President’s Day, and bitterly cold. My wife and I are not at work today, though I will be doing quite a bit of work from home. Building a fire in the hearth here soon, and settling in against the cold. A few weeks ago, we circled this day as a good day to do some garden planting–but with hard frosts expected and even colder days coming later this week, we’re putting it off, yet again.
Today, we remember the example of Janani Luwum, Archbishop of Uganda, martyred on this day in 1977 by either the Ugandan dictator Idi Amin (or the dictator’s henchmen). An excellent summary of Archibishop Luwum’s life and witness is from the Anglican News Service, in this 1997 bulletin on the twentieth anniversary of his martyrdom:
Janani Luwum was born in 1922 at Mucwini in East Acholi in Uganda. His father was a convert to Christianity. As a boy Janani spent his time herding the family’s cattle, goats and sheep. His father could not afford for him to go to school until he was 10 but then Janani worked hard and went on to Gulu High School and then on to Boroboro Teacher Training. Janani taught in a primary school before he was converted in 1948. He became very active in the East African revival movement. First he studied to be a lay reader, and then a deacon. He was priested in 1956. Early on his leadership skills became apparent and he was chosen to do a one year course at St Augustine’s College in Canterbury, Uk. After working in parish work and at Buwalasi Theological College he returned to Britain to study at the London College of Divinity, returning to Uganda to become Principal of Buwalasi. In 1966 he became Provincial Secretary and in 1969 he was consecrated bishop of Northern Uganda.
In 1974 Janani Luwum he became Archbishop of Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Boga-Zaire. Three years previously Colonel Idi Amin had overthrown the Government of Uganda and established a military dictatorship. Amin’s regime became infamous around the world. Thousands of people were arrested, beaten, imprisoned without trial and killed. Archbishop Luwum often went personally to the office of the dreaded State Research Bureau to help secure the release of prisoners.
Tension between Church and state worsened in 1976. Religious leaders, including Archbishop Luwum, met to discuss the deteriorating situation and asked for an interview with Idi Amin to share their concern. The President reprimanded the Archbishop. But Archbishop Luwum continued to attend Government functions. One of his critics accused him of being on the Government side and he replied:”I face daily being picked up by the soldiers. While the opportunity is there I preach the Gospel with all my might, and my conscience is clear before God that I have not sided with the present Government which is utterly self-seeking. I have been threatened many times. Whenever I have the opportunity I have told the President the things the churches disapprove of. God is my witness.”
On 5 February 1977 the Archbishop’s house was raided by soldiers who said they had been ordered to look for arms. On 8 February the Archbishop and nearly all the Ugandan bishops met and drafted a letter of protest to the President and asked to see him. A week later, on 16 February, the Archbishop and six bishops were publicly arraigned in a show trial and were accused of smuggling arms. Archbishop Luwum was not allowed to reply, but shook his head in denial. The President concluded by asking the crowd:”What shall we do with these traitors?” The soldiers replied “Kill him now”.The Archbishop was separated from his bishops. As he was taken away Archbishop Luwum turned to his brother bishops and said:”Do not be afraid. I see God’s hand in this.”
The next morning it was announced that Archbishop Luwum had been killed in a car crash. The truth was that he had been shot because he had stood up to President Amin and his Government. The Archbishop was killed just a few months before the centenary celebrations of the Church of Uganda, an anniversary which marked the martyrdom of Anglicans in Uganda nearly a century before. At a memorial service Janani Luwum was proclaimed the first martyr of the Church of Uganda’s second century.
May his witness inspire us to speak truth to power and to hold fast to our faith, no matter the threat to us. After Amin was deposed, the Ugandan Church grew to one of the largest and most active in the world; Archbishop Luwun’s witness–that he saw “God’s hand in this”–was vindicated.
Of course, I would be remiss if I mentioned the Ugandan Church without commenting on their current, notorious reputation for the often violent suppression of gays and lesbians. I would pray that the Uganda Church would remember the humanity of these individuals, that they, too, are made Imago Dei, and should be treated with charity, humility, and an eye towards reconciliation, and that these things do not contradict Truth. Forgive us for the wrongs done in your name, Lord.
O Almighty God, who didst give to thy servant Janani Luwum and His companions boldness to confess the Name of our Savior Jesus Christ before the rulers of this world, and courage to die for this faith: Grant that we may always be ready to give a reason for the hope that is in us, and to suffer gladly for the sake of the same our Lord Jesus Christ; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
- The calendar is our effort to apply the rational, mathematically predictable movement of our Earth around the Sun to the irrational, charged-by-beauty-and-politics-and-tradition-and-beliefs rhythms of our lives and societies. And the results of the efforts of calendar-making have been exceptionally fascinating; Colin Dickey outlines them.
- I have still yet to see American Sniper. The predictable backlash and even more predictable defenses have been endlessly tiring, and show, more than anything, our pettiness and desires to map our unthinking, uncritical politics onto everything, without giving those things a moment’s reflection on their own terms. Two very different takes on the film push against this pettiness, and perhaps begin to actually consider what the film is, and the ways in which our notions of war and violence are challenged by it.
- Big Data, and the dehumanizing desire of perfect, absolute control of our lives.
- A heavy, and necessary, examination of the meaning of America–informed by McIntyre, Heidegger, and Wendell Berry, amongst others: “Modernity and our American Heresies.”
Not a rural church, necessarily, but an unidentified outbuilding, topped with an Orthodox Cross. From the village of Konstaninovo in Ryazan Oblast of Russia; the Oka River is in the foreground: