"The potential law is unjust, extreme and un-Christian toward homosexuals," said Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., in an open letter to pastors of Uganda posted at rickwarren.com and in a video on youtube.com.
"We are all familiar with Edmund Burke's insight that, 'All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.' That is why I'm sharing my heart with you today," Warren said. "As an American pastor, it is not my role to interfere with the politics of other nations, but it IS my role to speak out on moral issues."
The Anti-Homosexuality Bill of 2009, introduced in October, would expand the punishment for homosexual behavior to include life imprisonment and in some cases the death penalty. Homosexuality already is illegal in Uganda, punishable by up to 14 years imprisonment. But under the proposed legislation, for example, practicing homosexuals who have HIV would receive the death penalty.
The bill also would require authority figures to report homosexuals within 24 hours of discovering their behavior, and if they fail to do so, such officials could be punished with up to three years in prison.
The proposed law would have "a chilling effect" on church ministries to hurting people because it would require pastors to report homosexuals to authorities, Warren said.
"As you know, in Africa, it is the churches that are bearing the primary burden of providing care for people infected with HIV/AIDS," Warren said. "If this bill passed, homosexuals who are HIV-positive will be reluctant to seek or receive care, comfort and compassion from our churches out of fear of being reported."
Warren noted that he and his wife Kay "have devoted our lives and our ministry to saving the lives of people, including homosexuals, who are HIV-positive."
But, he said, "The freedom to make moral choices and our right to free expression are gifts endowed by God." Uganda, he noted, "is a democratic country with a remarkable and wise people, and in a democracy everyone has a right to speak up. For these reasons, I urge you, the pastors of Uganda, to speak out against the proposed law."
In mid-November, Exodus International, a Christian ministry that seeks to assist homosexuals in overcoming unwanted same-sex attractions, sent a letter to Uganda's president, Yoweri Museveni, expressing concern over the proposed legislation.
"If homosexual behavior and knowledge of such behavior is criminalized and prosecuted, as proposed in this bill, church and ministry leaders will be unable to assist hurting men, women and youth who might otherwise seek help in addressing this personal issue," said the letter, which was signed by Alan Chambers, president of the Orlando-based organization; Randy Thomas, the group's executive vice president; Christopher Yuan, an adjunct professor at Moody Bible Institute; and Warren Throckmorton, a member of the Clinical Advisory Board of the American Association of Christian Counselors. "The Christian church cannot and should not condone homosexual living or gay-identified clergy within its leadership, but it must be permitted to extend the love and compassion of Christ to all. We believe that this legislation would make this mission a difficult if not impossible task to carry out."
The legislation has been endorsed by Ugandan pastor Martin Ssempa, who spoke during Saddleback Church's Global Summit on AIDS in 2005 and 2006 but was not invited to the 2007 summit after Warren learned Ssempa's "beliefs and actions were vastly different from ours," Warren said.
Warren also used the open letter to defend himself against critics who interpreted his previous silence on the proposed law as support for it.
Warren said he was communicating with the pastors in Uganda "to correct lies, errors, and false reports" that associated his name "with a law that I had nothing to do with, completely oppose, and vigorously condemn."
"As a pastor, I've found the most effective way to build consensus for social change is usually through direct quiet diplomacy and behind the scenes dialogue, rather than through media," Warren said. "But because I didn't rush to make a public statement, some erroneously concluded that I supported this terrible bill, and some even claimed I was a sponsor of the bill. You in Uganda know that is untrue. I am releasing this video to you and your congregations to correct these untruths and to urge you to make a positive difference at this critical point in your nation."
While churches must obey Christ's command to love all people, they also must be clear about biblical teaching on homosexuality, Warren added.
"While we can never deny or water down what God's Word clearly teaches about sexuality, at the same time the church must stand to protect the dignity of all individuals -- as Jesus did and commanded all of us to do," he said. "Let me be clear that God's Word states that all sex outside of marriage is not what God intends. Jesus reaffirmed what Moses wrote that marriage is intended to be between one man and one woman committed to each other for life. Jesus also taught us that the greatest commandment is to love our neighbors as ourselves. Since God created all, and Jesus suffered and died for all, then we are to treat all with respect. The Great Commandment has been the centerpiece of my life and ministry for over 35 years."
Mark Kelly is an assistant editor for Baptist Press.
Copyright (c) 2009 Southern Baptist Convention, Baptist Press www.BPNews.net