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A Ugandan perspective

‘Reformed Pentecostal’ Pastor reflects on the CRC’s Human Sexuality Report.

Sytsma: As difficult as it is to discuss homosexuality today, I appreciate how Christians with different perspectives all emphasize the importance of listening. Most importantly we listen to those who experience same-sex attraction themselves. But I am sensing a new desire among North American churches to listen to Christians around the world.

Emmanuel, please tell us a little bit about yourself.

Magambo: I am Emmanuel Magambo, and I have been married to Mable for 20 years. Together we have four children. I am an ordained pastor in Pentecostal Assemblies of God Uganda and I have served in local churches as well as in regional positions. PAG Uganda as a denomination has around 6000 churches.

My coming to know about the Christian Reformed Church in North America (CRCNA) dates back to 2006 when we first made contact with World Renew (then it was CRWRC). In my keenness for ministry learning I began to follow the history, polity and ministry of CRCNA. I have no regrets. I have learnt a lot and I think I can now say I am a Reformed Pentecostal!

a group of people sitting in blue plastic chairs
Pastor Magambo’s church.

What do you appreciate about the CRC’s approach to discussing this topic of homosexuality, and what are you concerned about?

I appreciate the historical faithfulness to the Scriptures even in the face of a controversial disagreement about homosexuality, and the keenness to keep the unity of the Body of Christ. I have observed that the debate on this issue has been raging on with increased intensity and sensitivity since 1973. As I have looked at the ongoing positional papers, overtures and study committee reports, I can really discern the Spirit of the Word and the bond of fellowship. The CRC has an objective way of looking at issues and commits to careful study.

In contrast, our church culture here easily approaches issues more subjectively or legalistically. I think we in the Pentecostal traditional have many times been hasty in turning our opinions into God’s revelation. We easily hear a “voice” or a conviction and quickly run in a new direction without discerning the teaching of the Word of God. You see the problem with a “voice” (this is a common expression in Uganda; some will humbly refer to it as the inner voice) – it can usually be dictated by one’s feelings and wishes. This has sometimes caused us to make grave mistakes which has resulted in severed fellowship. But the careful study of Scripture that I have observed in the CRC is that the Word and Spirit should always be in agreement. This is a lesson for us in the Pentecostal tradition and other charismatic groups to learn.

The other thing I appreciate so much about the CRC is their pastoral approach to the issue of same sex attraction. They are sensitive to the body of Christ and there is a concern to understand and listen to all people. I think some of my fellow pastors in PAG have been more judgmental than analytical. Church life and ministry in Uganda need to be brought to this level.

On the other hand, the process of discernment I have come to appreciate so much in the CRC is not without loopholes. I am concerned that sometimes secular thinking, call it popular culture, has slowly but steadily percolated into the Church’s thinking about the issue of homosexuality. This popular culture has found its way into the church through colleges, universities and seminaries. Seriously speaking I believe that the debating of same sex attractions and unions since 1973 has not just been a theological and ecclesiastical debate but a strong pull and push between the Church and popular culture.

Tell us how homosexuality is viewed in Uganda.

In Uganda, homosexuality is viewed as unnatural and a deviation from God’s order of creation. It is difficult for us to understand that a person could be born with same sex attraction and most Ugandans reject this idea. This is why we had a bill criminalizing homosexuality about 10 years ago and it had widespread support from the populace and the churches in particular.

This fits with my own view generally but I am also conscious that our people’s views are usually founded on sentiments and subjective feelings rather than being driven by divine love and biblical facts.

Among Christians in Uganda, is there any diversity of opinion?

a pastor preaching with a choir behind him
Magambo’s church.

The Pentecostal Assemblies of God sees homosexuality as one of the immoral and ungodly acts that the Church needs to preach against and discourage. Generally there is agreement across Christian denominations.

But diversity of opinion is observable among the young and educated class. What precipitates their views seems to be indifference towards the Christian faith and the pull towards this debate from the West. With Western influence, it is like what goes around in the USA, it is just a matter of time that it comes around to Uganda through education, politics, media and the like.

The Church’s response to this diversity is predominantly passionate speech against homosexuality, which American people would definitely find offensive. But positively the new views on homosexuality have created a deeper reflection on the subject.

If North American churches changed their policies to affirm committed monogamous same-sex marriages, how would this affect their relationships with churches in Uganda?

This is sad and regrettable, but if the North American churches changed their policies to affirm same-sex marriages, then the churches in Uganda will have to discontinue their official working relationships with them. I would find it difficult to view these churches as true Christian churches. I would see them as sincere people, but people who have chosen to compromise fully with the world.

What final encouragement would you like to give to North American churches as they continue to pray and think about this?

I encourage our North American brothers and sisters to keep on discerning the leading of the Spirit without compromising the Word. May God help you to obey the Word of God as led by the Holy Spirit. I have learnt a lot from the North American zeal for pastoral care and guidance. Remember that our love and care for people should be in the context of the one true Gospel of God who truly loves and cares for his people.

  • Anthony is a missionary with Resonate Global Mission. He lives in Soroti, Uganda.

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12 Comments

  1. Pastor Magambo has clearly and faithfully represented the hearts of majority here and we thank God for our brother.

  2. I would to appreciate pastor Magambo for being a voice of a crowd in Uganda. Its better to walk alone but in a right direction than run with a crowd ending into corruption. Without being led by the spirit God, with this emerging spiritual fog God’s people are liable to a spiritual accident. As a matter of the fact, faith based apologetics ought to be given a priority especially for church leaders in Uganda and Africa at large. And we must embrace learning and application of spiritual issues in God’s way.
    As pastor explained, church leaders who have gaps in formal Education find it difficult taking such debates in good faith but want to be dictatorial even on issues where they lack information, and this has created a spiritual gap with the young elite generation who are more exposed to information than their leaders leading to unrightful judgement upon them hence causing unnecessary divisions in churches today.
    May the spirit of God keep at work within us.

  3. The Ugandan perspective on the report is not only biblical based but also strongly an cultural opinion ,I like to hear the other side to .
    I have many questions about the report and have different opinions on many statements .
    I am afraid that this synod report cause many fractions in the CRC .

    1. Your fear is very true. And that is why we really need to keep all stakeholders in prayer for the Lord’s leading. Not forgetting to thank God for the spirit of discernment at work and a strong desire for pastoral care.

  4. Traditional views about human sexuality are also heavily influenced by secular, cultural forces. Church history shows how patriarchy, for example, was an accommodation by the church to its surroundings more than the practice of Jesus himself. It is less than accurate and unhelpful to assume traditional views are counter-cultural while newer views are only the influence of secular forces. Emerging views also grow from reflection within the body of followers who desire to be more faithful to the Jesus way. Discerning what is more consistent with Jesus’s mission and teaching should not be based on labelling one as more “pure” from cultural influence.

    1. It is true that views about human sexuality are heavily influenced by secular and cultural forces. And I would submit that in our prayers for discernment we recognize where both traditional and secular views are tending towards weakening our cutting edge as Christians. As we accommodate newer views (or even traditional views) is there no limit set by the authority of God’s word? What is relative so that we can bend it towards the prevailing pastoral needs? These are tough questions that we face most of the times. There are may be no quick easy answers but I trust as we passionately seek His will through prayer, study and healthy conversations, the Lord of the church will sovereignly guide.

  5. Thanks, Christian Courier, and Rev. Magambo and Rev. Sytsma, for this article highlighting one voice of the global church about human sexuality. As Peter Schuurman writes in a paired article in this same issue of CC, we do need to listen. And listen widely.

    I do wonder a few things. Others have suggested that such a strong position against homosexuality in Uganda is JUST AS influenced by Western influence AS the progressive view challenged above. How can we expand this conversation about Christian theology of human sexuality in Uganda to include some of those other voices? One of those voices is that of Kapya Kaoma. He wrote a 68 page research paper on the influence of Western conservative evangelicals bringing a ‘gospel of intolerance’ to Uganda (https://politicalresearch.org/sites/default/files/2018-10/Colonizing-African-Values.pdf?fbclid=IwAR2K1QSlm90shfiwZHjfGtnmrX72901m5f508n4X-ToNmXE8wXe6-oS8Z0A). His work was highlighted in a film (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qcM6GI0TUMQ ).

    What does it look like for us to hear both of these voices – and maybe even hear them in a healthy, honest and open conversation together?

    For me, there are many questions raised as we try to listen to the global church well. I was quite unsatisfied with the over-simplified summary of the ‘global church’ voice as found in the Human Sexuality report (“The global church finds the Western church’s challenges to biblical teaching on human sexuality incomprehensible and offensive.”, HSR 148). I’ve tried to wonder about how we could listen better and some of the complex dynamics at play in a communication I wrote and my church sent to Synod 2021 (https://www.crcna.org/sites/default/files/2021_agenda_shaded.pdf#page=493).

    Christian Courier – I know you have the gifts to deepen and widen this conversation. I look forward to how you will equip us to listen further and listen well.

    1. Thank you Paul for the challenging but very kind comment. This is the kind of good discussion that we need. Emmanuel and I were going to get into some of the issues about homosexuality in Uganda, the politics, the bills, etc, but we were not able to due to the shortness of the article. I watched the video you shared. There was also a documentary some years ago called “God Loves Uganda” arguing the same points. Maybe it was made by the same people. I agree with you very much that it is important to hear those voices as well.

      Both your video and the documentary highlight the very violent and disturbing rhetoric by some Ugandans against LGBT people. And they show that a couple American churches (how many really?) are supporting financially some of the preachers who have this dangerous rhetoric. It’s important that this gets pointed out. Many Americans might not be aware that some people are being supported who actually want homosexuals to be killed. That is very disturbing.

      A quick aside – I won’t get into all the details, but the various bills on sexuality in Uganda have been misunderstood somewhat by the West. They certainly contain harsh legislation, but not to the degree that Western articles have made it out to be. For example, the death penalty was for homosexual rape, not for any homosexual offense. And it got annulled after being passed. Some good clarifying information here – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LGBT_rights_in_Uganda

      Where I have a problem with the documentaries is that my sense is that it’s more that American Christians are supporting those that they find to be already like-minded, rather than that the American Christians have influenced Ugandans to start to have these views. In the same way that LGBT rights groups are supporting like-minded organizations in Africa. It’s fairly natural that people would support those that agree with their agenda. Some few thoughts:

      1. There is a kind of paternalism or racism that I notice when Americans accuse missionaries of brainwashing the helpless Africans (I’m not at all accusing you of this). But sometimes it’s made out as if Africans are clueless and naïve and easily convinced by the white men to believe what they want them to believe. I find such an attitude very belittling concerning my intelligent Ugandan friends who are not so easily brainwashed by Americans. If we as Americans could brainwash Africans so easily, we would have gotten rid of African-time many years ago! That was a small joke.

      2. I have met so many missionaries in Uganda, and have never met one or heard of one (besides in these documentaries), who are hyping up this violence or even just intolerance against homosexuals. It has got to be so few people who are doing this. Rather, I hear missionaries encouraging love and care towards homosexuals.

      3. The feelings against homosexuality in Uganda are not new. In our discussions with Ugandan friends, we were informed that if someone in a village is found out to have committed homosexual acts, mob mentality could take over, as it does in cases of theft or other types of immorality, and that person could be put to death before the police can arrive. How often does this actually happen? We have no idea, maybe extremely rarely. I personally haven’t heard of it, though I’ve heard of it happening to thieves. But this is what we were told. It’s horrible, and I believe many or most Ugandan churches would argue strongly against this happening. Even my Pentecostal pastor friend the other day was arguing for welcoming homosexuals into their churches even though he still views homosexual sex to be a sin. But my point is that these are not “new” ideas implanted by American missionaries.

      4. To further support my last statement, if you know the history of Uganda, you know that possibly the most important heroes in their history were young boy martyrs in the 1800’s. Read about them here – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uganda_Martyrs Every year thousands and thousands of people come to Kampala to remember the martyrs. They are celebrated by Catholics and Anglicans especially, the two biggest church groups in Uganda still today. Why were they martyred? Because as Christians they refused the requests of the king to have homosexual sex with them. For the past 100 years these martyrs have been celebrated for resisting homosexuality. The idea that homosexuality should be resisted is not some new thing promoted by American evangelicals.

      Homosexuality remains a hot topic in Uganda. For my part, I hope that there will be more governmental protections of gay people, and I hope that pastors like Magambo influence other Ugandan Christians, so that they continue to follow God’s Word in viewing homosexual sex to be a sin but that they also advocate for love and pastoral care for gay people.

  6. Thank you very much for the comments on this article. Anthony and I are very grateful. I realize to some extent that the article has brought back the picture that Uganda is terrible intolerant to homosexuals people, especially as it came out in the bill referred to. Let me explain that I do not want gay people to be mistreated. Not at all! And most Christians in Uganda would agree with me. My point of agreement is on the immoral aspect of homosexuality and that it is not good to have it promoted in Ugandan society.

  7. Emmanuel and Anthony,
    Thanks for the caring and articulate responses. Both of you have helped me hear a bit more about what you see in the part of Christ’s body that gathers in Uganda.

    It is notable that a significant part of Ugandan Christian history remembers the martyrs you mentioned and celebrates their faithfulness of resisting forced homosexual sex with the king. Only knowing that story a bit (by way of the article you posted), it actually seems similar to some of the Biblical stories. For instance, in the story of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19), we might ask if the judgement of God on Sodom is a result of their homosexual desires or their misuse of power in a gang-rape style act (independent of whether it was same-sex or opposite-sex sex)? The CRCNA has historically held that question fairly openly (see 1973 report). In the same way, I see the act of the king of Uganda in forcing sex on the young as a ruthless abuse of power that needs to be resisted. Of course, I would see it the same even if it were girls and not boys. That is to say, I think both Christians with a traditional perspective on homosexuality AND those with an affirming perspective around gay marriage could remember these martyrs together – just like all those Christians may align on seeing Genesis 19 as an abuse of power in the form of gang rape and ruthless treatment of ‘the stranger.’

    I do note that both of you hold a traditional conviction around homosexual sex. I respect that – as I live with a healthy respect for the CRC’s traditional position. But what to me is the most painful statement in the interview is when Emmanuel says, with regard to affirming churches, that he would not ‘view these churches as true Christian churches,’ and unable to be in official fellowship with them.

    As members of the CRCNA, I wonder how you consider your commitment in the Covenant for Officebearers. One of the pieces I like the most about that Covenant is that, when sisters or brothers have theological disagreements, they are asked to present those disagreements ‘in a spirit of love and fellowship.’ But those who receive them, in a reciprocal way, are supposed to ‘receive them in a spirit of love and fellowship.’ This mutuality of ‘love and fellowship’ is the way in which, at least according to our covenant together, we will ‘seek a fuller understanding of the gospel.’ How do you two see the best way for this conversation to go forward, with careful and attentive listening to those who disagree with your conclusions/convictions, if those who disagree are automatically assumed to be outside of the fellowship of Christ?

    This is a concern I have about the HSR as a whole. It comes to its interpretive conclusions, but then says that any other conclusions make one a ‘false teacher’ (as one CRC pastor recently said to another CRC pastor). This stark language deeply challenges HOW we can live out our covenant together of treating one another with whom we disagree ‘in a spirit of love and fellowship.’ So again, how might you two welcome biblical and theological pushback on your position if, when someone pushes back biblically and theologically, they are immediately seen as outside of the fellowship of Christ?

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