Richard A. Lindsay
The distinguished cleric with gold wire-rimmed glasses, a dark suit and crimson bishop’s shirt spoke with an African accent and a twinkle in his eye, “We all know about my friend, Dr. Kinsey. Although I think I am straight, who knows? Maybe I am not as straight as I think.” His shoulder swiveled, slightly vampy with this last line, and the audience laughed.
Retired Ugandan Bishop Christopher Senyonjo, 78, was playing to a sympathetic crowd at the San Francisco Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Community Center on Tuesday night, May 25. The delight of the audience and the esteem in which they held him is not the typical reaction Senyonjo has received since he began ministering to LGBT people nine years ago in his home country of Uganda.
Receiving his theological training in the United States, at Union Theological Seminary and Hartford Seminary, and ordained in New York City in 1964, Senyonjo served as bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Western Uganda from 1974 to 1998. After his retirement, he started a family counseling center.
In 2001, his life changed forever when he met several gay and lesbian young people who had been rejected by their churches. “They had lost jobs and been expelled from school. Some of them were on the verge of committing suicide.” Senyonjo gave them a radical message for their time and place: “If you are gay or lesbian, God made you and loves you that way, and you should accept yourselves.”
Once word of his compassionate advice reached his successors in the Anglican hierarchy in Uganda, there was a firestorm. Senyonjo was asked to “condemn” the people under his care “and convert them to something else.” Senyonjo said he would not. “I cannot see God where there is no love,” he said, “I would rather go with the truth.”
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Richard A. Lindsay is a doctoral candidate at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California. He has worked in media relations for Pacific School of Religion, Soulforce, and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, and regularly publishes reviews on religion and film, music, and television at Poptheology.com.
Religion Dispatches is a daily online magazine dedicated to the analysis and understanding of religious forces in the world today, highlighting a diversity of progressive voices and aimed at broadening and advancing the public conversation.