Anglicans Find It's Africa vs. West on Homosexuality

Article excerpt

On a hot Sunday morning, in a windowless chapel hidden in a grove of banana trees, gather a handful of Christians who are not supposed to exist.

As other devout Africans, they dress smartly, share Bibles, and kneel on the dirt floor to pray. But they are admittedly gay, making them criminals to their government and sinners to their church. Like most of the developing world's vast Anglican Communion, the Church of Uganda considers homosexuality explicitly incompatible with Christianity.

But Erich Kasirye, a young priest, and Bishop Christopher Senyonjo, a 71-year-old father of seven and pillar of the local Anglican community, disagreed. So three years ago, they set up a tiny congregation a few miles west of Kampala to welcome the pariahs.

Soon after, the Rev. Mr. Kasirye was fired from his job as youth secretary at a local diocese. Bishop Senyonjo was threatened with arrest. The archbishop of Uganda has suggested that he be defrocked.

The furor exposes a cultural and ideological split between the Anglican faithful in developed countries who are increasingly liberal on the issue of homosexuality, and their more numerous and conservative counterparts in the developing world. The rift is sure to be at the center of next week's special meeting called by the Archbishop of Canterbury.

"When people in America and England say [homosexuality] is a way of life, we say no, it's abnormal," says Livingstone Mpalanyi Nkoyoyo, the Ugandan archbishop. He sees the group as a ploy to wring money from gay-rights organizations in the US.

Africa is now home to more than half the world's Anglicans. Uganda, a country about the size of Oregon, has 8 million believers. Nigerian Archbishop Peter Akinola heads the largest Anglican province in the world with some 17 million parishioners. By contrast, the Episcopal Church, the US branch of the Anglican Communion, which has lost half its membership in recent decades, has just over 2 million members.

As in much of Africa, in Uganda homosexuality remains illegal and taboo. In 1999, public outcry over a rumor that a gay couple had been allowed to marry prompted President Yoweri Museveni to order police to arrest homosexuals. Several local activists were beaten and tortured, according to Amnesty International.

Inspired by what they saw as a need among an oppressed minority in their church, Mr. Kasirye, with Senyonjo's help, formed a support group for gay Ugandan Anglicans. It welcomed members who had been thrown out of their churches, schools, or even homes because of their sexuality.

The group, which calls itself Integrity Uganda after a similar American organization, generated days of sensational headlines in the local press. The group receives support from its US counterpart, fueling accusations that Americans are employing Kasirye and Senyonjo to promote homosexuality here.

Senyonjo, a short, stout man with a cheerful demeanor, has an office in a small Kampala storefront modestly decorated with the customary lone framed portrait of the president. Forbidden from officiating at routine church functions, he now devotes his time to running a volunteer counseling service for "youths, singles, marrieds, and marriage matching," according to a sign outside the door. …