Pro-LGBT Ugandan Bishop Issues Open Letter to Anglican Communion

Jim Burroway

February 9th, 2011

Front cover of the Oct 2, 2010 edition of Rolling Stone, featuring a photo of David Kato (left) and Bishop Christopher Senyonjo (right). (Click to enlarge.)

Retired bishop Christopher Senyonjo was the second person (along with murdered LGBT advocate David Kato) whose photograph was featured on the front page of the Ugandan tabloid Rolling Stone (no relation to the U.S. publication by the same name) under the headline tagged with “Hang Them!”

Following Kato’s murder, Bishop Senyonjo was among the mourners who attended David’s funeral, which was marred by the homophobic rantings of an Anglican priest. According to a statement sent by Rev. Canon Albert Ogle of the St. Paul Foundation for International Reconciliation, Bishop Christopher “walked with the mourners, said the blessing and comforted the community at the graveside.”

Today, the bishop has issued his first public statement on Kato’s murder, in the form of an open letter to Archbishop Rowan Williams, head of the worldwide Anglican Communion, and to the bishops of the communion. In the letter, Bishop Senyonjo calls on the Anglican Church to be more aggressive in the protection of human rights, particularly in Africa where the church has expressed support for certain aspects of that draconian Anti-Homosexuality Bill. Bishop Senyonjo wrote:

If Anglicans in one country dehumanize, persecute and imprison minorities, we must be true to the Gospel and challenge such assaults on basic human rights. The key to our ministry must be to educate our people and encourage LGBT people to tell their stories and the impact of homophobia in their lives. Listening to the stories of LGBT people was the beginning of my own transformation.

Bishop Senyonjo retired ten years ago, and opened a counseling center in Kampala where he began to encounter LGBT people who went to him for help. Working with those clients led him to become an advocate for the LGBT community, a move that brought with it serious consequences for the bishop and his family. The bishop received several death threats, and he had to leave the country in 2001 for six months for his own safety. But after considering whether he should apply for political asylum in the United States, Bishop Senyonjo decided that his work was needed in Uganda. And that has become the basis of his ministry since then. As the bishop wrote in today’s letter:

Many African countries imprison LGBT people because of who they are. As a bishop in the midst of those countries, I am now a shepherd caring for the lost sheep that are persecuted by the Church and threatened by a pending anti-homosexual draconian bill in Uganda. I preach the new covenant of Jesus Christ sealed in love as we read in John 15:12. This is the heart of the Gospel-the Good News. This sacrifice of Love is mocked when sister churches tolerate or promote the violation of basic human rights. Life and liberty are at risk and we must hold each other accountable. A loving Anglican Communion should not keep quiet when the Rolling Stone tabloid in Uganda openly supports the “hanging of the homos,” including a fellow bishop who pleads for their inclusion and non-discrimination! Silence has the power to kill. We have witnessed its destruction this past week in the tragic and cruel murder of David Kato.

L-R: Rev. Canon Albert Ogle, Bishop Christopher Senyonjo, Jim Burroway

Last year, I had the pleasure of meeting with the bishop and speaking with him when he was on tour in Southern California. You can read about that here, here and here. He and others in Uganda are trying to raise funds for safe houses and attorneys. Donations can be made via the U.S.-based St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which is working closely with Bishop Christopher’s St. Paul’s Centre for Equality and Reconciliation.

The following is the full text of the letter from Bishop Senyonjo to Archbishop Rowan Williams and the Anglican Communion.

Dear Archbishop Rowan Williams, Primates and fellow bishops, clergy and people of our diverse Anglican Communion.

Peace from God: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. I give thanks on behalf of the family and friends of David Kato for your love and prayers at this difficult time. All over the world, human beings are longing for liberation, love, respect and the dignity to have meaningful lives. This week alone, we witnessed it in Egypt .We also see this longing in the struggle for human rights for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender people (LGBT) through the sacrificial life and death of David Kato. As human beings, we must respect our differences and be united in our call for listening and sharing with each other. To understand God, we are all called to understand the mystery of each other, including our sexualities. God has given us this gift and to defame, condemn, imprison and kill human beings because of their God-given nature, is a great human error. The church has a tragic history of condemning Jews, Moslems, scientists and LGBT people. Our teaching and theology has a causal effect and if we do not learn from our own historical mistakes, we will repeat the same sinful destruction of lives, families and communities.

When European churches failed to protect minority communities during World War II, people were sent to the gas chambers and concentration camps. Many religious people in Europe emerged from that experience to help create the Declaration of Human Rights. We now have sixty years of building an internationally recognised framework for the protection of human rights in every country. If Anglicans in one country dehumanize, persecute and imprison minorities, we must be true to the Gospel and challenge such assaults on basic human rights. They key to our ministry must be to educate our people and encourage LGBT people to tell their stories and the impact of homophobia in their lives. Listening to the stories of LGBT people was the beginning of my own transformation. This work of understanding the phenomenon of human sexuality should be taken seriously in our theological seminaries and schools. The clergy should be well equipped to serve and not to ignorantly repel the people of God. A required course in Human Sexuality should be required of all seminarians and clergy.

Many African countries imprison LGBT people because of who they are. As a bishop in the midst of those countries, I am now a shepherd caring for the lost sheep that are persecuted by the Church and threatened by a pending anti-homosexual draconian bill in Uganda. I preach the new covenant of Jesus Christ sealed in love as we read in John 15:12. This is the heart of the Gospel-the Good News. This sacrifice of Love is mocked when sister churches tolerate or promote the violation of basic human rights. Life and liberty are at risk and we must hold each other accountable. A loving Anglican Communion should not keep quiet when the Rolling Stone tabloid in Uganda openly supports the “hanging of the homos,” including a fellow bishop who pleads for their inclusion and non-discrimination! Silence has the power to kill. We have witnessed its destruction this past week in the tragic and cruel murder of David Kato.

We African Anglicans have a rich and powerful history of speaking out on human rights in the most difficult of situations. Bishop Colenso worked with Zulus to establish an indigenous church while being fought by his fellow English bishops. Bishops Trevor Huddleston, John Taylor and Desmond Tutu resisted Apartheid. We must not demean our great tradition by oppressing LGBT minorities under any circumstances, even to maintain Anglican unanimity. The criminalization of homosexuality remains the greatest state and church sanctioned violence perpetrated against LGBT people and their allies in many countries. We must agree to demolish all forms of institutional homophobia beginning with the removal of all laws that punish human beings for being gay or living in loving relationships. This will be the first step in providing basic human rights to a largely invisible international community who live in daily fear of their lives.

So in thanksgiving for the unity and commitment we have together, let us continue to listen to one another, to protect the vulnerable and marginalized within our own societies and to bring our collective wisdom to the work of repairing the world and correcting the great injustices in our local communities.

+Christopher
Rt. Rev. Christopher Senyonjo

Further information on the work of the St. Paul’s Centre and Bishop Christopher may be obtained from Rev. Canon Albert Ogle at aogle@stpaulsfoundation.com

Mark Cross

February 10th, 2011

Truly a man of God. Jesus taught, “By this shall men know ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another,” and “…but I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you”. I’m so inspired. May his ministry be blessed, and Africa’s heart be transformed. My own heart has undergone a profound transformation in the 21 years since my Mormon mission ended. As Bishop Senyojo [sp] says, the transformation starts with listening. “Blessed are the peacemakers”…I’m inspired to live my life with renewed courage, thanks to this man’s unbounded love which conquers all fear.

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