By The Rev. Canon Albert Ogle, Vice President for National and International Affairs, Integrity USA.
Last week's meeting between the Episcopal Church’s Presiding Bishop, Archbishop of Canterbury and United Nations Secretary General talked about everything important to people of faith, except one glaring omission, Uganda. Even though the Church of Canada’s House of Bishops, faith leaders in Europe and the international human rights community have all come out condemning the proposed anti-homosexuality bill being discussed by the Ugandan parliament, we have yet to have a definitive statement on this important issue from either Archbishop Rowan Williams or the Anglican Observer at the United Nations, Helen Grace Wangusa, (who is originally from Uganda). Why the silence?
The first priority of the Anglican Communion’s Observer’s work is to ensure the commitment of the faith community within Anglicanism for the implementation of the Declaration of Human Rights. “A cross thematic area to ensure all policies adhere to the Declaration of Human Rights for the protection of the dignity of the rights of every individual in the world” as the website reports. Yesterday was a missed opportunity!
When Archbishop Livingstone Nkoyoyo, former Anglican Archbishop of Uganda returned home following the 1998 Lambeth Conference, he made sure to tell a press conference at Entebbe Airport that the Anglican Communion was behind him and President Musevene to extend hasher laws on homosexuality. In concert with his bishops (who influence one third of the population of Uganda and a higher proportion of government ministers and Uganda’s elite) the Archbishop began a crusade against Ugandan homosexuals blaming western and particularly Episcopal Church influence. This was clearly unfounded a lie. With a Bush White House and greater financial influence from American fundamentalists, the movement to misrepresent the Anglican Church’s position on homosexuality created a Frankenstein. Nkoyoyo said nothing about either the listening process, the need to condemn homophobia and violence against LGBT people and extending pastoral care, all recommendations to the world wide Anglican family contained in Resolution 1:10. He also never mentioned Resolution I: I, committing to uphold the Declaration of Human Rights. The Church of Uganda was never publicly reprimanded by the Anglican Communion Office or the Archbishop of Canterbury, or indeed any significant body of peer bishops for their misuse. Silence equals endorsement.
When the history of this sad chapter in the life of the church is written, we may discover that Anglicans are the architects of this monster, now manifested in Uganda and about to spread to other parts of the African church. Later, leaders like Rick Warren and Exodus international would bring their own distinctive body parts to this new creation.
On 17th February, Pastor Martin Ssempa is threatening to bring one million angry Ugandans on to the streets of Kampala to show Musevene’s government that “God fearing Christians” want no leniency for their gay and lesbian brothers and sisters. Musevene is now caught between the unanimous outcry of the international community and even the Vatican against this further violation of human rights, and the Frankenstein we have helped to create. We can trace some of the growing hostility to the gay community last year when Exodus International and other American fundamentalist leaders held conferences and meetings to encourage Ssempa and his Christian fascism to continue their rein of terror and threats. Musevene, as an Anglican leader, whose government was courted and bribed by the fundamentalist Christian lobby, also shares in creating a monster that is about to turn on him. I once met a gay Ugandan in the middle 1990’s who told me Musevene had threatened to gun anyone down on the streets who even dared to celebrate gay pride. Fifteen years later, there will be a different demonstration and the threat of gunning them down will not work this time. When a young democracy like Uganda neglects the role and place of its minorities, as Musevene has done for 20 years with the support of the United States government, Ssempa and Bahati, (the author of the bill) become a manifestation of a deep illness that is within this society.
As with the Rwandan genocide, once the fear, hatred and dehumanization of any population has taken root, there is not much rational and inclusive citizens or the international community can do to change the course of a potential blood bath. When we looked back on the causes of the Rwandan genocide, one of the main forces that created the climate of destruction was the Christian Churches. There is clear evidence that without the years of preaching, using communications and media networks and the organization of the churches in particular, the genocide of 600,000 people could not have happened. The Catholic Church denied its role and the Pope commented that because a “few bad apples” were involved in some horrific events, the institutional church could not be blamed. Similarly the Anglican Communion was largely silent about our participation in the genocide and a few Rwandan bishops escaped To Uganda and Kenya who were accused of helping to mastermind local atrocities and informing the mobs about where terrified groups were hiding in sanctuary-often in there churches. The then Archbishop of Canterbury did not call for an ecclesiastical inquiry or demand bishops be tried by their peers or court. His office and the office of the Anglican Communion largely remained silent and the focus shifted to rebuilding the infrastructure and leadership of the Rwandan church without any significant reflection on our corporate role in creating this former Frankenstein. I have friends working in Rwanda and many of these issues are still to be resolved. Every 25 years, we can anticipate the build up of animosity, fear and intimidation that are largely religiously condoned. Rwanda is about to introduce it’s own form of the anti-gay bill and President Kagame, (a close friend of Rick Warren) is Musevene’s former Defense Minister. As the “Purpose Driven Country”, Rwanda and Uganda shares the same moral vision and a common hatred for gays. Rick Warren’s recent “Letter to the Pastor’s of Uganda” was a brave attempt to put the cork back in the bottle and to distance himself from something that his movement has helped to create. But the genii has escaped. Frankenstein will be marching on the streets of Kampala on 17th February, in all its frightening monstrosity and carrying a very large Bible.
If a million Ugandans take to the streets on February 17th, one third of them are probably Anglicans who will be calling for death to gays and fines and imprisonment for those who minister to them. Some of our Anglican bishops may also support the demonstration. For the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church not to make a statement on this potential crisis in the modern human rights movement, knowing we helped to create this madness, is still a mystery to me. Maybe they are doing a “Rick Warren” and making sure the Church truly distances itself from this ugly situation. It won’t work.
History can help us make sense of the present, if we allow it to. Rwanda is a reminder, that leadership, and religious leadership in particular, has a remarkable way of inciting the crowd and then when things get a little out of hand, to be silent, or in Rick Warren’s case, to make a video. Like Pilate, the sweet smell of Orange blossom soap ensures the blood of the innocent and the vulnerable will not soil our hands. Rwanda is also a reminder that our religious leadership can be struck silent at any moment when there is something important that could have said. Clinton apologized as a secular leader, we did not. Recent Christian history from this troubled region also teaches us that the silence is usually followed by an extended state of amnesia. We forget what we helped to create. Every Anglican bishop who voted on the 1998 Lambeth Resolution bears the corporate and institutional responsibility for what is happening in Uganda right now as human dignity and emerging democracy is diminished in the name of Christ. As the inheritors of the institutions who helped get us into this mess, both Primates need to break your very loud silence.
** From the Rev. Canon Albert Ogle: " Though Integrity supports and welcomes the Presiding Bishop's comments in December, it was a missed opportunity for her not to have publically raised the Episcopal Church's concerns at this high level UN meeting in January. This was the perfect opportunity for her to encourage the Archbishop of Canterbury and the UN Anglican Communion Observer to finally address the violation of human rights in Uganda and the misuse of Lambeth Resolutions by the Anglican Church in Uganda. Integrity feels this remains an important and critical issue for many respected leaders in the international and faith community that it ought to have been addressed specifically at this meeting."