Friday, July 20, 2012

Police Prevent Kampala Other Sheep Conference from Shutting Down

190 attend full-day Kampala religious seminar sponsored by Bisexual Movement Uganda

Reporting on Uganda from Istanbul
by Rev. Stephen Parelli, Executive Director of Other Sheep, July 20, 2012, Istanbul, Turkey
On Wednesday July 18, Bisexual Movement of Uganda conducted a one-day seminar at a public establishment in Muyenga, Kampala, on "Religious Freedom in the Context of Theological Diversity and Human Sexuality." Brian Ochieng, director of Bisexual Movement Uganda, reported that 190 people, including 36 university students, 80 plus high school students, local community people, and clergy, attended. 
Morning Session on 'Liberty of Conscience'
In the morning session, Rev. Stephen Parelli, Executive Director of Other Sheep, spoke on ‘Liberty of Conscience,’ a human rights’ principle that teaches that in matters of faith and practice each individual’s conscience is free to answer to God alone without the interference or molestation of the government.  Parelli said the anti-gay-marriage laws in America, and the Uganda anti-gay bill are, in effect, a denial of the free-exercise of the individual’s ‘liberty of conscience’ in matters of what God has or has not said about homosexuality.
Parelli, referencing the Iowa Supreme Court April 3, 2009, decision for gay marriage, cited the court’s statement that religion was the driving force behind the laws against gay marriage throughout America, and that, therefore, state governments, by legislating religious teachings, are acting unconstitutionally.  Parelli said the Iowa Supreme Court upheld ‘Liberty of Conscience.’ 
Throughout the morning session, Parelli gave out complimentary copies of the book The Children Are Free to attendees who answered correctly questions Parelli put forth on ‘Liberty of Conscience.’  Parelli wove his personal story throughout the presentation, illustrating his theme, keeping the interest and connecting with his audience.  Four individuals from the audience volunteered to come to the platform and represent four different historical characters from the Reformation and British-American Colonial periods as Parelli related the historical development of ‘Liberty of Conscience.’
Afternoon Session on Theolgoical Diversity and Human Sexuality

In the afternoon session, Parelli and Mr. Jose Ortiz, Other Sheep Coordinator for Africa, enacted a conversational dialogue on what the Bible does and does not say about homosexuality.  Brian Ochieng, who had attended the 2008 Other Sheep Kampala seminar, translated the Parelli-Ortiz enactment into Luganda with spirit, conviction and animation, himself familiar with the material being presented.  One hundred copies of the paper “Talking Points” on the Bible and homosexuality were made available to the attendees.
NGO/ Religious Leaders Comment
Following the seminar, Eddy Kalayango, Executive Director of Rainbow and Diversity Organization Uganda (RADO) texted Rev. Parelli saying “thanks for your teachings and sharing this knowledge with us; I hope one day society will accept the LGBTI community in Uganda and respect its liberty of conscience” (used with permission).
Rev. Michael Kimindu, President of Other Sheep Africa, sent greetings to the attendees from Nairobi, Kenya, which Parelli relayed to the audience. 
Bishop Christopher Ssenyonjo of Kampala expressed his support of the meeting in emails to Rev. Parelli.
Police Prevent Local Official from Stopping the Conference
Following the morning session on ‘Liberty of Conscience’ the seminar was put on hold when a local official entered the grounds demanding that the police, already present by arrangement of the hosting NGO, immediately shut down the conference.  The local official maintained that homosexuality was being promoted illegally.  An attendee of the morning session had left the grounds to report his disapproval of the seminar to the local official.  Police protection had been arranged prior to the conference by the NGO organizers of the day-long seminar. 
Parelli, after finishing the morning session, was escorted by a police officer to an area on the grounds, a distant from the conference hall, where he was asked to remain while other police, the objecting local official, the offended attendee who reported to the objecting local official, and Brian Ochieng, discussed the matter.  Mr. Jose Ortiz accompanied Parelli.  Lively but controlled and subdued dialogued ensued between Brian, the police and the objecting local official.  Brian maintained that the conference was on the Bible and religious freedom, and not the promotion of homosexuality as a lifestyle.  Upon the arrival of another NGO leader who had assisted Bisexual Movement Uganda in obtaining the police protection, the matter was resolved and the conference continued without being aborted.  Police protection continued.  
Objecting Local Official, Addressing Attendees in the Conference Hall, Apologizes for Interruption
While attendees waited, seated in the conference hall, for the final preparations for lunch to be completed, the objecting local official asked to speak to the gathering.  He spoke in Luganda.  According to one NGO leader who spoke with Mr. Ortiz, the objecting local official apologized for the interruption he caused and announced that the seminar would continue.  The room erupted into applause.
In keeping with certain accepted practices as the norm, because the objecting local official was working on behalf of his community without compensation, after the police refused to cooperate with him, he requested Other Sheep to cover his cost of transportation for reporting his objections to the police on behalf of his community.  Other Sheep, following the recommendation of NGO leaders, covered the traveling costs of the objecting local official.
190 Assisted with Meals and Transportation
A light breakfast, lunch and transport money was provided the 190 attendees. 

Other Sheep, a Worldwide Organization

Other Sheep, situated in the USA, is a non-profit, faith-based organization with Coordinators in Asia, Africa, Europe and North and South America.  Rev. Parelli works full time as a volunteer with Other Sheep.  Since 2005, Parelli and Ortiz, legally married in 2008 in the state of California, have spoken in 17 countries worldwide.  Other Sheep works worldwide for the full inclusion of LGBT people of faith within their respective faith traditions.
NGO leader Brian Ochieng on the Conference and the Uganda anti-gay Bill
Brian Ochieng, commenting the day before the July 18 Kampala seminar was held said he is hoping people will see the Uganda anti-gay bill issue from a new perspective.
Links to Parelli's papers: 100 copies of each of the following two papers were made available, free of charge, at the Kampala July 18 Conference:
Talking Points - What the Bible does and does not say about homosexuality
Note: Other Sheep was in East Africa from July 3-19, 2012. Two separate NGOs in Uganda each sponsored one Other Sheep seminar; one NGO in Rwanda sponsored one Other Sheep seminar.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Other Sheep Rwanda Holds Seminar on Sexual Orientation

by Rev. Stephen Parelli
Gisenyi, Rwanda
July 15, 2012

Rev. J. Elie Gasana, Other Sheep Coordinator for Rwanda and Democratic Republic of the Congo, hosted a one-day workshop in Gisenyi, Rwanda, on July 14.  Other Sheep Executive Director Rev. Stephen Parelli offered two papers (in French) and Alfred Ssekabanja of Uganda Victim Support Organization was guest speaker. 

Twelve clergy and one lay leader, whose ministries range from the local to national level in Rwanda, participated. In addition, one participant was identified as doing “Other Sheep work in the DRC.”   

The attendees were arranged into discussion groups, with designated leaders, to read and interact between themselves on the two papers and to prepare written questions for Parelli to address before all the attendees.

The first paper, authored by Parelli, dealt with his own journey through his ex-gay experience.  The second paper, authored by Dr. Ralph Blair and used with permission, addressed the Bible texts traditionally used to condemn sexual minorities.  Each attendee received a hard copy of each paper.

The majority of the time was spent on the first paper with discussion and questions around homosexuality as an orientation.  Parelli said:  “Whatever questions you have about homosexuality, ask the same question about heterosexuality and you will have your answer.”  Parelli repeatedly followed that formula in answering questions from ‘is it a choice’ to ‘how does one become a homosexual’ to ‘what is same-sex sexual activity like.’

In discussing Parelli’s paper, one attendee, whose influence is on a national level within her denomination, commented that for the first time she now understands that it is not a choice to be homosexual.  She said she had looked at gays as she had looked at sex workers, that is, that whereas sex workers can elect to do something else (everything being equal), she now realizes the option to do something else does not exist for homosexuals.   Her paradigm shifted from equating gays with sex workers to understanding that homosexuality is an orientation like heterosexuality.  Her group leader reported that she said, almost in tears, why should gays be harassed for something they cannot change.

Speaking in the language of Kinyarwanda, Alfred Ssekabanja, guest speaker from Uganda and himself Rwandan, shared his personal story as to how he came to work on behalf of the human rights of LGBT people in Uganda.  He said he must help affirm the human rights of LGBT people even at the risk of being rejected by the church.  He said he cannot stand silent in Uganda and watch the discrimination, rejection and even the possible death of LGBT people; Uganda cannot become another Rwanda where people are judged ‘by their nature and not by their character.’  He said our Christian religion did not keep us from horrific genocide in Rwanda where 99 percent of the people profess the Christian faith.  He said our Christian faith, which is more about fearing God and less about loving one another, was not able to keep us from genocide; our beliefs must change. He said if we have learned nothing from the Rwanda genocide, we will still discriminate.

In group discussion, one member evoked the word ‘kwihanganirana’ which means:  “I am different; you are different; but we must live together.” The group leader reported that what is meant is tolerance, being patient with one another and accepting differences.

Ssekabanja served as interpreter between English and Kinyarwanda. Gasana, who acted as moderator, served as interpreter between English and French.  The meeting was conducted in the conference room of a local hotel establishment.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

'Liberty of Conscience' is Focus of Kampala Other Sheep Conference

By Rev. Stephen Parelli
Kampala, Uganda
July 12, 2012

A local pastor who attended the recent two-day Kampala conference on "Religious Freedom in the Context of Theological Diversity and Human Sexuality" told the attendees that he was especially impacted by the workshops on 'Liberty of Conscience.' The pastor said that in spite of the contemporary alternative view, as taught by the presenters, that Sodom and Gomorrah is about inhospitality, social oppression and rape, and not, therefore, a condemnation of gay love, he still believes the Biblical destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah is a condemnation of all gays. The pastor went on to say, however, that because of 'Liberty of Conscience' he now understands it is not parliament's place to write anyone's religious views or interpretation of 'Sodom and Gomorrah' or any part of the Bible into civil law.
The workshops on 'Liberty of Conscience' covered the origins of religious freedom in the West with an emphasis on 17th century Roger Williams' teaching on 'Liberty of Conscience' and its development and practice in the British colonies in America, and its present day application to Uganda. Rev. Stephen Parelli of Other Sheep, the workshop presenter, said the single greatest contribution of the 17th century to the advancement of human rights was the teaching of 'Liberty of Conscience.' Rev. Parelli said human rights cannot be sustained without 'Liberty of Conscience.'
In reference to Barak Obama's support for gay marriage, Rev. Parelli, citing a quote from Obama's book The Audacity of Hope, said Obama understands and supports the concept of 'Liberty of Conscience.' Obama, said Parelli, wrote: "Our argument [over gay marriage] 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."
Quoting again from Obama's book, Parelli said Obama sees the evangelicals in America today as out of touch with the evangelicals of 18th century America who understood the separation of church and state and wrote it into the Bill of Rights. Parelli said the evangelicals in America and the evangelicals in Uganda have both set aside the principle of 'Liberty ofConscience' and are using the government to make their religious beliefs the laws of parliament. Parelli said the Iowa Supreme Court's 2009 decision in favor of gay marriage discusses at length the unconstitutionality of the use of religious ideologies as the basis or motive for arguing for anti-gay legislation.
Other Sheep Coordinator Mr. Jose Ortiz, speaking on "A Theology and Ethics for Human Sexuality" said discrimination against sexual minorities thrives when all males must prove their manhood, and when all people in general must prove their worth.
Attendees in the workshops on "Talking Points (What you need to know and say when they say: 'But the Bible clearly condemns homosexuality!)," interacted with the presenters and one another in lively discussions around the paper "Talking Points."
Copies of the papers on 'Liberty of Conscience' and "Talking Points" were made available to conference attendees.
A complimentary copy of the book The Children Are Free: Reexamining the Biblical Evidence on Same-sex Relationships was presented to each attendee.
The conference, held on July 6 and 7 in the greater area of Kampala, was initiated, organized and sponsored by Uganda Victim Support Organization a faith-based NGO of Uganda. 31 people, including clergy, lay leaders, and human rights activists attended the conference.