The Memorial Service
“I opened my mouth to the Lord/And I won’t turn back/I will go/I shall go/To see what the end is going to be” – Negro Spiritual
Frank Mugisha, Executive Director, Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), worked alongside David Kato, fighting for the rights of LGBT individuals, until Kato was bludgeoned to death with a hammer.
He told the audience at Harlem’s legendary Abyssinian Baptist Church that Kato was the one that welcomed him home from the airports and bailed him out of jail when just being became a crime. He didn’t know who he would call now, Mugisha said, to welcome him when he got home to Uganda. He told of Kato’s bravery in eloquent words and then stopped. He wanted to cut his comments short he said, because it had been so long since he’d had an opportunity to be in a church, and to be reflective and meditate. A gay man like him wouldn’t be welcome in a church in Uganda.
Rev. Dr. Michael Walrond Jr.
Rev. Dr. Michael Walrond Jr. challenged the insanity of being requested to make comments at Kato’s memorial under the heading “A call to a new understanding.” Fully aware that Kato’s murder was spawned in part by some Christian’s hatred of LGBT people, he suggested that all Christians need to be called back to the “old understanding” that Jesus is love and love does not incite people to kill. Reverend Walrus referred us back to the Prophet Mica’s Old Testament iteration of the Christian requirement to “do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God.”
Pastor Joseph Tolton
Elder Joseph Tolton’s call to social action caused us to consider the theory of evolution as the blueprint for a “survivor of the fittest” mentality that prompts constant power-hungry grabs for dominance over those considered to be “lesser” evolved. The phenomena seeded the evils of racism, especially as expressed by the southern white Christian evangelical church, which has never been apologized for, Elder Tolton said. The phenomena was also the seed used to pit black conservatives against gay people to the benefit of the Defense of Marriage crowd during recent political elections. Last but not least, the phenomena was a seed to the hatred that took the life of David Kato.
It was a powerful night. And seeing clergy from so many open and affirming churches gathered in one of Harlem’s oldest and most respected churches memorializing the life of an African LGBT activist helped put another brick in the bridge between transnational issues of oppression for the benefit of all. But still to me, one of the most poignant moments was Mr. Mugisha’s time of redeemed silence. That silence represented the value Mugisha placed on being within the four walls of a house of worship, in a church, in a pew, in Harlem and in his gay skin. He priced it as being worth one – dare I presume even two – fewer precious words at the memorial of a dear friend. And although many in the U.S. would still argue that Mugisha was somehow unworthy of that time in the divine, and although many of us in the U.S. struggle to find gay-friendly churches, Mr. Mugisha’s golden opportunity for reflection will make me and perhaps all of us LGBT believers who have made their peace with their God and their chosen house of worship sit a little humbler in our congregations this Sunday morning.