Church in Uganda is “backbone of legislation” supporting LGBTQ+ persecution

Jun 8, 2023 by

By Rosie Dawson, Religion Media Centre:

The third of June is Martyrs’ Day in Uganda, a national holiday when Christians remember 45 young men, Protestant and Catholic, who were killed in the 1880s for their faith by King Mwanga II of Buganda, a Bantu kingdom within Uganda.

The commemorations were attended by presidents, priests and many people. Pictures on social media showed huge crowds converging on the martyrdom site at Namugongo, just north of the capital Kampala. A new amphitheatre at the Protestant shrine seats 20,000.

Some of the martyrs were burnt alive. The official Church of England companion to saints’ days records how “on their way to the place of execution these young Christians sang hymns in honour of the Lord and some were still singing when the flames surrounded them”.

There’s a particular feature of this story that appears crucial to understanding how Uganda’s Christian identity is tied up with sexuality. As well as refusing to renounce their faith, the young men in the Mwanga’s court also resisted his sexual advances.

Uganda has just brought in its new anti-homosexuality act, among the harshest legislation in the world against gay people. Anyone convicted for gay sexual acts faces a 20-year prison term, an underage person convicted of gay sexual acts can be jailed for three years, and the death penalty applies in “aggravated cases” such as the rape of a young person or transmission of HIV.

The measures have been condemned by the British government, President Joe Biden and the United Nations. From many churches, however, there has been a deafening silence while others support the new law.

“The Church in Uganda is the backbone of the legislation,” said Edward Mtebi founder of Let’s Walk Uganda, who fled the country in fear of his life in 2015. “If the church hadn’t pushed for this law so much we would not be where we are right now.”

Forty per cent of Uganda’s 48 million population are Catholics. A third are Anglicans. The Anglican church there has been among the fiercest critics of churches in the worldwide Anglican Communion that have approved same-sex marriage.

Along with those of Rwanda and Nigeria, its bishops boycotted the once-in-a- decade Lambeth Conference in Canterbury last summer. It is part of the Global Anglican Futures Conference (Gafcon) founded in 2008 and its chairman, Archbishop Foley Beach, from the breakaway Anglican Church of North America, preached at Martyrs’ Day on Saturday.

In April, a Gafcon conference held in the Rwandan capital Kigali, attended by more than 300 bishops, rejected the leadership of the Archbishop of Canterbury because of Church of England proposals that clergy should be allowed to say prayers of blessing for same-sex couples. Gafcon has posted no comment on its website about the legislation.

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