The answer to that question is both nothing and everything.
This week the Ugandan Parliament passed and the President (Yoweri Museveni) signed legislation that criminalises homosexuality. And apropos to our times, the media has been all over this. Desmond Tutu, of course, has had much to say about it. And, typically, he got it wrong.
He warned the Ugandan President against what he called “legislating against love.” Tutu argued that, “The history of people is littered with attempts to legislate against love or marriage across class, caste and race. But there is no scientific basis or genetic rationale for love. . . . There is no scientific justification for prejudice and discrimination, ever. And nor is there any moral justification.” He concludes by comparing this law to “Hitler’s Nazi Germany and Apartheid South Africa.” Well, Archbishop, not so fast.
Mr Tutu would have us believe that sexual activity between consenting parties of the same sex should be classified as “love,” and therefore anyone who condemns such actions are immoral, discriminatory and prejudiced. But in this article I want to respond by asking and answering, “What’s love got to do with it?”
To begin, when it comes to homosexuality, love actually has nothing to do with it.
Now, I don’t doubt that those who choose a homosexual lifestyle have affection for each other. Nor do I doubt that homosexuals have a concern and a care for one another. But such “love” has nothing to do with true, biblical love. True love, as defined by God, has boundaries. There are God-prescribed boundaries for sexual love.
Man was created in the image of God and therefore love is an aspect of our being. But note that at creation God’s love for His creation was bounded by a law: “But of the tree . . . you shall not eat” (Genesis 2:17). Love always has boundaries. And because God is love, He has ordained boundaries for human sexuality.
God instituted marriage. He gave to His creation the gift of sex; and He bounded this gift within the fence of heterosexual marriage. Sexual intimacy is an expression of true love between a male and a female within the covenant of marriage. Any sexual activity outside of these boundaries may be many things, but it is not love. In fact, to break God’s law guarding the gift of sex is to defraud the other (1 Thessalonians 4:1-6). This applies not only to homosexual activity but equally to the sins of adultery and fornication.
I saw a billboard the other day celebrating that twenty million South Africans have been tested for HIV. And that’s good news? Only to a society that has jettisoned God’s definition of love. There would be no need for any testing if God’s laws of love were honoured.
I recently heard a news presenter say that we in Africa are trying to find our “moral compass.” But with the likes of Desmond Tutu calling good what God calls evil, it appears that our society’s compass is pointing due south rather than true north.
In his tirade against Uganda’s opposition to homosexuality, “Tutu argued that Uganda should step up criminal sanctions against child sexual abusers, rape, sexual violence and commercial sex, ‘regardless of gender or sexual orientation’.” He said that “tightening such areas of the law would surely provide children and families far more protection than criminalising acts of love between consenting adults.”
Well, of course, we would applaud such legislation, especially if it had some juridical teeth to it. But for the sake of argument, I wonder why Mr Tutu believes that these admittedly horrific acts are so bad? That is, on what moral basis? I would suppose that he would say that these terrible acts violate the will of God. And he would be correct. But the same God who condemns rape and child molestation also condemns homosexuality. In other words, God no more accepts rape as a demonstration of love than He does homosexual activity. Love, in neither case, has anything to do with it.
But it is equally important, when it comes to this Ugandan legislation, that love had better have everything to do with it. That is, such legislation outlawing homosexual activity should be predicated on love for God and love for one’s neighbour.
I respect that Mr. Museveni is willing to go against popular opinion and to face off with most the of the world’s leaders. When criticised, and economically threatened by the likes of Barak Obama and other world leaders, the president of Uganda replied that he was not going to allow the West to dictate how to live in Africa. If I can paraphrase, he will not allow the “abnormalities” of the West to determine the norms of Uganda. Good for him. The West, which has abandoned God in the wider pop and political culture, has little moral authority from which to speak.
But having said this, and while recognising that some aspects of this law are biblically justified, it is a concern that perhaps the motivation for this legislation is primarily cultural. In other words, it may be more pragmatic than principled. And that can lead to trouble, even to tyranny.
The West is wrong in accepting homosexuality as a norm but Africa is wrong to condemn it merely because it is not the norm. The issue is not the cultural norms of either the West or of Africa but rather the fundamental issue must be theological. Let me put it this way: Homosexual activity should be outlawed, not because it goes against the traditional social norms of Africa, nor primarily because of its contribution to the further destruction of society (which is indisputable); rather, it should be outlawed because it offends God and then because it harms our neighbour. And the same motivation would require that adultery also be criminalised.
My point is that the motivation for any such legislation must be rooted in love for God and love for neighbour. Love is to have everything to do with it. Apart from God-centred love such laws can be used by tyrants for political ends.
Though governments are duty-bound to look to God’s laws for the governance of their nation, at the same time they are to execute their governing responsibilities with biblical justice. And that requires the gospel. And love has everything to do with that. It is for this reason that, as Christians, we need to be careful about giving unreserved support for this kind of legislation. We must not be reactionary, one way or the other. These are not cut-and-dried matters. We must think and we must ask questions concerning both the motivation and the just application of such laws. Again, a major consideration is, what’s love got to do with it? Both nothing and everything.
The biblical vision is a just society that arises from the gospel. An evangelised nation, led by a government that desires to honour God, is one where laws will honour God and protect the nation. Love has everything to do with that.
Though I cautiously commend some aspects of this legislation, at the same time I am troubled by what seems to be an excessive overreach in some of its applications. One therefore would hope that those entrusted with its execution will approach their duty having pondered the important question, “What’s love got to do with it?”