Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby recently used the plight of LGBTQ people in Africa to justify delaying same-sex marriage in the Church of England after it became civil law. He felt that moving too quickly could endanger the lives of Christians in homophobic/transphobic parts of the Anglican Communion because “everything we say here goes round the world.” The Right Reverend V. Gene Robinson responded to the Archbishop’s statement by saying, “While we deeply grieve the deaths of Christians anywhere, we should also grieve and oppose the oppression, violence and deaths perpetrated on LGBT people around the world.” Robinson points out that “we cannot give in to the violent acts of bullies and must discern and then pursue God’s will for all of God’s children.”
Rev. Dr. Nancy Wilson, Moderator of the Metropolitan Community Churches asked, “Archbishop Welby, do our lives count? …Will you speak out for us?”
Today marks the two month anniversary of Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni’s signing of the Anti-Homosexuality Act on February 24, 2014. According to the act, even touching “another person with the intention of committing the act of homosexuality” carries the penalty of “imprisonment for life” if convicted, and conducting same-sex marriage ceremonies or promoting the the human rights of LGBTQ people carries penalties ranging from five to seven years in prison. A petition has been filed with the Constitutional Court of Uganda to stay the law which was passed “without a quorum” in parliament and in violation of Ugandans’ “right to equality before the law.”
After the passage of the Anti-Homosexuality Act, the Inter-Religious Council of Uganda (IRCU), an umbrella organization of the country’s major denominations, organized a march through the streets of Kampala titled, “National Thanksgiving Service Celebrating the Passing of the Anti-Homosexuality Act.” President Museveni, seeking to consolidate his position as the unchallenged leader of Uganda ahead of presidential elections in 2016, was the guest of honor.
Despite the Archbishop of Canterbury’s worry about generalized Christian persecution if the Church of England were to approve same-sex marriage, the real targets of hate are LGBTQ people themselves. The Ugandan tabloid Red Pepper published a list of the country’s “top 200 homosexuals” a day after the act was signed. Pepe Julian Onziema, one of the LGBTQ activists on the list, told Gay Star News that at least 17 people have attempted suicide over the law including Mikhail, a 17-year-old teenager with Muslim parents who took rat poison. “Onziema said his biggest fear now are the mob attacks, as homophobes will be able to use gays as a scapegoat for their violence.”
The Gender-Equality and Health Organization (GEHO), a community-based organization in Eastern Uganda, recently made an urgent appeal for travel funds for Dorcas Awena after police raided GEHO’s offices and publicly broadcast her name on six local radio stations. At the time of the appeal, she was in hiding and had avoided three attempts by the police to arrest her. At the end of 2013, GEHO’s director Andrew Waiswa was hospitalized after being arrested and beaten up during an interrogation by Uganda police.
Two Ugandan men, Kim Mukisa and Jackson Mukasa, go on trial in Uganda on May 7 and potentially face life imprisonment if found guilty. They are the first Ugandans to face trial on homosexuality charges under the Anti-Homosexuality Act and prosecutors believe they have enough evidence to convict the men.
NTV Uganda recently broadcast the arrests of two gay men suspected of violating the Anti-Homosexuality Act, Maurice Okello and Anthony Oluku.
These are the people that the Archbishop of Canterbury failed to count in his statement. Doing so he is walking a path of negative peace, which is the absence of tension, instead of a path of positive peace, which is the presence of justice. Those whose lives are at stake are people made in God’s image: Pepe, Mikhail, Dorcas, Andrew, Kim, Jackson, Maurice, and Anthony. The Right Reverend V. Gene Robinson rightly goes on to say, “The Archbishop should also know that you don’t resolve the anger and violence of bullies and hostage-takers by giving in to them. They will be emboldened in their tactics and will only demand more and more…Archbishop Welby would have done well to put the blame directly where it belongs—on the murderers themselves—instead of insinuating that indeed, Anglicans working for LGBT rights elsewhere ‘caused’ this atrocity.”
There are Christian allies in Africa who have surrendered their privilege in obedience to Christ in order to offer the balm of healing and protection to a community experiencing deep suffering. One such example is Anglican priest Rev. Christopher Senyonjo who is considered “an elder” among Uganda’s LGBTQ community. Pepe Julian Onziema has known Senyonjo for many years and says, “Our relationship is one of giving support to each other. The backlash that we receive is equally the same.” Senyonjo has taken “a very courageous and brave stand.”
Rev. Senyonjo has been shunned by the Church of Uganda who told the Christian Post recently that “as a church, we support Uganda’s national sovereignty and our right to self-determination in establishing this law, and will not bow to international pressure to change that part of our culture that aligns with our biblical convictions.” The church severed its relationship with The Episcopal Church in 2006, but continues in communion with the Church of England. As Senyonjo ministers among the LGBTQ community, he lives off “gifts” from his children and friends after his pension was terminated as punishment by the Church of Uganda. Rev. Senyonjo clearly demonstrates a Christian response that puts the Gospel ahead of political interests, and values LGBTQ people as created in God’s image.
Archbishop Welby, do our lives count? Will you speak out for us?
How You Can Help:
- Donate to the Safe Passage Fund to help LGBTQ activists like Dorcas Awena escape persecution.
- Think about how you or your faith community can get involved with the LGBT Faith & Asylum Network (LGBT-FAN) here in the U.S.
- Help to stop the export of homophobia/transphobia by Christian fundamentalists in the U.S. by screening the film God Loves Uganda in you church and community.