Before we castigate, compare and contrast the present church leadership with the seventies church, hence Luwum, Kivengere and the then Bishops, perhaps we need to appreciate the different circumstances under which either operated and is operating.
OPINION | AGE LIMIT
By Dr Grace Karamura
Last week social media was awash with all sorts of innuendos and satirical cartoons, many mocking the Church’s indifference to the age limit clause.
One of them had a woman in a confessional room before the priest begging, Father, forgive me last week I beat up a politician. The Priest cut her short, please confess your sins not your good deeds. In another, a heroic Archbishop Janan Luwum was confronting Amin’s deadly artillery as he brandished the only sword he had, the Bible. In contrast, the current Bishops were portrayed as ostriches burying their heads in the sand amidst sensitive national issues. The imagery was a demonstration of some people’s perception of the present church leadership and the extent they think it has been compromised. On our television sets, we watched an angry group of the so called rebel MPs led by Muhammed Nsereko castigating and challenging religious readers to come out of the closet and emulate the Archbishop Luwum.
Before we castigate, compare and contrast the present church leadership with the seventies church, hence Luwum, Kivengere and the then Bishops, perhaps we need to appreciate the different circumstances under which either operated and is operating. Luwumu’s church was a persecuted one. I use that verb, persecute, deliberately because Amin and his cohorts planned to use whatever methods to annihilate the church and establish a different order, whatever it was. Also, it is both a historical and theological fact that under persecution, the church becomes bolder and stronger because it has no other option. Hence the famous dictum that the blood of the martyrs became the seed of the church.
Naturally, bishops Luwum and Kivengere were strong willed individuals, men devoid of worldly trapppings. They perceived not, a narrow view of prayer and heaven, but they believed in a gospel that liberated the totality of man; peace, justice and freedom. When Idi Amin tampered with the above, the onerous was on these two Godly men and the entirely bishops then, to defend them.
But, if Bishops Luwum, Kivengere and others lived now, would they be as bold as they were during Amin’s time? It seems to me that they were bold because they were pushed beyond their forbearance. For Luwum especially, his tribal mates, the Langi and the Acholi were being massacred daily, Christians were being killed and exiled and in 1975, Uganda was registered as an Islamic country shocking as it is. Not sure if this has ever been addressed since Uganda is a secular country by our Constitution. Bishops had to stand up and demonstrate their solidarity and calling and be a voice for the voiceless even in death. That is why Bishops wear red. Unlike the priests who put on a black cassock, which demonstrates duty and daily service, Bishops put on red as a demonstration for their uncompromised belief and stand even in death.
Apologies for the expression, but the 1970s Bishops were like a pursued dog with nowhere else to run to. Pushed in the corner by Amin’s savagery, they had to stand the ground. There were also other factors that, for lack of a better word, motivated the church to stand its ground; Amin’s brutality of course, economic chaos, daily human disappearances, religious favouritism, Ugandan refuges all over the world, all this exposed his regime internationally and gave the church leadership the impetus to challenge the regime. Most importantly, since there was no Opposition party, the church had to fill the gap.
Contrast that with the present church. If you want to weaken the church, restore peace. It is a Biblical fact that during peaceful times, the church becomes complacent. That is why I asked the question that if Luwum and Kivengere lived now, whether they would still speak out as boldly as they did then. The church in Uganda has never had it good. Look at the number of mushrooming churches, numbers of apostles, prophets with helicopters and God-knows what else!
Before we castigate the church, we need to understand how it operates. It would be insensitive of the church to come out and pronounce itself on something that is still hanging such as the age limit. Other than what came out in the papers these last few days, there was nothing significant that would warrant the church to jump on the band wagon. The church is a government in itself and has structures though which it works. Some of its councils say the Provincial Assembly (Governing Body in case of Church of Uganda) have representatives who in most cases cross the board. Most of these Church Council members belong to different political affiliations thus part of the reason the church leadership has to trade thoughtfully and maturely. It is in such a body that issues of national importance or concern are debated, hopefully anyway.
We may castigate the Bishops but we do not know how much these Bishops tell or don’t tell the president. If I were a Bishop, by the time I made a public pronouncement on a political issue, I would have sought the President’s private attention several times and either failed to get the appointment or disagreed with him. The Church leadership shouts mainly when government excesses go beyond the limit, or when the peace of its followers is threatened. We witnessed that during the Northern Uganda LRA insurgency. Bishops from that region were at their most active, traversing the world in pursuit for peace. Now that that there is peace, the rest can take care of itself!
As much as the church is the Conscience of the State, mandated with a prophetic banner, it cannot be seen to carry on the role of the Opposition party. Before the church comes on board on the issue of the age limit, we should be challenging the ineffectiveness and slackness of our Opposition parties in national affairs. Individual scattered curses cannot harm a buffalo! Someone was lamenting M7’s determination to annihilate the Opposition by 2021. That is why and what his party elects and expects of him. Other than the rebel NRM MPs (I have never understood why they are called rebels), we have not seen any concerted effort from all the Opposition parties arousing the whole country towards the cause they are convinced about.
Am not at all exonerating the church from its prophetic mandate. Am pointing out the obvious.
The writer is a Ugandan living in the UK