Ugandan Bishop Christopher Senyonjo breaks silence on the murder of David Kato

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.

Further information on the bishop’s statement and his work through the St. Paul’s Centre in Kampala may be obtained from Rev. Canon Albert Ogle at aogle@stpaulsfoundation.com or 949 338 8830. You can read the full letter on our site.

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Open Letter from Bishop Christopher Senyonjo to Archbishop Rowan Williams

An open letter to the Anglican Communion on the place of human rights in communities of faith by Rt. Rev. Christopher Senyonjo, Retired Bishop of West Buganda and Director of the St. Paul’s Centre for Equality and Reconciliation, Kampala. February 8th 2011

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. 619 338 8830

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Thousands of LGBT Advocates Pause to Grieve the Death of David Kato

The National Religious Leadership Roundtable of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force

For Immediate Release
February 4, 2011
Media Contact: Pedro Julio Serrano 787-602-5954

Thousands of LGBT Advocates Pause to Grieve the Death of David Kato

In the wake of the brutal murder of David Kato, gay advocate in Uganda, thousands of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender leaders attending the Creating Change conference in Minneapolis, February 2-6, paused to remember his life and vowed to work even harder to tell our stories and move public opinion to accept LGBT people in all countries.

At a memorial vigil on Friday night, February 4, LGBT faith leaders and advocates from across the country and the world grieved the loss of their brother, David. 

"No form of intimidation will stop our cause," said Mr. Frank Mugisha, executive director of Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG). "The life and death of David will be honored as we struggle for justice and equality and win the hearts of people around the world because we are your sons and daughters, brothers and sisters.  David is gone but the struggle will be won. David wanted to see a Uganda where all people will be treated equally. It is our turn to pick up the mantle and carry on."

"Faith leaders have been working for the last year to expose the efforts of some American Christian conservatives to spread anti-LGBT attitudes to Africa, and Uganda in particular," said Dr. Sylvia Rhue of the National Black Justice Coalition.  "So-called ‘ex-gay’ ministries have failed so dismally in the United States that they are now exporting their damaging beliefs.  They will continue to fail because diversity in sexual orientation and gender identity is inherent to humankind."

"Jesus taught us that we must love God and love our neighbor as ourselves.  But some of our Christian brothers and sisters in the United States and around the world turn Jesus’ ministry on its head," said the Rev. Rebecca Voelkel, faith work director for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. "They preach judgment, condemnation and rejection and use fear to raise money and stoke violence.  Where is the love?  The murder of David Kato must be investigated and those responsible need to be brought to justice.  But all of us–Ugandans, Americans and all our neighbors around the world–need to build societies in which love, respect and human dignity rule the day, no matter what faith tradition or culture we come from."
"David Kato was a member of the Anglican Church of Uganda. Sadly, most Ugandan Anglican leaders preach messages of rejection and condemnation under the guise of religion," said the Rev. David Norgard, president of Integrity USA.  "As members of the Episcopal Church, we have a long standing relationship with our LGBT brothers and sisters in Uganda as members of the global Anglican Communion and must face the fact that the Church has been a big part of the problem.  It is long overdue for Christians, and good people of all faiths, to be the solution: to stop this violence, to sow love where hatred now festers and to respect the dignity of every human being."

"As African Americans and Baptist/United Church of Christ clergy, we minister to straight, same-gender loving and transgender people in the District of Columbia. We are devastated by the loss of David Kato, a powerful advocate for justice in Uganda," said the Revs. Dennis and Christine Wiley.  "We have seen how the strategy of fear mongering is being used to drive a wedge within the African American community despite a long tradition of accommodated differences in gender identity and love partnerships among our own.  Today, some religious leaders make a living on the backs of gay and transgender people through fear and misinformation.  They preach a message of exclusion rather than a gospel of love.  In Uganda, this led to a murder and ongoing persecution.  It is time to stop."

"My prayers go out to the people of Uganda who lost a courageous soul to brutality.  As a Bishop and pastor to same gender loving and transgender African American Christians in the United States, I have seen firsthand how true faith saves lives and how hate in the guise of religion destroys people and communities," said Bishop Tonya Rawls of Unity Fellowship Church Movement.  "Africans and African Americans know firsthand how Scripture has been used to justify slavery, colonialism and racism around the globe.  Using Scripture to condemn people for their sexual orientation and gender identity is just as wrong.  God’s love always trumps hate." 

"My heart aches for David Kato’s family and the good people of Uganda who have lost a hero and prophetic voice for justice," said Dr. Sharon Groves, interim director of religion and faith for the Human Rights Campaign.  "I hold my faith dear; it is faith that can heal and helps us understand that God is love.  So, I cannot sit idly by while a few radical preachers from the USA use the Bible to foment hate crimes in Uganda.  As we mourn the death of David Kato, I call on faithful people worldwide to speak out against the export fear and lies in the name of religion.   Let us say in a unified voice, ‘not in my name.’" 

The Rev. Elder Nancy Wilson, moderator of the Metropolitan Community Church, said, "Around the world MCC is known as the human rights church.  We honor the life of David Kato who lived boldly and settled for nothing less than his full humanity.  We pray for people in Uganda, the US and everywhere who fear people because of who they love and who they are. We pray for advocates who risk their lives every day and commit ourselves to work even harder to bring a day of peace, understanding and respect."

"As a Jew, I know what it means to be persecuted for who you are.  The headlines, attacks and religious drum beat of judgment and rejection has an all too familiar ring to it.  Human beings can be fomented into horrific acts.  We must be vigilant to make respect for difference the most basic of human values for all civil societies because we are created b’tzelem elohim, in the image of God," said Dr. Joel L. Kushner, director of Judaism and sexual orientation, Hebrew Union College – JIR.

"The United Church of Christ is a denomination that continues to stand up for LGBT people," said the Rev. Michael Schuenemeyer, UCC Executive for Health and Wholeness Advocacy.  "We urge all denominations to turn the tragedy of David Kato’s death into a moment of gospel clarity that no individual or group should be persecuted in the name of the Bible.  False ideas and fear have no place in Christianity."

Bishop Yvette Flunder, presiding bishop of The Fellowship, said, "We know that David Kato’s life laid the ground work for what is to come.  He had a vision and he pursued it.  It was a vision of a country and a world that is safe for all of us to live and love and pray together as beloved children of God.  David shone the light and all of us are better for his work and life."
“David fought bravely against a rising tide of persecution fomented and fostered in no small measure by a conservative evangelical network emanating from the U.S. that uses disinformation to spread fear and mistrust," said Pam Spees, staff attorney for the Center for Constitutional Rights. "We call for accountability and for people in religious communities to publicly stand against the persecution of LGBT people. We can do no less."

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The National Religious Leadership Roundtable (NRLR), convened by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, is an interfaith network of leaders from eighty-five pro-lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) faith, spiritual and religious organizations. We work in partnership with other groups to promote understanding of and respect for LGBT people within society at large and in communities of faith. We promote understanding and respect within LGBT communities for a variety of faith paths and for religious liberty, and to achieve commonly held goals that promote equality, spirituality and justice.

Update on Bishop Christopher

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 30, 2010

CONTACT: Vaishalee Raja, Equality California
PHONE: 916-284-9187 EMAIL: vaishalee@eqca.org
State Senate Calls on Federal Government to Help Stop Uganda’s Bill Criminalizing Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender People
Equality California-sponsored resolution condemns Uganda’s draconian law persecuting LGBT people

Sacramento – The California State Senate today passed a resolution (SR 51) condemning Uganda’s bill criminalizing lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in 21-14 vote. Introduced by Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) and sponsored by Equality California, the resolution urges the U.S. government to intensify its efforts to eliminate the criminalization of homosexuality worldwide as well as to take more caution when funding faith-based organizations to ensure that U.S. government funds and resources are accessible to women, minorities, and the LGBT community.

"The U.S. government must do everything in its power to stop the bill before the Uganda legislature that would lead to the criminalization and even death of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Ugandans," said Geoff Kors, executive director of Equality California. "The California Senate has taken an important step in passing this resolution, which will help raise awareness of the crisis in Uganda and will put the state on record in support of the U.S. government strengthening its efforts to end the criminalization of LGBT people worldwide."

The resolution also encourages faith-based organizations in the U.S. to support the creation of policies in other countries that do not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

"It is egregious that radical religious leaders from our nation are working to spread fears about and discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in Uganda," said Sen. Leno. "These deplorable actions have encouraged violence, and even death against Ugandans.  This resolution is a simple human rights appeal urging President Obama and our federal leaders to call for the decriminalization of LGBT people, not only in Uganda, but across the globe."
Finally, the legislation commends Reverend Christopher Senyonjo, retired Anglican Bishop of West Uganda, for his work and ministry to create an inclusive church and society in Uganda free from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. In the last year, Reverend Senyonjo has toured California, the United States and Europe to educate and bring attention to the hostility of the recent wave of religious-based homophobia in Uganda.

To find out more information about EQCA’s legislation, visit http://www.eqca.org/legislation.

Equality California (EQCA) is the largest statewide lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights advocacy organization in California. Over the past decade, Equality California has strategically moved California from a state with extremely limited legal protections for LGBT individuals to a state with some of the most comprehensive civil rights protections in the nation. Equality California has passed over 60 pieces of legislation and continues to advance equality through legislative advocacy, electoral work, public education and community empowerment. www.eqca.org