Ten miles from a Ugandan blood-stained home, 300 friends, fellow activists from the LGBT community, his mourning mother and family joined foreign dignitaries and embassy staff to pay their respects to David Kato.
Since Kato was an Anglican, the local parish church of Nagojje was responsible for his funeral rites to be read from the Book of Common Prayer. Although tributes have been pouring into the Kato family from President Barack Obama and other international leaders, the Church of Uganda sent no priest, no bishop, but a Lay Reader to conduct the service.
Bishop Christopher Senyonjo arrived in his purple cassock accompanied by his wife Mary and let the master of ceremonies know he would like to say a few words at some point in the service. He was going to read a message from Frank Mughisu of Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) where David worked tirelessly since 2004.
As an excommunicated bishop of the Church of Uganda, Christopher has no standing in the official hierarchy of the church. The Lay Reader began to make inappropriate remarks condemning homosexuality quite graphically and stating the Church of Uganda’s position that homosexuality was a sin and against the Bible.
The crowd began to cheer him on and the bishop described the event as turning into an anti-gay rally. The bishop was never called upon to speak. He felt for the LGBT community having to suffer yet another public humiliation.
The Church of Uganda, a member of the Anglican family of churches to which I belong, took a pastoral opportunity for healing and reconciliation with family members and LGBT people and allies and turned the event into an anti-gay political rally. Following this horrific incident with the Lay Reader who condemned the LGBT community, Bishop Christopher, as a bishop of the church and wearing his purple cassock, walked behind the coffin carried by David’s friends and family to the graveside. There, although he was disinvited by the Church to speak at the funeral, he found a way to bring words of comfort to the mourners and said the final blessing over David’s battered remains.
In this one sad occasion, we can see there are two churches in Uganda and indeed elsewhere. The bishop was horrified by what he witnessed from his fellow Christians. Yet, it was good that Christopher was there. He told me he was honored to be there and though was not welcomed to speak to the whole assembly, had the final word of love and peace for David. May he rest in peace.
COMMENT: When you consider what had just happened to his fellow campaigner for justice you have to come to the conclusion that Bishop Christopher Senyonjo is one of the bravest people on the planet. That this courage comes from his understanding and love of the Gospel keeps me proud of the name Christian. If it was not for living saints (and I'm not exaggerating in calling him that) like Bishop Christopher I would have disowned the name of Christian out of embarrassment a long time ago.
In Dublin, the Anglican primates have spent most of the week talking about their position in the church and what being "first among equals" (yes they actually brought that despotic phrase up themselves) means in respect of their leadership role. I would humbly suggest that they s.t.f.u. and learn what episcopal leadership is about from Bishop Christopher.
And what would they learn from him? A man, in a loud purple shirt, who walked behind a gay man's coffin in the most homophobic country on earth and then spoke to the mourners at the graveside in front of the hateful Ugandan press?
They would learn that actions come before words and not the other way around when you truly walk with God.