Gay and Gray is a monthly column at Time Goes By written by Jan Adams (bio) in which she thinks out loud for us on issues of aging lesbians and gay men. Jan also writes on many topics at her own blog, Happening-Here, and you will find her past Gay and Gray columns here.]
In this month of Gay Pride celebrations, it seems good to raise up the story of a valued acquaintance, an unlikely hero in the international struggle for LGBT human rights who happens to be an elder.
Retired Ugandan Bishop Christopher Senyonjo, 78, is a married, straight man. For 34 years he served the Anglican Church in West Buganda diligently, but without attracting particular attention. In 1998, he left office, but stayed active, starting a family counseling center in Kampala, the capital. He anticipated a quiet life.
Recently he visited the United States and explained what actually ensued to a reporter who wrote:
”In 2001, his life changed forever when he met several gay and lesbian young people who had been rejected by their churches. 'They had lost jobs and been expelled from school. Some of them were on the verge of committing suicide.'
“Senyonjo gave them a radical message for their time and place: 'If you are gay or lesbian, God made you and loves you that way, and you should accept yourselves.'
“Once word of his compassionate advice reached his successors in the Anglican hierarchy in Uganda, there was a firestorm. Senyonjo was asked to 'condemn' the people under his care 'and convert them to something else.' Senyonjo said he would not. 'I cannot see God where there is no love,' he said, 'I would rather go with the truth.'
“In reaction, he was expelled from the church he had served for 34 years. More significantly for his own survival, the church stripped him of his pension. 'The cost has been great,' Senyonjo said of his post-retirement ministry. 'It is by the grace of God that I have been able to survive. By the strength of God I have been able to stand.'"
The virulent panic about homosexuality currently raging in Uganda is largely imported from U.S. Religion writer Diana Butler Bass explains:
”Africa is becoming Stage Two of the American political and religious culture wars, a theater for religious imperialists to accomplish overseas what cannot be accomplished at home - like denying women ordination to ministry and putting LGBT people back in closets.
For the last two decades, right-wing Christians have been tromping all over Africa trying to appropriate native African experiential faith for their western theological agenda - making Africa a wedge issue - and African Christians spiritual pawns - in their seemingly endless quest to grasp theological power.
So today, gay Ugandans are denounced as Western decadents by their President. They are threatened with a new law that would, under some circumstances, call for the death penalty for homosexual conduct or rights advocacy.
LGBT people world wide have called on their governments to speak out against the planned legislation. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and President Obama have both joined the chorus of protest.
Several times over the last few years, I've had the opportunity to spend time with Bishop Christopher, most recently in May when I volunteered to drive him to some of his appointments in my city. A more gentle, unassuming man of the cloth would be hard to imagine.
This is a person who saw an injustice and felt called to speak out against it, accepting with equanimity and humor the rejection and privation he has suffered in consequence.
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Richard J. Klade: The Penguins are Gone