Friday, June 3, 2011

Martyrs of Uganda

Martyrs of Uganda
The Rev. Dr. Caroline Hall

Today is the Commemoration of the Martyrs of Uganda. Christians from across the world gathered today at the Uganda Martyrs’ Shrines to commemorate the death of 22 Ugandan Martyrs who were killed for their faith in Jesus Christ. These young men – both Anglicans and Catholics were killed by Mwanga II, the King of Buganda between 1885 and 1887.

Why? Well, our conservative brethren would like us to believe they were slaughtered because they were good Christian converts who refused to engage in homosexual acts with the King. That view suggests that the King was either homosexual or bi-sexual (he had sixteen wives) and liked to initiate young men into his sexual pleasures. But, it’s actually rather more complicated than that.

According to some scholars, the martyrs were the sons of leaders among the tribes who were sent to the court as pages to complete their education. Submission to the King was a normal part of their initiation. But this was a time when missionaries (Anglican, Catholic and Muslim) were operating in Buganda and the power of the court was declining. The refusal of the pages to submit to the king can be seen as a political act, indicating their greater allegiance to the British missions.

Whatever the motivations of all the players, this was a complex situation in which sex was used for power and the refusal of sex signaled resistance to the power of the king and the traditions of the tribe just as much as allegiance to the Christian faith.

But they are not the only Martyrs of Uganda. In 1977 Archbishop Janani Luwum was murdered after he had spoken out against the oppression of Idi Amin’s regime. We remember his courage and his martyrdom on February 17th – the anniversary of his brutal murder.

David Kato is the latest martyr of Uganda – a teacher and LGBT rights activist, he was murdered on January 26th of this year. In November 2009, Kato spoke at a conference on human rights funded by the United Nations, arguing powerfully against the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. Kato left the conference early due to a rumor that David Bahati MP, the leading proponent of Bill, had ordered the Inspector General of Police to arrest Kato. After Kato left, Bahati then delivered a "tirade against homosexuality" to massive applause. A year later Kato was among the 100 people whose names and photos were published in the Ugandan tabloid Rolling Stone claiming that they were homosexual and calling for their execution. In early January the High Court of Justice ruled in favor of Kato and others activists and Rolling Stone was ordered to pay them compensation.

But just twenty three days later David was dead, killed by an unknown assailant wielding a hammer. Police blamed his death on robbers but Kato's colleagues said that Kato had spoken of an increase in threats and harassment since the court victory, and they believe that his sexual orientation and his activism were the motive for the murder.

Just as the nineteenth century martyrs lost their lives because of British intervention in Buganda, so Kato lost his life because of foreign intervention; this time from homophobic Americans who are exporting their hatred to Uganda.

This should not be the “feast day” of the Martyrs of Uganda but a day of mourning and prayer for all those who have lost their lives because of homophobia and prayer that God will transform the hearts of those who trade in hate in God’s name.

The Rev. Dr. Caroline Hall is President of Integrity USA.


Kittredge Cherry said...

Thanks for a great post -- an informative and moving tribute to David Kato's life and legacy. I just added a link to to this post at the Jesus in Love Blog.

I join you in mourning and prayer for all those who have lost their lives because of homophobia.

frharry said...

Very helpful post, Caroline. What struck me was the powerful analogy of the pages facing submission through sexual assault with the angels in the Sodom narrative.

Joy said...

Hello there. I'm J from Uganda.
The Uganda Martyrs died because of their faith and belief in JESUS CHRIST God's son and the savior of the world.
Kato unfortunately was killed by someone he had a personal misunderstanding with.
Please let us uphold integrity and tell the world the truth and nothing but the truth.Its only the truth that will save all of us.
With Love and care.J

Johnson said...

Thanks for the post, however, there were 46 martyrs, not only 22. You are partially right, 22 were Catholics and 24 Protestants (Anglicans).

Johnson said...

Thanks for the post Louise, however, there were 46 martyrs, not only 22. The Catholics were 22 and the Protestants (Anglicans) 24. The history behind the persecutions were more than just sexual issues or homophobia. Ask me for detail.