Many of you, no doubt, are aware of the dire situation for GLBT persons living in Uganda. Wingspan Ministry is the GLBT advocacy group at my church (and the recipient of 25% of the net income from my book). I’ve been active with Wingspan for several years, and we are now beginning a project to stand with Uganda. (I’m putting the news release I crafted for our work at the bottom of this post.)
There are three easy ways to join our work.
(1) If you’re local, consider joining us for our first fund raising event on June 2. We’ll be showing “Missionaries of Hate,” a documentary on role of U.S. evangelicals in fueling anti-gay sentiment in Uganda will be screened followed by discussion. Suggested donation: $25 — no minimum amount required. Funds raised will support the work of retired Anglican Bishop Christopher Senyonjo on behalf of human rights and safety for GLBT persons in Uganda. At St. Paul-Reformation Lutheran Church, 100 N. Oxford St., St. Paul, MN 55104, 7:00-8:30 p.m.
(2) If you can’t be with us, you can still make a secure online donation at: www.stpaulref.org. Click on the “Donate” button at the bottom of the homepage. Then find the “Wingspan Uganda Project” near the bottom of the Donations page and enter any amount of your choice. Or mail a check to: Wingspan Ministry – Uganda, 100 N. Oxford Street, St. Paul, MN 55104.
(3) Also, at our June 2nd event we’ll be debuting a video clip featuring an anthem I wrote in support of safety and security for all Ugandan people against a backdrop of images of Uganda. It includes a violin intro by my daughter, Susanna, and the anthem is sung by a trio of men from our congregation. The video clip was produced by our dear friend, Jason. It will become part of our fund raising efforts by mid-June when it’s posted on YouTube. Once it’s up there, you can help extend our reach by sharing it with others.
A little background on the situation …
The first missionaries came to Uganda in the 1870’s. Today over 80% of Ugandans are Christian, mostly Catholic or Anglican, with a growing number of evangelical or Pentecostal Christians as well. Christianity in Uganda, as in many post-colonial countries, bears the imprint of a “missionary Christianity” shaped as much by strict moral codes as by gospel freedom.
In recent years, as gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (GLBT) persons have sought social respect and civil rights around the globe, that struggle has been particularly difficult in many African nations. In Uganda, conservative Christian voices have been allied with rightwing politicians in a way that has imperiled the GLBT community there.
In the spring of 2009 a number of U.S. evangelical pastors participated in conferences in Uganda aimed at uniting political and religious forces “against the homosexual agenda.” Wittingly or otherwise, these pastors joined some segments of the Christian church in Uganda in fueling further fear of and prejudice against GLBT persons.
In the fall of 2009, a bill was introduced in the Ugandan parliament that proposed the death penalty for homosexuals—and prison sentences for anyone who knows someone who is gay and does not report them. Facing intense global opposition, parliament ended its session in May 2010 without taking up the bill. It was reintroduced in the spring of 2011, but parliament again ended its session without taking up the bill.
However, the bill’s sponsor intends to introduce it again in the next session, and the debate sparked by these bills over the past two years has only inflamed public opinion, creating a toxic and incendiary context in which GLBT persons live in fear and are frequently targeted for violence.
In January 2011, David Kato, a leading GLBT activist with SMUG (Sexual Minorities of Uganda) was murdered in his home in Uganda. Three months earlier a newspaper had placed his pictured on the front page, suggesting he should be hanged. Bishop Christopher Senyonjo, a retired Anglican bishop, has become the leading religious advocate for GLBT persons in Uganda. He has also received death threats for his work. We feel privileged to be engaging in supporting his courageous work.
This is the news release
Wingspan Ministry to begin Global Advocacy
Wingspan Ministry of St. Paul-Reformation Lutheran Church is beginning a new focus on global advocacy for LGBT persons. Long recognized as a leading congregational ministry for LGBT persons since its inception1982, Wingspan’s mission has included advocacy for justice in public policy though it is most well known for its years of work within the ELCA on behalf of full inclusion of gay and lesbian persons in the life of the church and as rostered leaders.
“We are most definitely not ending our witness and work in the church or in our civil communities here,” said Leo Treadway, convener of the Wingspan Global Bridges project. “However, there are LGBT persons around the globe who need our solidarity—and with whom we need to be in solidarity. The Body of Christ is not limited to Minnesota or to the U.S., and today we find ourselves called to stand with and learn from LGBT persons in distant places as well.”
Wingspan’s first global advocacy project is to raise awareness about the situation of LGBT persons in Uganda. They will also be raising funds to support the ministry of reconciliation led by Bishop Christopher Senyonjo, an Anglican bishop emeritus, who has been a tireless advocate for human rights, including speaking out for LGBT persons at great risk to himself.
In October 2010, Bishop Christopher and David Kato, an activist with Sexual Minorities of Uganda (SMUG), were pictured side by side on the front page of a Ugandan newspaper with the words “Hang Them” posted above their photos. Three months later, in January 2011, Kato was murdered in his home.
Earlier, in 2009, legislation was proposed in Uganda that would institute the death penalty for LGBT persons and impose seven-year prison sentences for anyone considered an “accomplice,” from friends and family members to landlords. In April 2011 there were indications that the bill, not yet passed, would replace the death penalty with life imprisonment in an effort to get it approved without further delay. Frank Mugisha of SMUG reports that ever since the bill was originally introduced two years ago anti-gay sentiment and open harassment of LGBT persons has increased, largely because of media attention and conservative churches that have been promoting passage of the bill to their congregants.
Since 2009 a number of conservative U.S. evangelical pastors have visited Uganda and participated in high-profile “anti-gay” conferences. “Whatever view one takes about their theological perspective, in Uganda the words of these American evangelicals have had an incendiary effect,” explained Rev. Keith Olstad, pastor at St. Paul-Reformation. “We, who are ELCA Lutherans, claim the word ‘evangelical’ because we believe we are bearers of ‘news that is extraordinarily good.’ But the message carried by these pastors to Uganda has only deepened the fear felt by LGBT Ugandans, and it is vitally important that we bear an evangelical witness in counterpoint to theirs.”
Wingspan’s first educational and fund-raising event will take place at St. Paul-Reformation (100 N. Oxford, St. Paul) on June 2, the eve of the Feast Day for Ugandan Martyrs from 7-8:30 p.m. It will include a screening of the documentary “Missionaries of Hate” (45 min.), an opportunity for discussion, and a request for donations. Funds raised will go to Bishop Christopher in Uganda to assist his efforts to promote human rights and his “safe house” project providing a place of sanctuary for those in fear for their lives.
David Weiss, chair of Wingspan, remarked, “We have heard it said that when the ELCA acted to widen its welcome to gay and lesbian Christians in 2009 it risked alienating many of our immigrant members and global partners. One of our hopes in this project is to help the larger church see that our widening welcome is both evangelical and life-giving to LGBT persons of faith both here in the U.S. and around the globe.”