Thursday, 6 March 2008

My Favourite Bishop

The image of the Ugandan Anglican Church outside of the country is, I imagine, one of a hard-line, ultra-conservative group, especially after their very public decision to boycott the next Lambeth Conference over invitations being sent to bishops who condone homosexuality. Nothing in my experience here had persuaded me otherwise until I had the opportunity to meet Bishop Ochola in the Northern Ugandan town of Lira last week. He is a passionate advocate for peace and reconciliation in the North, and has been openly critical of his own Church for what he perceives as their warped sense of priorities in not speaking out forcefully enough on the subject:

"The Church of Uganda has been outspoken about homosexuality 10,000 miles away from here [in reference to Gene Robinson]...but while the house of your mother is on fire you don't talk about other problems"

In my view this is also true about other issues in the Church here. So much emphasis is put upon morality issues, dress and, yes, homosexuality, while many of their flock live with extreme poverty and hunger. In the evangelical church the situation is similar, except humility is invariably thrown out the window altogether. 'Prophetess' Imelda Namutebi, for example, drives round town in a bright yellow Hummer which she allegedly brought for 200 million shillings (~£60k).

Bishop Ochola couldn't be more different. He epitomises what I believe the role of the Church should be in general: to be political without being partisan, to advise without being dogmatic and to be a voice for those who struggle to be heard. His own forgiveness of the Lord's Resistance Army, who terrorised the North for so long, is all the more remarkable given his tragic personal history. His wife was killed by a landmine planted by the rebels and he also lost a daughter, who committed suicide after being gang-raped by the LRA. It is through the inspiration and leadership of people like Bishop Ochola that a long-term peace may finally be achieved in the North.

No comments: