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
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
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
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
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