Sunday, January 30, 2011

Exclusive Video - Meet Ugandan Bishop Christopher Senyonjo, Fighting for LGBT Equality

Bishop Christopher Senyonjo
The Huffington Post said of Bishop Christopher when it named him to their list of Religion's 10 Most Influential people of 2010, "As Uganda considered a bill that would make homosexuality a capital offense, Ugandan Bishop Senyonio (sic) stood up for LGBT rights. As a result he has been the target of death threats and condemnations. The Bishop demonstrates what it means to have the courage of conviction, and faith enough to side with those whom Jesus called 'the least of these.'"

When Rolling Stone (the Ugandan "newspaper," not to be confused with the one published in the USA) printed their list of the 100 Top Homos with it's yellow "Hang Them" banner, the front page featured two photographs: prominent LGBT activist David Kato and Bishop Christopher.

Along with three others, Kato successfully sued to have Rolling Stone (whose editor told Reuters was "stone that is rolling to smoke out the homos"shut down.

Kato was brutally murdered last week, bludgeoned to death with a hammer in his home in what Ugandan authorities are calling a robbery. Unconfirmed rumors are circulating in Kampala that Kato's computer was left in his house, highly unlikely if the motive for the attack were robbery.

The Reverend Canon Albert Ogle, a San Diego-based gay Anglican priest,  reports on what happened at Kato's funeral: "As an excommunicated bishop of the Church of Uganda, Christopher has no standing in the official hierarchy of the church... 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."

Bishop Christopher was recently in the US, speaking in a number of cities to raise support for his St. Paul’s Centre for Equality and Reconciliation. Accompanied by Canon Ogle, the Bishop discussed the history of his involvement in the struggle for LGBT civil rights in Uganda, the AIDS epidemic in Africa, and, of course, the pending Bahati Bill and what the international community can do to help Uganda's LGBT citizens. 

This is the unedited video of his appearance here in New York City:

For those of you who may know of Bishop Christopher, but do not know much about him, some background information:

After 24 years of service to the Anglican Church, Bishop Christopher "retired" in 1998 but felt that he still had God's work to do. "I started a consultation and counseling services office. So there were many people coming to me. And among those who came were homosexuals."

Holding a doctorate from Hartford University in Connecticut, the Bishop's views on homosexuality were a little more progressive than many serving the Church in his country. "I suggested to them that they should accept themselves and keep their faith in God for he loved them."

The Ugandan Anglican Church was not as understanding. He has been barred from leading services and stripped of his pension. He has even been accused of being a pederast who is trying to "recruit" Uganda's youth into homosexuality because of his work with the young. (For the record, the Bishop is heterosexual, married, a father and a grandfather.) Still, he has not wavered in support of his flock. "I said, 'I will not abandon this group' because I was convinced that the Lord who gazes on me didn't envisage any kind of discrimination."

"I realized from the outset that I was in for very tough times. So I am very grateful for a number of my friends among you and others who are not here who have tried to sustain me in spite of the catastrophic recession that has hit the world.

One might wonder what has helped me to stay the big storms of life that I have been experiencing. It is because I am convinced that the Gospel of Christ does not discriminate against any body. I can say that I believed God wants to make it clear during my life time that the homosexuals are equally God’s people like the heterosexuals. This truth has made me free as we read in John 8:32.

It is of course not easy to live with rejection by the old friends. It sometimes almost drives me crazy. It is not easy to live barred from practicing the day-to-day Sacramental duties for which one was ordained. It is not easy to see that you are by-passed and not recognized by your contemporaries. But I have found out that the Grace of God is sufficient for me."

Bishop Christopher is back in Uganda now, continuing his work of counseling those who need his support, the poor, the women and, of course, the LGBT people of Uganda. If the Bahati Bill passes, the Bishop will be a considered a criminal for his work with, and support of, Uganda's LGBT citizens. I hope he is able to continue his mission in safety for many years to come, and I look forward to seeing him again when he returns to New York.

In the meantime, to give him the final word, "I would say that the church generally has not dealt with human sexuality. People have been afraid of human sexuality as such, so there's a lot of taboo connected with it. There's a verse which really helps me a lot, in the Gospel of St. John, 16:12 -- "And our Lord said, 'There are still many, many things I would like to tell you but you cannot bear them now.'" The only problem is if you're not willing to listen to what the spirit is saying now."

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