun into a million different questions, none of which were about the Olympics. They didn’t ask the usual questions either, like, “Have you ever met with Rihanna” or, “Can I come visit you in America?” They wanted to know what it is really like living in America. They wanted to know if I thought President Obama is going to bring change to America. After about an hour of intense conversation and a sharp disinterest by the other barflies, these two men felt ready to share something with me that not many people knew. The men sitting next to me had fled Uganda due to an increase in violence against gays since the anti-homosexual legislation had been proposed three months earlier. The anti-homosexual legislation that proposes a a life sentence for being gay and a sentence of up to seven years for not reporting someone who is homosexual.
I was shocked. Although Uganda is a close neighbor to Rwanda, the legislation felt like it had been proposed a million miles away, until now. These men had left their friends and family because of the violence against them for being gay. I sat and listened for another two hours as these men described the increasing animosity toward them and their friends for being gay. They believed things were slowly getting better in Uganda—until recently when the legislation was introduced, and then things took a turn for the worst. They decided to leave Uganda after one of their friends was severely beaten by a stranger on the street and a majority of their friends had received death threats, including them. They told me they were mad at the Christians in their community for leading the charge against homosexuality and didn’t understand how there could be so much hate toward them.
I’m not going to lie, I was stunned and upset. I was mad at myself for contributing to the Christian anti-homosexual culture in America by using the word “gay” as a derogatory term and letting me and friends speak about someone who is gay as being so different. I was upset with the Christians who drove these men into exile. As I learned more about this legislation, I learned David Bahati, the legislator who proposed the bill, is a member of an American Christian group called The Family. I know many people are not members of these groups and have nothing to do with Uganda, but I feel semi-responsible being the body of Christ and allowing and sometimes contributing to the defamation of those who are gay.
I don’t even think we can even begin talking about whether or not homosexuality is a sin until we start to eliminate the hatred and judgment many have toward those who are gay. Let’s leave our planks at the Cross and entrust ourselves and others to God. I know many folks never intended there to be violence toward those who are gay, but please think about your everyday actions and how they could be contributed to a Christian culture of hatred against those who are gay. I think we need to say: “I have sinned also, but I am loved and forgiven just like everyone else.” Let us come together and celebrate the Prince of Peace whose love and acceptance is big enough for everyone—and I mean everyone. Let’s be honest with ourselves: Do we really feel comfortable believing God’s grace is big enough for everyone?
As I said good night to my new friends, I simply told them: “Hey, you’re loved. Something greater than all the hate you have witnessed loves you and wants you to help Him bring heaven on earth.”