Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Late Bishop Misaeri Kauma of Namirembe and the Church of Uganda, Anglican

Sunday Morning. Valentine’s Day.

The last few days have been hot. Very hot. Or, very hot for Kampala.
But this dawned with a drizzle, and the heat which the rest of the day may have will be changed, moulded by the cool of the rain of morning.

I feel like a trillion dollars.
Awake, fresh, happy. Yesterday, I was at my favourite bar, and I got up and danced. I was mindful of the fact that last time I did that, I came back a bit worn out by the alcohol. This time, I had fun, we had fun, and came back in time to celebrate the beginning of Valentine’s day in each others arms.

Morning, and we made sweet love. And are now out of bed and looking to the new day.

Yesterday, I also learnt of something scheduled to happen today, which has the potential to be bad. For the ‘cause’
And, I also learnt that I don’t control life as it is. That is a figment of an overactive imagination. Life is no chess game. Or, if it is, even the most strategic moves can and will be disrupted by the vagaries of wind. We can play, and hope for luck.

I have been ranting about the Church of Uganda.
I love words. I have found myself understanding them better that I ever thought possible. Of course I am not English, and the language that I use is a second language to me, learnt in school. But, I do know a bit of it.

When I read the statement of the Church of Uganda, I could not help but be impressed by the malice, and need to hurt that is wrapped up in those words. It is clever, though not so clever. It is nasty. There is the need to balance hate with a show of love.
Of course they don’t achieve it. That is kind of hard to do. Ssempa has slipped from the hypocrisy of ‘love’ to plain visible hate. Even non-believers who know a bit about the love of Christ are left wondering whether Ssempa is actually a believer, a Christian. Because, trying to balance a show of love to hide a visceral hate, he has been undone. The hate is too strong, too enveloping an emotion. That is why he shows porn, to demonise gay people.

The same applies to the Kenyan Bishop Laurence Chai of the National Council of Churches of Kenya. A Christian Bishop leading a Pogrom?
But, from the reports from Kenya, from his own words, that is what that ‘man of god’ was doing. An ethnic cleansing.

No. I do not condone the Moslem Sheikh because he is a Moslem, and the Quaran says I am evil. I expect the vestiges of logical thought from a religious ‘leader’. They teamed up, and led mobs in the streets of Mombasa to rid the town of those they suspected of being gay. A gay pogrom. “Operations Gays Out”
Sheikh Hussein Ali, the Council of Imams and Preachers of Kenya Kikambala region coordinator and National Council of Churches of Kenya, Kilifi district representative Bishop Laurence Chai led Operation Gays Out. The two clerics declared having successfully stopped the homosexual nuptials that they said was announced to take place in the town 20 days ago. "We thank God for saving this town from being turned to Sodom and Gomorrah of this era as we may have been on the verge of being doomed," said Bishop Chai.
But, in this post, I wanted to concentrate on the example of another Christian. A bishop of the Church of Uganda who was a real Christian. Actually, Misaeri Kauma used to remind me of Desmond Tutu of South Africa. The same jolly face, the same laughing acquitance with the realities of life. And, the steely resolve to do what he believes is right.

He was very different from the charismatic but shallow Luke Orombi. Archbishop of the Church of Uganda, the author of the statement full of loving hate that rejected the Bahati's bill.

I go back to Charles Onyango Obbo's article.

I remember Bishop Kauma because of the debate over gays in Uganda. Not the debate itself, I think that should go on, but the fact that the most extreme views, the fellows who want to hang gays and to condemn them to life sentences, are Born-Again politicians and pastors.
A bit about Obbo. He did attend Harvard. And, he is one of the stellar newsmen of Uganda.
If I remember well, he founded the Daily Monitor. And, positioned it as an independent paper. He built it up as a ruthless teller of truth, and suffered the wrath of government. This was in the Museveni years. The Monitor has been closed on and off, its journalists sent to prison, and charged with all sorts of crimes. For the right to write their views. For the right to report facts as they saw them.

There came a time when he had to sell to the Nation Media, owned by the Aga Khan I believe. The heat was too hot for an indigenous company. At least, that is my assesment of what happened.

Back to his story.

Even stranger, is to hear some of these people pleading that witchdoctors who sacrifice children should be treated leniently. It is truly a strange God that approves of witchcraft and child sacrifice, but abhors homosexuality.

Yes, Charles. I must admit that what the Christian, and Moslem leaders in Uganda think should be done to us evil homosexuals is simply mind numbing. I have to remind myself, very seriously, on a day to day basis, that Ugandans believe that, because I am gay, I am not human. That is in the psych of the country. And, that is what the leaders, especially Ugandan religious leaders think. Believe.

Obbo writes with the authority of a Ugandan who has lived this story.

I asked myself, what would Bishop Kauma have done and said?
The best guide to what the good bishop might have done can be gleaned from how he dealt with Aids. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, this country was in the deadly grip of Aids and thousands were being felled by the pandemic every month. There were more juju theories and ignorant scare stories about HIV/Aids, than good science.
Superstition and irrational fear had run amok. People crossed to the other side of the street if they saw someone who was living with HIV/Aids approaching. You would go to an Aids ward to see a friend who had come down with the disease, and nurses were too frightened. They would hand the relatives the medicine to administer to the Aids patient. It was not uncommon for families to wait for darkness, then carry out a relative who was sick with the disease and throw him or her out on the roadside.
I must admit I was a bit too young to remember all this. But, some memories persist, even in my mind.
I do have some which are more gruesome, which literally broke me down. I was young, I was idealistic, and, I was overwhelmed.
What did Bishop Misaeri Kauma do? The story continues.

Then a man called Philly Lutaaya, a wonderful musician, came along. He was to dramatically change our view of people living with HIV/Aids. Sometime in 1988 he became perhaps the first entertainment figure in the world to publicly disclose that he was HIV positive. There was shock and revulsion. Undaunted, Lutaaya set out on a tour of the country, performing his music and giving lecturers about Aids to school kids.
The next one year, his struggle with the disease was very public, and by the time he died he had become a global icon in the fight against HIV/Aids. But it was not easy. I remember a press conference at what is now The Sheraton Hotel, where cynical journalists badgered him with questions about how he got the disease, and if he knew the woman who infected him. Lutaaya left that press conference in tears.
I remember Lutaaya because when he died, one of my aunties exclaimed. 'Philly Lutaaya is dead. Banaange, this disease is real. I thought he was lying!'
For some reason, that exclamation, her absolute shock made an impression on my mind. For her, it was Philly's death which made AIDS a reality. For me, a well known musician, who I had seen on TV looking absolutely emanciated with HIV, was dead.

Back to the story.

The turning point for him (Philly Lutaaya) came from one man – Bishop Kauma. The churches and mosques had a very reactionary view of HIV-Aids, with some priests arguing that HIV-Aids was God’s just punishment for sinners. Kauma realised that if the battle against Aids was to be won, the church needed to change its attitude, and it needed action that would be a dramatic example, not just pious words about love and tolerance.
Lutaaya was a good musician, but like many of us, not a model church-going man. Which is why, added to the hostility of hard-line Christians, what Kauma did next was truly brave and revolutionary. He invited Lutaaya to sing with the celebrate choir at Namirembe! If he were not the bishop, he probably wouldn’t have got away with it. But he was the chief—and used his power to good cause.

Typical Kauma. He had the knack of using his authority where he could be hurt.

That is why he reminds me of Desmond Tutu. This man in a bishop's robes, plunging into a mob that was about to 'necklace' a man, burn him to death in tires, because he was a suspected colaborator with the white, apartheid government.
That, indeed, was courage. So was Kauma's. Bishop of Namirembe, taking that radical step. And no, the Bishop of Namirembe, though that is the biggest cathedral of the Church of Uganda, could not be the Archbishop of the Church of Uganda. Our history of Church intrigue and politics is absolutely riveting.

What mattered was that the Bishop of Namirembe had embraced a sinner. Ask yourself, who was the Archbishop at that time? Why the absolute charisma and stubborness of a Bishop, one of many who became the leader here? Why was it NOT the Archbishop?

So Lutaaya sang, and afterwards Kauma posed with him and other faithful for a photograph on the steps of the church. To this day, in my wanderings I still meet people who watched Born in Africa, about Lutaaya’s battle with HIV-Aids, who get all emotional when they refer to that scene in the film.
And that opened many gates, and encouraged many to be courageous in the fight. It was remarkable, how a man of his age was so ahead of his time. When Kauma encountered something he didn’t understand and about which there was hysteria, he did not join the mob. He got close and tried to understand it.
It is remarkable. Isnt it?

That story, that testimony has been on my mind.

We kuchus are not perfect. Matter of fact, some of the leaders in Uganda are some of the most ruthless people that I have ever seen. Comes with the territory. On the one hand I understand that it is that ruthlessness that helps us survive, in such hostile territory. Indeed, kuchus do hurt kuchus. And they use them, when they know they are helpless, seeking, searching in a hostile word.

They take advantage of them. They use them.

They, are human. Like all Ugandans. All peoples of this world.

But, out of such, we still have people like Misaeri Kauma. Desmond Tutu. People who will NOT hide behind religion. They will use it to do good.

That thought woke me up from bed. And, I thought I did have to work through it, to blog and post.

We are gay, and human.

May your Valentine's day be good.


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