David Kato, Ugandan teacher and LGBT Rights activist, Feb. 13, 1964-Jan. 26, 2011
When I looked at the feast day celebration for today, I took a long pause. This date commorates the burning and beginning of an organized effort by Ugandan King Mwanga of Buganda to wipe out Christianity. Like many of the stories found in the Scriptures, King Mwanga was enraged that members of the royal court who Anglican and Roman Catholic missionaries had converted to Christianity refused to put loyalty to the earthly King over their fidelity to Jesus Christ. And so on June 3rd, 1886, he had 32 young men burned to death. He had hoped the mass killings in Buganda would scare away Christianity. Instead, because these young men and many other martyrs went to their deaths singing hymns and offering prayers, it had an opposite effect. It helped to spread Christianity throughout the country. Much later, in the 1970s, the Ugandan leader Idi Amin also launched a persecution of Christians, resulting in the murder of Anglican Archbishop Janani Luwum among thousands of others. Even that reign of terror failed to crush Christianity and today, Uganda has one of the largest Christian populations in Africa.
Unfortunately, with their majority status has come the un-Christian behavior of oppression and persecution of the LGBT people. And with that persecution, Uganda is again seeing people martyred for their belief in the equality of all God's children.
Take the murder earlier this year of LGBT rights activist David Kato. In this interview with the BBC in 2010, Kato talked candidly about the situation on the ground in his country especially with the noxious Anti-Homosexuality bill lurking in the background. Kato was brutally beaten and died on the way to the hospital in Kampala. Witnesses at his apartment building talked of a suspicious vehicle and a "group" of people that had been in the area the day of his murder. However, the authorities made an arrest of Enoch Sydney Nsubuga. Prior to the arrest, leading advocates for the Anti-Homosexuality legislation including "christian" leaders Martin Ssempa and Scott Lively were spreading a story that Kato was killed in a sexual liaison that went bad because Kato refused to pay up for prostitution. The Ambassador from Uganda to the European Parliament also supported this story as foreign leaders stepped up their demands for a more thorough investigation of Kato's murder. It was the old trick of blaming the victim for their own murder.
Adding to the insults was the way the Anglican Church of Uganda, known for its condemnation of LGBT people, conducted Kato's funeral. The Church would not allow a priest to celebrate at his service; instead they sent a lay reader who took it upon himself to condemn homosexuality... with the coffin of a dead gay man and his friends and family in the room!! Fortunately, a lesbian member of Sexual Minorities of Uganda put a stop to the travesty by seizing the microphone from this man, and Bishop Senyonjo (also in danger in his native country for being receptive to LGBT people) led the mourners to the burial site to quickly finish the service.
The Ugandan High Court has jurisdiction now over the Kato murder trial. But I am hopeful that a higher court is acting to bring attention to the need for more love in this African nation.
People, such as David Kato, do not die for naught. Like the Christian martyrs, Kato met death without ever denying who he was or backing down when his life was threatened. His willingness to live his life in honesty no doubt touched others and has given them the guts to keep going. And even if the supposedly "Christian" nation of Uganda has swallowed the poisoned pill of homophobia supplied readily by the evangelical right-wing pharmacists in the United States, I am confident that the Spirit will not allow this to be the forever situation among a people who previously had not been so whipped into a hatred of gay people.
And so on this feast day, I pray for the full vindication and justice in the murder of David Kato and for God's Spirit of love to rise in the hearts of the people of Uganda and bring the nation into a true respect of the message that Christ delivered to the world; a love of God which becomes manifest in the love we show one another. Amen.