Today, June 22, more than 30 Anglican bishops will gather in Uganda to elect a new Archbishop for their 12 million members.
Archbishop Henry Luke Orombe is retiring to develop his own Orombe Foundation to have partnerships with government to “build an empowered God fearing vibrant society.” He has ambitious plans to create a $16 million education center in a country where the majority of his flock lives on less than $1 a day.
The retiring Archbishop has been extremely successful in developing a soaring 16-story building in the center of Kampala known as Church House. This will cost an additional $17 million when completed. While three previous Archbishops failed to develop this prestigious site that lay dormant since 1965, why has Archbishop Orombe been so successful as a builder, developer and fundraiser?
Follow the money
The answer is still a mystery and until the Anglican Church of Uganda is prepared to share information on where all this money came from, we will all remain in the dark. Perhaps God sent it when the Church of Uganda’s bishops had the opportunity to give Episcopal oversight to wealthy North American parishes?
An example is St. James church in Newport Beach, Calif., where millionaire Howard Ahmanson bankrolled the initial attempt to seize church property from the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles. These disaffected congregations in this one diocese alone could have gained property worth over $50 million if Californian courts had not found this process in violation of the Eighth Amendment.
Other American dioceses faced similar challenges from entrepreneurial Ugandan bishops while congregations like Truro Church in Virginia provided shelter, hospitality and money to the now infamous parliamentarian David Bahati (author of the so-called “Kill The Gays” anti-homosexuality bill that is before the Ugandan parliament once again).
While the focus of the American public in the past two years has concentrated on American evangelical leaders like Scott Lively (recently accused of “crimes against humanity” because of his seminal role in inciting the Ugandan community to further criminalize LGBT people), nice wealthy Episcopalians wrote checks to support the Ugandan anti-gay hate machine.
While evangelical Lou Engle frightened Ugandans into passing laws that he would never propose in his freedom-loving America, Christian business leaders and politicians from USA and the UK made sure that the Church of Uganda’s spiritual war on gay-loving America would be richly rewarded. Judas betrayed Jesus to the Roman authorities for 30 pieces of silver. Remorseful and suicidal, he threw the tainted loot into a field in Jerusalem before hanging himself. The locals called the cursed property the “Field of Blood.” It was difficult to move this kind of real estate, even in Jerusalem.
Unbridled capitalism with a religious veneer
What do you have to do to make say … $20 million over a couple of years to build Church House in Kampala and set up your own foundation so you can retire early as an Archbishop? You have to convince people like Ahmanson and lots of wealthy disaffected Episcopalians to write lots of checks and find a reason to build a relationship between poverty stricken dioceses in the Global South with some of the wealthiest suburbs in the Global North.
Orombi learned the power of preaching against LGBT people and the miracle of the ATM of the Religious Right. With connections to high level Washington insiders who could provide millions of dollars through faith-based initiatives for HIV, the churches in Uganda could promise to articulate a vision of a gay-free world that Rick Warren or Robert Duncan (now the Archbishop of the disaffected Episcopalians in North America) could never say in public.
Jeff Sharlet, who wrote several books exposing the secret evangelical network known as The Family, deliciously describes this dualism as “The sex tourism of American Evangelicals.” You dare to do something in someone else’s country that you would never do at home. Check out his video that follows.
This is exactly the kind of culture “proxy war” that has been going on in Uganda for the past 15 years. Thanks to courageous filmmakers like Katy Wright of Los Angeles and Malika Zouhali Worrall of Brighton, England, documentaries like “Call Me Kuchu” are exposing the techniques and linkages between American churches and Uganda.
Millions of dollars fund a well-oiled hate machine that has created a new alliance between emerging young politicians like Bahati (also an Anglican) and church leaders like Orombi. Behind them are respectable American church leaders and their congregations who see Uganda as the Armageddon of the culture wars and an emerging experiment in theocracy.
I loved Jerry Falwell’s comment to his ghost writer Mel White when his limo drove past a group of gay protestors in Virginia, “I love these gay people. Every time I preach about them on television, millions of dollars come rolling in!”
The Archbishop’s ministry is modeled after the late evangelist, and Orombe’s abiding legacy is undoubtedly Church House – Kampala’s own “Field of Blood.” It is built upon a foundation of lies and misinformation, abuse and violence against Orombi’s own people.
Orombe will also be remembered in history as the man who inhibited one of Uganda’s great church leaders, Bishop Christopher Senyonjo, because his theology of welcome and inclusion of LGBT people would stop Orombi’s gravy train. He inhibited Christopher without an ecclesiastical trial or even due process. As the bishops elect their new Archbishop today, ironically, the “shamed” Senyonjo will be cheered by a million people lining the streets of San Francisco to celebrate Gay Pride on Sunday. Outside of Uganda, Christopher is Uganda’s most favorite church leader and Orombi’s persecution of him has backfired and made him a world celebrity.
For example, Bishop Christopher spoke about the relationship between criminalizing homosexuality in 76 countries and lack of access to HIV services while at the United Nations last summer. He sat beside the co-founder of Facebook. When was the last time we saw a purple-shirted bishop in the UN – maybe 20 years ago with Bishop Tutu? As the persecution in Uganda is orchestrated to make things as difficult as possible for the LGBT community, its courage and charisma only shines brighter.
This past year, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the Robert F. Kennedy Center have publically acknowledged the leader of Sexual Minorities Uganda, Frank Mugisha. A five-minute-long standing ovation at the Castro Theater in San Francisco this week by 1,400 people after watching “Call Me Kuchu” – a film about the legacy of Uganda’s latest martyr, David Kato -- will thrust the Ugandan LGBT community into even more international acclaim.
San Francisco and London pride committees have adopted the theme “Global Equality” followed by 20 other cities in the USA this year alone. The film will undoubtedly fuel the revolution and cause many people to ask deeper questions as to how and why this orchestrated persecution by church and state is happening and who is funding it all.
The church does not look good in any of these scenarios. If anything, Christopher’s courage and pastoral care for the kuchus (queers) of Uganda redeems the church’s complicity in violence and the first stages of dehumanizing a minority community.
Orombe’s last act of betrayal and pastoral abuse
What could be more perfect to underscore the hypocrisy of the Ugandan church than for Henry Orombe to make sure the Catholics and Orthodox churches in Uganda press the Ugandan parliament to pass the Bahati anti-homosexuality bill into law?
One might wonder who is bank rolling this grotesque charade? It would also be interesting for the IRS to investigate how much money has gone into the Church House project from wealthy disaffected Episcopalian congregations and the newly formed Convocation of Anglicans of North America (CANA). Their leader, Archbishop Duncan, has long-standing relationships with Ugandan bishops and he attended a meeting of 400 Anglican bishops in Kampala last year.
Orombi, a tireless advocate of Duncan, tried unsuccessfully to get the Episcopal church ousted from the Anglican Communion and Duncan’s anti-gay group recognized as the true orthodox Anglican church of North America. The corporate takeover failed.
I wonder if their congregants really know that their tax-exempt dollars sacrificially placed in the church plate every Sunday are going to support an organization that wants to send gay people and their supporters to jail? CANA may also be in trouble given their own version of American foreign policy is not entirely consistent with our government’s commitment to human rights for everyone, including LGBT people. They are basically conducting their own private foreign policy using tax-exempt privilege to do so.
A government-sponsored audit of CANA’s missionary activities and careful monitoring of church leaders who are known to be supporting legislation in other countries in violation of current American foreign policy would be two important sacramental steps (outward and visible signs of our inner core values) to underscore our real commitment to protecting the rights of minorities, even when we do not approve of their religious convictions and beliefs.
Church supports gross violations of constitutional rights, puts every Ugandan at risk
Orombi is also supporting the Ugandan Minister of Ethics and Integrity’s unconstitutional raid on two LGBT training events and a threat to shut down 38 organizations who are advocating for constitutional rights for all Ugandans.
The Minister, Father Simon Lukodo, has also threatened to arrest faith leaders from Uganda and abroad who were to go to Kampala for a faith conference later this year advocating for LGBT pastoral care and access to health and education services.
Lukodo is a Catholic priest and appears to be contradicting the Vatican’s explicit moral teaching in opposition to LGBT persecution. Orombe and Lukodo share the same views -that only their views are allowed in Uganda and anything contrary will be punished by the law. Theocracy is emerging, like Church House in the center of Kampala.
Pray for the bishops electing one of their own today who will be asked to dedicate Church House. He may also be the first Archbishop in the Anglican Communion to witness the building of large-scale concentration camps since the end of World War II to house the 1.5 million estimated LGBT Ugandan population. If Orombe succeeds in getting the Bahati Bill passed, maybe he can also ask his rich American friends to pay for a half-billion dollars needed each year to run the prisons for the kuchu’s of Uganda. After all, his record has been so consistent on all of these issues and he has the kind of people behind him who are not lacking in commitment, wealth or scruples, to get what they want.
History will show as much mercy and compassion to him as he has shown Christopher and his beloved kuchu community.
RGOD2, written by the Rev. Canon Albert Ogle of St. Paul’s Cathedral in San Diego, looks at faith and religion from an LGBT point of view. Ogle is known around the world for his work in support of LGBT rights and HIV-prevention efforts. He is president of St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation. Donations to the foundation can be made by clicking HERE.