In the end, Mr. Bahati did not come to Washington for the National Prayer Breakfast. But surely he’s heard by now a few choice words from President Obama and Secretary Clinton, conveyed at that event. Both the President and Secretary Clinton spoke from the heart, and from the basis of their own faith. Clinton, who spoke first, noted that “…religion is used as a club…to discriminate, even advocating the execution of gays and lesbians” and then singled out Uganda’s draft law as an example. Obama echoed that “surely we can agree that it is unconscionable to target gays and lesbians for who they are – whether it’s here in the United States or, as Hillary mentioned, more extremely in odious laws that are being proposed most recently in Uganda.”
Those of us concerned about Uganda’s draft legislation often speak of it in human rights terms, as a violation of international norms. And that it surely is. But Obama and Clinton spoke movingly, from the perspective of faith. They made clear that laws like that of Bahati, laws that would marginalize or condemn a segment of society for who they happen to be, really are out of keeping with Christian faith, just as they trample the underlying precepts of civilization’s other great faiths.
And they made clear that extremism in the guise of religion is an evil that we should confront – whether it takes the form of violent terrorism, on one hand, or seeks to substitute man’s moral judgment for that of God, on the other.
A friend of mine commented breathlessly on the courage of the President and the Secretary to say what they did, before an assemblage harboring politicians who are on the record as opposing equality for gay, lesbian and transgender Americans. And the National Prayer Breakfast’s sponsor – the “Fellowship,” aka “the Family” – can hardly claim to be a friend of LGBT civil rights at home or abroad.
But faith itself requires courage – and the deeply personal perspectives offered by both Obama and Clinton gave their words all the more power.
All of us should hope that the audience, both in the hall and outside, will reflect on Obama’s reminder that “…progress comes when we open our hearts, when we extend our hands, when we recognize our common humanity. Progress comes when we look into the eyes of another and see the face of God.”
In Uganda, the lesson from what was said today should be to open hearts, and to block from passage Bahati’s hateful draft law that would force a part of God’s humanity in Uganda to seek shelter underground in order to survive.
Applied to our own country, the lesson is different. We need to bring faith and action into line with each other, and commit now to end the second-class treatment of America’s LGBT citizenry. Let’s hope that the prayer breakfast audience takes both messages to heart.
– Amb. (ret.) Michael Guest, Senior Advisor, The Council for Global Equality