Mwanga II, the King of Buganda in 1886, wanted to seduce young men and, when all the Christian pages began to refuse his advances, he had them put to death. They included Catholics and Anglicans. On their way to the place of execution, these young Christians sang hymns in honour of the Lord and some were still singing when the flames surrounded them. Anglicans and Roman Catholics unite on this day to remember those who witnessed in Uganda for Christ, even unto death.
Thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Saviour. I give Egypt as your ransom, Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you. Because you are precious in my sight, and honoured, and I love you, I give people in return for you, nations in exchange for your life. Do not fear, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, and from the west I will gather you; I will say to the north, ‘Give them up,’ and to the south, ‘Do not withhold; bring my sons from far away and my daughters from the end of the earth — everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.’
The tale of the Ugandan martyrs is horrific – the Bugandan king, Mwanga II, gives in to murderous lust and has killed those young men who resisted his lecherous advances. Sadly the horror of Mwanga’s actions haunts Uganda now.
Mwanga’s actions, and the young men’s heroic resistance to his lust, fuel murderous homophobia. Instead of a gay king persecuting faithful believers now faithful believers persecute LGBT people. The Church urges the Ugandan Parliament to enact evermore draconian laws and is at the forefront of resistance to other parts of the worldwide Church taking a more tolerant approach. Hagiography has become a tool of repression.
This is a far cry from the words of assurance God gives through the prophet Isaiah; words of peace, rescue, love and assurance. Isaiah’s promise of deliverance is one that gave hope to the martyrs of all ages and gives hope now to those who are persecuted for their faith, politics, ethnicity, gender or how they love.
The God who comforted the Ugandan martyrs continues to give comfort to those who are persecuted in His name now.
God of the Covenant, help your people to love, even those with whom they disagree, that the memory of your martyrs, may inspire us to resist oppression in all its forms, even when we are the oppressors. Amen.
The Rev’d Andy Braunston is the minister of Barrhead, Shawlands and Stewarton URCs in the Synod of Scotland’s Southside Cluster