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!
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?
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.
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