By Ruth Muganzi
In his modest home filled with photos of memories from his long life, Bishop Christopher Ssenyonjo gives off the aura of wisdom and brilliance. He opens his doors to those in need and has over the years dealt with backlash from the very church he served for most of his adult life; all for reaching out and trying to offer a shoulder to lean on sexual minorities in Uganda.
After retiring from active Church service in 2008, Bishop as he is commonly referred to within the LGBTI community, heeded to God’s calling and went into the counseling ministry. It was during this period that he first encountered many people who were dealing with rejection and discrimination based on sexual orientation and or gender identity.
Fortunately, Bishop had prior knowledge on the complexity of human sexuality and knew he had been led on this path to make a difference; he made it his life’s mission to emphasize God’s love for all people irrespective of their sexuality. It was because of this that in 2011, he decided to start St Paul’s Reconciliation and Equality Centre (SPREC) to create a medium of dialogue for both the marginalised and their families.
Bishop Ssenyonjo stresses that even when the church threatened to excommunicate him over his stand on homosexuality, he stood his ground and continues to preach LOVE above all else. “Any religion that does not emphasize love or upholds values that disregard LOVE for one another is missing the most important facts,” he says of his beliefs.
“The Bible is often quoted out of context but if people are to look beneath all the scriptures they use to bash homosexuals, they would then realize that the problem was never sexuality. It was the lack of love and hospitality,” Bishop sheds light on one of the greatest bases of homophobia.
He recounts a time when he traveled overseas as a member of an NGO board but rumours swirled that he had traveled on LGBTI business. He was forced to stay out of the country for over six months as the situation settled. This was also the time when the church wrote a letter detailing their decision to excommunicate him.
To this day, Bishop Ssenyonjo cannot officiate over any church activities although he refuses to be intimidated and religiously attends services and is firm rooted in the Christian faith.
When he first started working with LGBTI persons, his family could not understand this decision either as they were, like the rest of society, strongly opposed to sexual minorities. He gradually turned them around and today, they have all become a support system in his line of work; something the Bishop says is testament to the fact that dialogue is the only way to change people’s attitudes towards homosexuality.
However, it has not been all rosy for the dedicated man of God, as he has had to endure not only discrimination from the society and church but also lost his pension. He looks back at the one request he made to God when he embarked on this journey- never to lack and attests that God’s faithfulness even when his only source of income (read pension) was stripped away is reaffirmation that he is doing exactly what God intended for him.
Asked where he sees the movement in about ten years, the Bishop reminisces about how far the LGBTI community has come; from the days mainly characterised by denial to most community members leaving the country for security reasons. He however asserts that he envisions the movement much stronger and society more accepting of sexual minorities in a decade’s time.
With all the obstacles he has dealt with for his association with sexual minorities, Bishop Ssenyonjo says he has no regrets and would not change a thing given the chance; he is much happier and freer because of the brave choice to stand with LGBTI persons.