David Kato, an outspoken gay activist in Uganda, was killed on Jan. 26. Photo: Front Line
It is not Anglican requiem tradition to eulogize the deceased, although it would be easy to do so in the case of David Kato. He was Anglican, openly gay and worked for human rights for sexual minorities. Born in Uganda, he lived for some time in South Africa, a safe place for gay and lesbian people. Then in 1998, the same year that Matthew Shepard, also Anglican, was beaten to death in the United States, David returned to Uganda to work for justice for gay and lesbian people. He founded Sexual Minorities Uganda and was known internationally for his work.
At around 2 pm on Jan. 26, 2011, David was beaten to death with a hammer. He was in his own home in Uganda. No ordained Anglican clergyperson came to bury him. Instead, a lay reader was sent to lead the funeral. When the lay reader denounced gay persons, some in the crowed cheered. Then a young lesbian named Kasha seized the microphone and spoke about David’s work. Eventually, an Anglican bishop not recognized by the Church of Uganda because of his support for gay folk, spoke a comforting word.
The Anglican Church of Uganda is notoriously hostile to gay people. There are laws against speaking in support of human rights for gay people. In addition, laws have been proposed to make convictions for gay activities punishable by death.
A little more than a year ago, Uganda hosted an international conference funded and led by conservative fundamentalist Americans. Supposedly, the conference promoted Christian values. It was following this conference that the Ugandan government proposed death penalty legislation. This last fall, a local newspaper published David’s photo, name, and address--along with the names and contact information of 100 others--and called for death for gay persons.
The international Anglican Church has been in dispute for more then 50 years, over an inability to resolve issues of human sexuality. In the 1950s, the dispute was inclusion of divorced persons. In the 1970s, the issue focused on female priests and bishops and this is still controversial in some places. The controversy of the 1990s was full inclusion of baptized lesbians and gays. In the 2000s, the dispute has focused on blessing gay relationships and including partnered gay clergy and bishops. In these disputes, we are familiar with the vitriol from those who claim they speak for God in rejecting gay people.
The International Anglican Church, as an institution, does not convey clearly the Christian message. Only in the past days has the Anglican blogosphere addressed the treatment of gay people in Uganda and elsewhere with any compassion. Now, after the death of David who had been speaking for years, do we see the hand-wringing and regret about the treatment of gay folk. The truth is, all around the world, including in British Columbia, gays and lesbians are beaten and killed, and only an occasional case makes the news. In the matter of gay persons, the global Anglican Church is not a light to the world.
So where is the work of the Christian Church to be found? I believe it can be found only in the local community. Only in the local community, the local congregation, can we find the work being done in how they treat gay and lesbian persons. There are many gay and lesbian people in your world asking only to belong, and to be treated with dignity. In congregations, there are people who will feel loved if the preacher only uses the word “gay” or “lesbian” in a normal way. It is only if the congregation and the persons who belong to the church live out their own Christian nature, that any of us will know God. In your neighbourhood, among your friends, there are young people questioning their own sexual orientation who need only a listening ear.
Only if you and I gathered here live the love of God will any see the light of Christ.
For what does God expect of you but
That you do justice
That you love kindness
That you walk humbly with God.
This is an abridged version of the homily given by The Rev. Canon Dr. Martin Brokenleg at Christchurch Cathedral, Victoria, B.C. on Feb. 3, 2011.
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