Passion for compassion
Ugandan bishop alerts Sacramentans about his homeland’s ‘kill the gays’ effort
Retired Bishop Christopher Senyonjo, who fought Bush administration and American religious-right efforts in Africa, was in Sacramento this past week to stand up for gays and lesbians in the face of mounting pressure by Uganda to pass a “kill the gays” bill.
Senyonjo, who spoke at three area churches, also visited the California Senate, where Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, sponsored a resolution condemning the pending Anti-Homosexuality Bill in his native country.
The bishop began his work with AIDS ministries and GLBT people in the Uganda more than a decade ago and has since become an international activist on behalf of decriminalizing homosexuality in the 76 nations where it remains illegal. He has faced persecution—including death threats—in his own country for work on behalf equal rights.
His colleague, the Rev. Albert Ogle, who’s accompanying Senyonjo on this U.S. tour and worked in AIDS relief in Uganda from 1991 to 1997, says the extreme homophobia in that country is the result of meddling by American churches.
He pointed out that the Church of Uganda originally was a “wonderful, evangelical church” that “wasn’t hate-filled.” Until it changed, first when American Anglicans, disaffected by the ordination of women and inclusion of gays, began to “convince these bishops in Uganda to oversee the [American] churches, [who] eventually broke away,” he said.
Next, the Bush administration, with its theological approach to public-health problems, got involved. According to Ogle, the nation’s AIDS prevention strategy—ABC, or “Abstinence, Be careful, use Condoms”—was dismantled under pressure from the American Christian right.
Today, right-wing Christian groups and “ex-gay” ministries have convinced some Ugandan government officials to outlaw homosexuality altogether. “Their philosophical underpinning is that if you make it difficult, really difficult, for gay people, that somehow they’ll get sense and give it up,” Ogle said.
But Senyonjo, who has studied human sexuality in addition to theology, doesn’t buy it.
At Sierra Arden Congregational Church this past Sunday morning, he compared the conflict to the Old Testament book of Exodus: the story of the infant Moses, who was set upon the river and later rescued by the pharaoh’s daughter.
“This is one of the babies of the Hebrews, who are the enemies of her father,” Senyonjo explained. “And her father has given orders to kill the babies of his enemies. But this princess, who recognizes this baby of the Hebrews, she has compassion.”
That’s where his talk stopped being a traditional sermon as Senyonjo detailed the harassment, abuse and persecution of GLBT individuals in Uganda.
Currently, the country’s “kill the gays” bill, which would mandate life imprisonment—and in some cases the death penalty—for homosexuality, has been rejected by Uganda’s cabinet. But Senyonjo expects that the next parliament will reintroduce it.
“I’ve been wondering how people could support something which causes death to people, which causes so much pain, which turns the father against his son, which turns the mother against her child,” he said. “We did not have this in Africa before.
“Will we be the ones who say, ‘No, no, no, you cannot love unless you are changed’?” he added.