Sunday, March 02, 2014

Dear President Museveni - A sermon for Transfiguration Sunday

March 02, 2014
Rev. Wessel Bentley
The Glen Methodist Church

Transfiguration Sunday
Exodus 24:12–18

Psalm 99
2 Peter 1:16–21

Matthew 17:1–9


Dear President Museveni
Sir, I have never directed a sermon to an individual before. With prayerful
consideration, I believe that I need to address you, because the pen was in your hand
when the much discussed bill on homosexuality was signed into Ugandan law. This
message is for you and the leadership of Uganda. This message is also for leaders of
State on our beautiful continent, and elsewhere, who have shown contempt for justice
and who have failed in being compassionate and understanding towards their citizens,
especially the socially marginalised. The words I share with you today are not from my
own will or interpretation, but I address you in the name of our Lord. As with all
prophetic proclamations, this is also a message for the rest of us.

Mr President, it is immensely confusing to consider how it is possible that in a country
where 84% of the population, if not more, profess to be Christian, a law can be passed
which states that homosexual people can be jailed (for life) because of their sexual
orientation and practice. Did we hear you wrong? …

Let me state from the outset: the issue raised in this letter is not on the question
whether homosexuality is right or wrong. Whether one agrees or disagrees with
homosexuality, is beside the point. People from around the globe, holding diverse
views on homosexuality are united in stating that there is something glaringly wrong
with a law coming into place where people are persecuted and imprisoned for who
they are. This is especially troubling when it emerges in a nation where Jesus is
professed to be Lord.

To be fair, Sir, please tell me about your Jesus – the one whom Christians call Lord first
and foremost over and above the powers of the State. Surely he must have had an
input in your convicted support of the newly instituted law. I sincerely want to know
who this lord is whom you worship. Perhaps if I and others get to know him, we will
have a better understanding of the perspective that you hold. Does this Jesus approve
of what you have done? Can the church shout “Amen” when it hears of the new social
changes that will come into effect in your country? Who is your Jesus? I do not know
him if he smiles when the act is read.

Mr President, although your lord and my Lord seem to share a name, it truly seems as
if they are different altogether. Is the Jesus of this law the same Jesus who offered a
preferential option for the poor and oppressed? Is he the same Jesus who called the working class, not the social elite to be his most devout followers? Are we talking
about the same Jesus who spoke to women, even prostitutes, an act which was in
itself considered to be a social taboo at the time? Is it the Jesus who once said
something to the effect of “Love your neighbour as you love yourself” – by the way
with no hidden clauses, and I’m sure that when he spoke these words, he meant “Love
your homosexual neighbour” too? Who is your Jesus?

Let me venture to say that I think I understand where this law comes from, even
though it raises innumerable questions in my mind. You see, I think you are being
sincere in your faith and I assume that you think that you did a godly thing by setting
the scene for homosexual people to be removed from society – let’s state it as it is: to
be locked away. What I think has taken place is the following: Human history tells us
that we are no different from the likes of Peter, James and John, the disciples who
were invited to witness the great transfiguration of our Lord. Can you imagine
witnessing such a spectacular sight? It must have been life-changing for them. We have
similar experiences. It is the moment of sobriety when we come face to face with the
reality of God and our most intimate need to deny ourselves and acknowledge that
God is God. For Christians, it is called “salvation”, “being born again” or “to be
saved”. I am sure that you too can testify to that moment when one stands in this
awesome (and I mean this word to the full), presence of God. There is absolutely
nothing like it. With eyes fixed on who God is, no other challenge in this world dares
profess to be greater than the one who simply is. Do you remember that moment?

But then a strange thing happens. We read in the account of the transfiguration that
Peter wants to build houses – One for Moses (the Law), one for Elijah (the Prophet) and
one for Jesus (the one who is and who shows God to us). He wants to institutionalise
his experience and understanding of God. He wants others to be drawn to this place,
this moment, to this understanding so that they can believe in the same way he
believes, to witness the vision that opened his eyes to the lordship of Christ. He wants
to capture the moment and present this snapshot of God’s self-revelation to all who
are willing to take a look. Capturing the moment… with sincerity, he wants to capture
God; this is an ambitious and impossible task. For him, this moment captured is what
it means to be touched by God.

Unfortunately our human tendency in conviction, even religion, works in a similar
fashion. We experience God and we want to build huts, monuments where we can
return to from time to time to remember the thrill and the sense when we stood in
the presence of truth. By doing so, we mistakenly universalise that experience and
understanding and impose it on others as if it were a static moment, a fundamental
truth that cannot change. And with it, we drag what we believe to be the will of God,
what we think to be the standards and norms which God requires and we profess it as
if we are the mouthpieces of God. So, it comes as no surprise that many Christians will
make statements like “God hates fags” with utmost certainty and conviction. I wonder if God will own this statement in His name?

I am a bit hesitant to be so certain, after all, the law teaches that we should not use the Name of the Lord our God in vain. We build houses. We call these houses by different names. We call it
church. We call it truth. We call it divine will. We may call it culture. We may call it
heritage. We may call it science. We may call it the natural order of things. We may
call it biblical truth. Here in South Africa, we called it Apartheid. We build these
houses out of hospitality, firmly convicted that it is the worshipful thing to do. But
instead of inviting Jesus as a guest, our motive is to imprison Jesus in our ideas of
what is right, what is wrong, what is truth and what is a lie. With the laying of that
first brick, we cease worshipping God and we convert to worshipping our religion. Such
religion becomes the basis on which we justify our prejudices, our moralisms, the way
in which we think the world should operate. We build houses in which Jesus will not
live.

Sir, when this law comes into effect in a nation which professes Him as Lord, when this
house is built, somehow the magical moment of the surreal passes and the Jesus of
the Bible says: “Let’s get out of here. He says: “Don’t tell the others”; as if to say
“Don’t hold on to this moment, this experience as if it is the full revelation of God’s
truth. It is not. Yes, God will speak, but God meets us where we are and will speak in
ways and languages that we understand. But it is always in the language of love, not
imprisonment. God speaks in tones of freedom, not captivity, redemption, not
condemnation. Mr President, when through the law it is said: “Imprison and condemn
homosexual people for it is sin, Jesus says: “He that is without sin among you, let
him first cast a stone ”. When the minister for Ethics and Integrity says that it is
natural for a man to rape a girl-child, or wait, even to go further to state “it is more
natural for a man to rape a girl than to be homosexual”, “this is an acceptable form of
rape”, then hear the words of Jesus: “If anyone causes one of these little ones – those
who believe in me – to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone
hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.” There is no
acceptable rape, sir. There is nothing natural in a man forcing himself onto a girl, yet
it seems that this law turns a blind eye to this violence that poisons the human race.

As a Christian, sir, we ask you and those in power to repent. Repent with us.

This week is significant for us as Christians. This week we embark on the journey of
Lent; it is the Christian tradition where we symbolically turn from self and turn to God
by giving something up which dictates our sense of self and being. Some people give
up coffee, others give up chocolate. These forms of sacrifice are easy. With you,
President Museveni, and the leadership of Uganda let us consider this Lent
surrendering our prejudice. Let us give up fear of people who are different from us.
Afterall, homophobia refers to exactly that: Phobos is fear. Let us cast off our own
shackles and the shackles we wish to imprison others, for these shackles will bring
nothing but despair, violence and death. Jesus never wants this for his creation. Instead, He wants us to experience joy, hope, and most of all, love. Perhaps when we surrender our fear of homosexual people, we will note that this fear is not based on
Scripture, neither does it come from the mouth of the Lord whom we worship; it is a
fear which stems from ignorance, insecurity, bigotry and a moralism which our Lord
never owned.

Our prayer for you and the people of Uganda, Nigeria, Swaziland, Lesotho, the people
from the African continent, and even here in South Africa is that God’s peace and love
will reign.

In Jesus' Name.

3 comments:

Brigitte Elliott said...

This has to be the absolute best letter I have ever read! Thank you for giving me the opportunity to share such love and wisdom.

Wessel Bentley said...

Thanks Brigitte! We keep praying for the people of Uganda, Nigeria and other nations where homophobia is rife.

digitaldion (Dion Forster) said...

Hi Wes,

What a thoughtful, gracious, yet clear and prophetic message that was. Thank you. I was deeply inspired and challenged.

With grace and peace,

Dion