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Ten miles from a Ugandan blood-stained home, 300 friends, fellow activists from the LGBT community, his mourning mother and family joined foreign dignitaries and embassy staff to pay their respects to David Kato.
Since Kato was an Anglican, the local parish church of Nagojje was responsible for his funeral rites to be read from the Book of Common Prayer. Although tributes have been pouring into the Kato family from President Barack Obama and other international leaders, the Church of Uganda sent no priest, no bishop, but a Lay Reader to conduct the service.
Bishop Christopher Senyonjo arrived in his purple cassock accompanied by his wife Mary and let the master of ceremonies know he would like to say a few words at some point in the service. He was going to read a message from Frank Mughisu of Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) where David worked tirelessly since 2004.
As an excommunicated bishop of the Church of Uganda, Christopher has no standing in the official hierarchy of the church. The Lay Reader began to make inappropriate remarks condemning homosexuality quite graphically and stating the Church of Uganda’s position that homosexuality was a sin and against the Bible.
The crowd began to cheer him on and the bishop described the event as turning into an anti-gay rally. The bishop was never called upon to speak. He felt for the LGBT community having to suffer yet another public humiliation.
This kind of rabble rousing and hatred has been the daily diet for LGBT people in Uganda, causing a media frenzy from pulpits and scandalous tabloid like Uganda’s Rolling Stone that likely caused this senseless murder. Even in such a brutal death, the Church was at it again.
The anger and frustration of the LGBT community and its straight allies finally erupted when a young lesbian who worked with David at SMUG called Kasha seized the mic and the Lay Reader’s diatribe against LGBT people was finally replaced by the voices of those whom David fought and died for.
This moment will be remembered as a kind of “Stonewall” when the community said to the oppressors – Enough! Stop the lies!
The Church of Uganda, a member of the Anglican family of churches to which I belong, took a pastoral opportunity for healing and reconciliation with family members and LGBT people and allies and turned the event into an anti-gay political rally. Following this horrific incident with the Lay Reader who condemned the LGBT community, Bishop Christopher, as a bishop of the church and wearing his purple cassock, walked behind the coffin carried by David’s friends and family to the graveside. There, although he was disinvited by the Church to speak at the funeral, he found a way to bring words of comfort to the mourners and said the final blessing over David’s battered remains.
In this one sad occasion, we can see there are two churches in Uganda and indeed elsewhere. The bishop was horrified by what he witnessed from his fellow Christians. Yet, it was good that Christopher was there. He told me he was honored to be there and though was not welcomed to speak to the whole assembly, had the final word of love and peace for David. May he rest in peace.
As we look back on this event, it will be a kind of “Stonewall” for the Ugandan community. The bishop was moved by Kasha’s courage as she stepped forward and stopped the hurtful diatribe. She seized the mic. What can we in the West learn from this event? We have been timid in the USA and in Europe to confront the lies and extremism of the Religious Right. We have tolerated their damage to us too long. Opting out of the Church and organized religion as many LGBT people have done, does not mean their toxicity goes way. If we are not there to defend ourselves and proclaim who we really are, then their lies and misinformation will continue.
The absence of the alternative religious voices of inclusion in Uganda is a case in point. This is what happens when liberal Christianity pulls out and leaves bishops like Christopher and the million-member flock he serves to the wolves of rampant homophobia in a Christian disguise.
Inclusive faith voices are in Uganda and we need to support them with funding, money and moral support. We are part of a same global movement for liberation and reconciliation. There is a lot of work to do. Every equality organization in this country needs to step to the plate and join our voices with the voices of LGBT people everywhere. President Obama’s message denouncing David’s killing this week also informed us of five LGBT people killed in Honduras. Did we even know? Do we care?
What can we learn from this historic moment in the USA and Europe? Kasha’s action is one effective way the Christian Right needs to be confronted, pulpit by pulpit, platform by platform, column by column. We need to do this for ourselves and for our voiceless ones in places where we are killed by mob violence or state sanctioned murder, just because of how God has created us. The church is not the enemy as Christopher’s presence and blessing confirms. The church’s rites were fulfilled and the community was comforted, in spite of the inappropriate behavior of the other Church. Which Church are we going to support in this struggle for truth and reality? The community rose up and the gospel of love and healing prevailed. We need to do the same here in the USA when we hear these kinds of lies and misinformation. Take the mic if you have to, stand up on the platform, proclaim your truth!
As the Anglican Primates gather in Dublin, Ireland, the question they must ask themselves and ponder this weekend is what kind of Anglicanism are we really representing? What are we proud of from David Kato’s life and the rites our church provided over his dead body? And what are we ashamed of?
The Rev. Canon Albert Ogle is President of St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation and lives in San Diego. Donations for the work of Bishop Christopher can be made by clicking HERE.