Thursday, July 22, 2010

Summer Pilgrimage Part Two: Bishop Christopher's Groundbreaking Tour of the US Continues

Orange County

Bishop Christopher visited two churches in Orange County during his historic tour: St. Mark's Presbyterian Church (pictured here with St. Mark's pastor Gary Collins) in Newport Beach and Irvine United Congregational Church.

He shared his personal journey to how he became an advocate for LGBT rights in Uganda and gave Orange County, (the choice of the International Ex Gay Conference in June), an insight into what the American Christian Right has been doing in his country as the true authors of the Bahati Bill (“Kill the Gays”).

Inspired by his witness over a hundred Orange County residents turned out for an incredible conference “It’s Not a Choice” and a protest at the Ex Gay conference itself on 26th June. He also was one of the keynote speakers at the first Harvey Milk Day celebration in Orange County organized by the Orange County Equality Coalition.

A fundraiser was held for him at the home of Scott Westerfield and Ed Miscevitch  with distinguished guests -- including Jim Burroway of “Box Turtle Bulletin” fame (pictured left)-- who broke the original story of the Ugandan Bill and its connection to the Ex Gay Movement. His visit was about building ecumenical support for the ongoing work of a progressive form of Christianity in Uganda.

San Diego

That same week, San Diego welcomed Bishop Christopher with a three day visit that included a talk with Parents and Friends of Lesbian and Gays, preaching at St. Paul’s Cathedral, a party at The Park Manor Hotel organized by Integrity, Human Rights Campaign and Equality California and a memorable address at the second annual Harvey Milk Day Breakfast attended by over a thousand people.

It is reassuring to know Bishop Christopher addressed more people that day than Lou Engle addressed in Kampala!! He had standing ovations at all events and was given the “Black Eagle “ Award by the San Diego Imperial Court and recognition by the San Diego Human Relations Commission. Linda Miles hosted the bishop and had this to say about his impact on her community:

Rick and I hosted Bishop Christopher on the second week of his tour. It was an experience we will never forget. We were truly touched by this brave, wise, and kind man and his determination to help LGBT people in Uganda. His vision to change the anti-gay attitudes in Uganda rubbed off on us during his week with us.

It is amazing that the Bishop has managed to be such an optimist despite the tribulations he has endured over the years. We saw the eagerness in his eyes when he discussed his vision for educating gays kicked out of school. He is passionate about giving gays fired from jobs a skill such as tailoring that will enable them to start their own small business.
We told the Bishop about PFLAG (Parents, Family, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays). He was interested in how PFLAG might be able to enlighten the families of LGBT people in his country. Our local PFLAG leaders emailed him pictures of parents hugging their gay and lesbian children and carrying signs at parades and other events saying how they loved their children. I printed out a bundle of these pictures for him to take back and post in key locations. He is eager to assist us in starting a PFLAG organization in Kampala. He is a realist and says that changing entrenched homophobic attitudes will take years, perhaps generations.

During his last breakfast with us, I asked Bishop Christopher if he had ever met Idi Amin in the '70s. He told us of being summoned to Amin's offices with local bishops. They were made to stand six hours in a hot courtyard without water alongside their Archbishop Luwum, a brave man who had complained to Amin about human rights abuses. They were all accused of treason. Most of the bishops were released that night, but the next day they read in the newspaper that the Archbishop and two government ministers had been killed in a car accident. The families found upon opening the coffins that they had been tortured and shot. Bishop Christopher went into hiding and then self-exile abroad. The next time he went into exile was due to the threats he received over his support of the gays in his community.

We feel fortunate to have met this great man and to have seen his human side. - He loved his evening cup of tea and cake. He delighted in telling us about his beloved wife Mary and their children and grandchildren. Once, after a long day of speaking at several events, he called Mary from his bedroom phone and came down to take his tea visibly happy and relaxed. We could see that Mary gave him strength. When he preached later about how important it is to be able to share a life with the one you love, gay or straight, we knew he spoke from the heart. He knows what real love is.

I could go on and on about the many things the Bishop has done but suffice it to say, he is a good man who is dedicated to defeating the pending bill in Uganda and to educating the homophobic people in his country to the facts about gay people and God's love for them.

Bishop Christopher then headed north to Sacramento -- where he was warmly welcomed by Dean Brian Baker, Bishop Barry Beisner and his wife, Rev. Anne Hallisey (pictured here with Integrity VP Albert Ogle.)

While in Sacrament he also with New Hampshire Bishop Gene Robinson, who was given an award by Equality California. He visited the legislature and lobbied for LGBT rights in California, speaking at a press conference with Senator Mark Leno. He had a meeting with Senate Pro Tem Daryll Steinberg and shared his concern that some California Churches were abusing their 501 c 3 tax exemption by extreme lobbying a the United Nations and funding measures like Proposition 8 to strip Californians of their right to equality.

Integrity Coordinator in Sacramento, Steve Skiffington was our host and writes about his impressions of +Christopher. He entitles his reflections “Being Blessed:”

There are times in our lives when we offer to do something because we believe in the cause, only to realize again that in the doing we are blessed beyond belief. Such was the time when my husband and I hosted Bishop Senyonjo and the Rev. Albert Ogle during the bishop's visit to Sacramento in May of this year as part of his tour on behalf of LGBT Ugandans.

Bishop Christopher was in Sacramento to meet up with Bishop Robinson, spend a day of lobbying at the Capitol in support of Gay Marriage, and then to appear at the EQCA Awards that evening as Bishop Robinson was again recognized for his work on behalf of the LGBT community. We were also lucky enough to have Bishop Christopher speak at Trinity Cathedral, Sacramento. The Bishop is such a man of strong faith that being in the same room with him makes you have hope, and stand just a little taller.

I have to tell you of an incident that occurred on his last day in our home because it is just a small example of the dignity of the man. We were in the kitchen finishing breakfast and getting ready for the day when the Bishop asked permission to use my phone to call his wife as he had not heard her voice for several days, and I of course said yes. As I was doing the morning kitchen clean-up thing, he placed the call. While I don't understand Ugandan, I understood the tone completely, it was great love and joy in talking to his wife.

After a few minutes he said, "My wife wants to talk to you. Her name is Mary." When I took the phone and said hello, the first words out of her mouth were, "Thank you for taking care of my husband. I pray for his safety every day." My heart swelled and broke at the same time. Here was a couple who have sacrificed so very much for the sake of LGBT people, and she was thanking me for a simple offer of hospitality. They were thanking me, and yet I owe them so much for their courageous stand. Talk about being blessed!
Bishop Christopher's historic pilgrimage continues to be a blessing as we work together to reap the seeds sown by his witness to God's abundant, inclusive love. And Integrity is hard at work helping make that happen. You can be part of that work and witness by:

Renewing your Integrity membership today -- or joining Integrity if you're not currently a member

Forwarding this blog post to your friends and family and encouraging them to become Integrity members.

Keeping the work of Integrity and the witness of Bishop Christopher in your prayers as we all work together toward God's dream of a world free of homophobia and bigotry, where the whole human family is fully included and celebrated as beloved children of God.

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