Presentation address by Dr Adriaan Van Klinken
There is a popular conception that Africa is a homophobic continent, and that religion is the force fuelling the homophobia. If there is one figure who destabilizes this conception, it is Bishop Christopher Senyonjo, whose life and work present a counter-narrative of how African religious and cultural traditions can promote human dignity and rights, especially in relation to sexual and gender diversity.
After a short career as a secondary-school teacher, Christopher Senyonjo studied at Buwalasi Theological College in Mbale, Uganda, and at Union Theological Seminary in New York. He graduated from the latter as a master of sacred theology and with a doctorate of ministry. He was ordained as deacon in the Anglican Church of Uganda in 1963, and a year later as priest. Soon after completing his studies in the US, he was appointed as lecturer at Bishop Tucker Theological College at Mukono. In 1974, Christopher was enthroned as Bishop of the Diocese of West Buganda, a position he held for 24 years.
Throughout his career, Christophers service has aimed at ministering to the marginalised in society and at reconciling divisions in the church. This took a new direction after his retirement, when he came into contact with people ostracised because of their sexual orientation. Christopher became one of the few religious leaders in Africa who actively support members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community and advocate the recognition of their human rights.
Among many other things, Christopher has provided pastoral counselling to many members of the Ugandan LGBT community; openly testified against the Anti-Homosexuality Bill and was part of a delegation to the Ugandan House of Parliament to oppose it; was founder and executive director of St Pauls Reconciliation and Equality Centre in Kampala; has advocated within the Church of Uganda the acceptance of LGBT people; and within the global Anglican Communion has spoken up for the recognition of sexual diversity. In 2012 he received the Clinton Global Citizenship award that honours outstanding individuals for exemplary leadership and ground-breaking work that has effected positive, lasting social change.
Christopher has suffered as a result of his courageous leadership. In 2006 the Church of Uganda stripped him from all his entitlements as ordained minister and retired bishop. Today is an opportunity to recognise him for his service.
Vice-Chancellor, Christopher Senyonjos commitment to defending the human dignity and rights of socially marginalised people reflects the vision of equality and inclusion upheld by our University. It is an honour for us to have his name associated with our institution, and it is my personal honour to present to you, for the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa, Disani Christopher Senyonjo.