|Obama inspects a guard of honour while the 'beast' |
lurks in the background
So now the dust has kind’a settled and as a Kenyan in the diaspora, it has been fascinating observing how Obama’s visit to his ‘motherland’ was perceived. In Kenya, the excitement and frenzy was tremendous and even now over a week after the visit, newspaper editorials continue to reminisce on the significance of the first sitting American president to visit Kenya – and one of our own to boot! Obama’s Kenyan family have shared publicly that the president promised them he will visit the country again soon while TV programmes continue to be dazzled by the paraphernalia that accompanied the president, like his supersized car, also known as the ‘beast’. Here in the UK, it was noticeable that the visit made lead news for 2 days running on the BBC. It was featured in most newspapers and online newsfeeds and even made the front page for an important UK broadsheet - The Observer. Unsurprisingly for the UK (western?) press the item that got the most coverage was Obama’s championing of gay rights. Part of the reason for this were the following remarks made by Kenya’s Deputy President, William Ruto, prior to Obama’s visit:
“Homosexuality is against the plan of God. God did not create man and woman so that men would marry men and women marry women. We have heard that in [the] US they have allowed gay relations and other dirty things I want to say as a Christian leader that we will defend our country Kenya, we will stand for our faith and our country.”
In a special interview by the BBC where Obama was asked about Ruto’s comments, he responded:
“Yeah. Well, I disagree with him on that, don’t I? And I’ve had this experience before when we’ve visited Senegal in my last trip to Africa. I think that the president there, President Sall, is doing a wonderful job in moving the country forward – a strong democrat. But in a press conference, I was very blunt about my belief that everybody deserves fair treatment, equal treatment in the eyes of the law and the state.”
|There had been talk that Obama would not shake Ruto's hand|
but he was all smiles when he met Ruto at State House.
Given the entrenched views on both sides and the antipathy with which homosexuality is viewed in Kenya (and Africa more widely) there had been speculation that, when in Kenya, Obama would duck the gay issue and focus instead on security and trade. This however did not happen. Perhaps emboldened by his actions and statements in the US and the recent Supreme Court’s decision to redefine marriage, Obama ventured to speak up for so called “gay rights,” albeit in a more muted form than in his native land. A key strand in Obama’s answer was his personalising of the issue by comparing homophobia to the racial discrimination that he had encountered in the US. Here is what he said:
I’ve been consistent all across Africa on this. I believe in the principle of treating people equally under the law, and that they are deserving of equal protection under the law and that the state should not discriminate against people based on their sexual orientation. And I say that, recognizing that there may be people who have different religious or cultural beliefs. But the issue is how does the state operate relative to people.
|Moments before that interview and both men are smiling but it was Uhuru|
that would have the last laugh when he gave
Obama's 'gay rights' agenda the short shrift
If you look at the history of countries around the world, when you start treating people differently -- not because of any harm they’re doing anybody, but because they’re different -- that’s the path whereby freedoms begin to erode and bad things happen. And when a government gets in the habit of treating people differently, those habits can spread.
And as an African-American in the United States, I am painfully aware of the history of what happens when people are treated differently, under the law, and there were all sorts of rationalizations that were provided by the power structure for decades in the United States for segregation and Jim Crow and slavery, and they were wrong.
So I’m unequivocal on this. If somebody is a law-abiding citizen who is going about their business, and working in a job, an obeying the traffic signs -- (laughter) -- and doing all the other things that good citizens are supposed to do, and not harming anybody -- the idea that they are going to be treated differently or abused because of who they love is wrong. Full stop.
And the state does not need to weigh in on religious doctrine. The state just has to say we’re going to treat everybody equally under the law. And then everybody else can have their own opinions. All right?
Notice how Obama repeatedly frames the issue in terms of pursuing equality and in particular, a desire that people be not treated differently – by the State – because of ‘who they love’. As a parallel to the experiences of homosexuals when they are treated differently (as is the case in Kenya where homosexuality is punishable with up to 14 years imprisonment), Obama pointed to the painful history of segregation experienced by African-Americans in the US.
As a black Christian, I am getting increasingly tired and offended at this persistent comparison between race and gender to promote homosexuality. Why do people perpetuate this comparison to justify the sin of homosexuality? Can anyone show me where in Scripture one’s sin colour is described as wicked or evil? Yet I can think of numerous texts that explicitly condemn homosexuality and sex outside of marriage. More and more I’m becoming convinced that those who trot out this comparison have not actually read the Scriptures carefully but are attempting to deploy an emotive argument to defend a wicked and sinful act. If I had 5 minutes with Obama, I would urge him to start by considering Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount (especially chapter 5 v 27-32) as well as his comments on divorce, all of which make clear that sex/marriage only exists between a man and woman in the context of marriage. Added to this are St Paul’s clear denunciations (e.g. Romans 1:18-27, 1 Corinthians 6:9-11) which leave no wiggle room for the biblical view that homosexuality (among other sexual sins) are things to be repented of and which only Christ can redeem. A failure to do so (as with all other sin) will lead in the end – Scripture warns us – to eternal judgement.
None of this though was mentioned by the Kenyan president, Uhuru Kenyatta in his response to Obama. Instead Uhuru completely sidestepped Obama’s equality message and focussed instead on the prevalent view in African society that homosexuality is un-African. This is what Uhuru said:
“…the fact of the matter is that Kenya and the United States, we share so many values -- our common love for democracy, entrepreneurship, value for families. These are things that we share. But there are some things that we must admit we don’t share -- our culture, our societies don’t accept. It is very difficult for us to be able to impose on people that which they themselves do not accept.
This is why I repeatedly say that, for Kenyans today, the issue of gay rights is really a non-issue. We want to focus on other areas that are day-to-day living for our people: The health issues that we have discussed with President Obama. These are critical. Issues of ensuring inclusivity of women, a huge section of society that is normally left out of the mainstream of economic development. What we can do in terms of infrastructure; what we can do in terms of education; in terms of our roads; in terms of giving our people power, encouraging entrepreneurship. These are the key focuses.
Maybe once, like you have overcome some of these challenges, we can begin to look at new ones. But as of now, the fact remains that this issue is not really an issue that is on the foremost mind of Kenyans, and that is the fact.
Notice that unlike Obama, Uhuru never explicitly states what his views on the subject of homosexuality are. Instead his response comes across as a mere respecting of the will of the people and a desire not to impose on the citizenry what they do not accept. Uhuru’s answer therefore never addresses the morality of homosexuality. Is it wrong or is it right? Is it evil or is it good? Is it beneficial or harmful? Uhuru’s answer never makes this plain and for this reason is actually open to the charge of homophobia. If the principle reason why Uhuru is not keen on gay rights is because it is the majority view currently, what happens when it ceases to be? Furthermore, isn’t it the responsibility of good leaders to make decisions that they believe are right irrespective of what public thinks because ultimately such decisions will be for the good of the people? Because Uhuru’s answer gave no moral framework apart from his concern to respect the wanainchi[i], the question arises: what if they are wrong, what if their antipathy for homosexuals is because they think they are easy targets? Let’s change the subject for a moment. Consider Nazi Germany. By all accounts Fascism was hugely popular in 1930’s Germany and accepted by the majority of the German people. If one were to employ the same lines of argument Uhuru deployed in response to Obama, it is difficult to see how he could condemn Nazism given its popularity then. If one were to rely simply on what is prevalent in a society, one would be on shaky ground indeed. The solution then – especially for those who claim to be followers of Christ – is to frame our responses in moral categories. It is never good enough to depend on the populace when justifying a viewpoint, action or policy. As a former dean of St Paul’s Cathedral in London once put it: Whoever marries the spirit of the age will find himself a widower in the next. To avoid such a fate, our call as Christians is to state clearly when called upon why certain actions are wrong (e.g. homosexuality, adultery and polygamy to name but a few) and to do so by referring to the God of Holy Scripture who has kindly revealed clearly His good and perfect will for humanity. I therefore find myself in the unusual position of agreeing with the Deputy President – William Ruto when he described Homosexuality as dirty and as being against the plan of God. Or as Jehovah the LORD succinctly puts it: thou shall not lie with mankind as with womankind: it is an abomination. Indeed.
[i] Wanainchi is Swahili for the locals