Tuesday, February 16, 2010

With the Apostle Paul at the center of the clash, Uganda Pastor Martin Ssempa and President Barack Obama are at odds with one another over the morality of same-sex sex

by Rev. Stephen R. Parelli
Executive Director of Other Sheep, sparelli2002@yahoo.com. February 16, 2010.  Bronx, New York

Ugandan Christian minister Martin Ssempa claims: Same-sex sex is a criminal act contrary to nature
 
Martin Ssempa, a Ugandan Christian minister who runs the Family Policy and Human Rights Center in Uganda, recently took issue with the dissenting remarks President Obama made on the Anti-Homosexuality bill at the Washington, DC, February 4th National Prayer Breakfast.

In countering Obama's denouncement of the Ugandan bill, it is reported that Ssempa, addressing Obama's remarks, said "homosexuals and lesbians are never targeted for who they are, [but] rather [for] what they do. It is the repugnant sexual acts which they do which constitute a crime, a sin and a rebellion against the order of nature."

Ssempa's anti-homosexual rhetoric "against . . . nature" is grounded in the words of the Apostle Paul; hence, Uganda's divine call to pass its Anti-homosexuality bill

His comment, that same-sex sex is "a rebellion against the order of nature" is especially interesting to me because I am, like Ssempa, a Christian minister.

Ssempa, expounding like most preachers do, enlarged upon his "against . . . nature" assertion by calling it "repugnant," "a crime," and "a sin," so that we, his hearers, should obviously conclude that same-sex sex is the most horrendous affront possible against both God and society. Of course, being a preacher of the Book, Martin Ssempa is taking his "rebellion-against-the-order-of-nature" statement from the first chapter of the Epistle to the Romans where the Apostle Paul, who is the author of the Biblical letter, refers to same-sex sex as "against nature."

So, there we have it. By the sacred text the Christian minister of Uganda speaks with absolute authority: a crime! a sin! rebellious! repugnant! Certainly, on the basis of such scriptural authority (and with the good preacher Ssempa telling us exactly how the text is to be interpreted), the Ugandan Parliament should enact certain "anti-homosexuality" laws.

Not so fast. Who is to say what the Apostle Paul meant? Certainly not the Ugandan Parliament

But that's just the point. What does "against nature" mean in the context of Romans chapter 1 (not to mention in the context of the entire book of Romans where Paul uses the phrase "against nature" in reference to other subject matters). Not all Bible scholars and teachers are in agreement with Ssempa. For these, Ssempa's inference of the passage is the least likely.

Thomas Hanks, agreeing with other Bible scholars like himself, says Paul is not condemning homoerotic acts as sin but is placing these acts under the cultural category of "uncleanness." Robin Scroggs, L. William Countryman, Robert Goss and Bernadette Broonten, James Miller, James Boswell and Daniel Halminiak all offer an interpretation of Romans 1 quite different from the Reverend Martin Ssempa. Jeff Miner very simply says that Paul is addressing a different set of facts and that therefore Romans 1 is "the easiest passage to interpret" because it simply does not apply to same-sex sex in the context of love, commitment and marriage, which is our present day context and not Paul's first century context. According to Miner, Romans 1 cannot be superimposed upon our present-day unique set of questions around homosexuality. Paul is not addressing our questions.

So now we are at an impasse. If the Ugandan Parliament is to enact laws against homosexuals because their acts are "a crime, rebellious, repugnant and a sin" based on the Apostle Paul's Roman 1 phrase "against nature;" and if the phrase "against nature" is really not as clear in meaning as it appears on the surface; then perhaps Parliament needs to step back a bit and not be so certain it's bill is somehow infallible, as Ssempa, on the authority of the Word of God, would have Parliament believe.

Enter Obama and his book The Audacity of Hope. Now two different, opposing Christian faiths appear: Obama's and Ssempa's

And as a matter of fact, that's exactly what Obama said in his book The Audacity of Hope: "I am [not] willing," he wrote, "to accept a reading of the Bible that considers an obscure line in Romans [chapter 1] to be more defining of Christianity than the Sermon on the Mount" (page 222, emphasis mine).

Obama would rather err on the side of loving his fellow man as himself (The Sermon on the Mount) than to accuse his fellow LGBT (lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender) neighbor of being a rebel, a sinner, a criminal, and just plain discussing (Romans chapter 1) as Ssempa would and does. Now we have two distinct Christian walks: President Obama's and Martin Ssempa's. And the question is how does any Parliament enact laws preferring one Christian practice over against another Christian practice? It shouldn't.

Obama: It is not the business of government to impose any stipulation upon its citizens that would interfere with the individual's right to live according to the dictates of one's own conscience

And so, Obama also comments about this - Parliament's place in all of this - in his book The Audacity of Hope: "Our argument is less about what is right [and more] about who makes the final determination - whether we need the coercive arm of the state to enforce our values, or whether the subject is one best left to individual conscience and evolving norms" (page 221). And this, too, he writes: "Contrary to the claims of many on the Christian right who rail against the separation of church and state, their argument is not with a handful of liberal sixties judges. [Their argument] is with the drafters of the Bill of Rights and the forebears of today's evangelical church" (pages 216-217, emphasis mine).

Obama is saying the question of same-sex sex between two consenting adults is a moral question for the individual to decide for himself, not a question for government to determine on behalf of its citizens. It is a private decision left to the individual. And Obama is saying the first American evangelicals knew that, so they therefore created a government where the church does not rule through legislation and the government does not dictate to the conscience of the individual. (And especially, one might opinion in Uganda, when two words - "against nature," in the context that Paul was writing - is so misunderstood and misapplied as it is today.)

The basic difference between Obama and Ssempa on their view of the relationship between the church and government

Early on when the Anti-Homosexuality bill first erupted in Uganda, I authored the following words and placed them on the Other Sheep website: "I fear for Uganda, or any state, when the church, by how it acts, might as well be parliament, and parliament, by how it acts, might as well be the church."

In the matter of same-sex sex, the question for any society to ask is not "What is right?" but rather, "Who should determine what is right: the church, the state, or the individual?" The answer is the individual.

Obama understands these sentiments and expressed them clearly in his book The Audacity of Hope. Ssempa does not.

by Rev. Stephen R. Parelli, Executive Director of Other Sheep, Bronx, NY. February 16, 2010. Email: sparelli2002@yahoo.com

2 comments:

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Rev. Stephen R. Parelli, MDiv said...

My Asian friend who left the above comment: Do you speak or write English. I will be in Asia this summer in China and maybe in Taiwan. You can email me at sparelli2002@yahoo.com if you would like to communicate by email for now. Steve Parelli