The Rt. Rev. Christopher Senyonjo, retired Anglican bishop of West Buganda issued his first public statement today on the recent murder of human rights advocate David Kato. The bishop worked with Kato through Integrity Uganda and the Civil Society Coalition (composed of 34 human rights organizations including the St. Paul’s Centre for Reconciliation and Equality, headed by the bishop). Both men were pictured on the front page of the controversial Ugandan tabloid “Rolling Stone” where the names and addresses of leading LGBT Ugandans and allies were exposed and called for their execution. Kato was one of the plaintiffs in the case that successfully brought a court injunction to stop the paper’s publication.
Bishop Christopher (79) retired ten years ago and opened a counseling center in Kampala where he began to offer pastoral care to marginalized people including the LGBT community and has been an advocate for decriminalization of homosexuality in Uganda and around the world. The bishop recently attended a UN consultation of faith communities gathered in New York where the call for decriminalization gained support from many faith leaders.
The bishop’s statement is an open letter to the Most Reverend Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury and fellow bishops of the 70 million strong Anglican Communion. The statement calls for the Anglican Church to be more aggressive in its protection of human rights, particularly in Africa where significant support for continued criminalization of homosexuality is coming from religious leaders. The Anglican Church of Uganda with its 10 million members has been supportive of the recent Bahati Bill which is proposing more harsh sentences and calls for family members to report on suspected LGBT people. The Church has made public statements where they are critical of applying internationally recognized human rights standards to the LGBT community in Uganda. The bishop joins other Anglican bishops including three bishops in New York who responded to the Kato murder with a similar call for greater religious advocacy in the face of anti-gay legislation and increasing violence.
The full text of the letter can be found here.
Soulforce Executive Director Rev. Dr. Cindi Love released this statement in response to Bishop Christopher Senyonjo’s letter:
“Few things are more vulgar or indecent than violent oppression masked as piety. The new fundamentalists, led by national Christian organizations like Focus on the Family and Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN), are a perfect example, as they proudly advocate for discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in the name of “moral values.”
They insist on the suppression of any alternative religious views, including those that identify as Christian but fail to take a sufficiently hard line against LGBT people and their rights. They adopt similarly aggressive stances against non-gender conforming individuals in the church. The major recruitment device of these new fundamentalists is through radio station ownership, which they exploit to disseminate their propaganda.. They vigorously defend “freedom of the airwaves” to the US Congress for the ostensible purpose of spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Once granted entrée, they use that pious programming as a Trojan horse for a homophobia that has deadly consequences. One recent chilling example is found in Uganda, where local media outlets reported, among other vicious slanders, that gay people were recruiting children for sex in public school classrooms. Uganda’s religious institutions did nothing to counter these lies, which cost the life of David Kato, a leading Ugandan gay activist who had dared to tell the truth.
It is time for those ministers and denominational leaders who want to rightly defend human rights and, indeed, the good name of Jesus, to speak up and call upon these homophobic organizations to repent. One courageous leader has begun in this open letter to the Anglican Communion on the place of human rights in communities of faith. His name is Rt. Rev. Christopher Senyonjo, Retired Bishop of West Buganda and Director of the St. Paul’s Centre for Equality and Reconciliation, Kampala. We owe Bishop Senyonjo a debt of gratitude for speaking out against the vicious homophobia that pervades Uganda’s churches, and we hope that people of faith will continue to heed his words.”