Remembrance of the Martyrs: Reflections from Uganda 2020


On my way home from Uganda last week, I stopped over at the Anglican Martyrs’ Shrine at Namugongo, the pagan execution ground, now a pilgrimage site. The new museum (2015) is very impressive – and (trigger warning) very gory. The first converts, who were elite pages of the king’s court, were not treated kindly for worshiping King Jesus. They were dragged, hacked, starved, and forced to gather kindling for their own funeral pyre.

They are not forgotten. June 3 is Martyrs’ Day in Uganda and a public holiday, with massive crowds of pilgrims at both Anglican and Roman Catholic shrines.

Ugandans generally are soft-spoken, mannerly and gracious, but when it comes to standing firm for the Gospel, they have not been shy. Shortly after Gene Robinson was made bishop in the USA in 1993, the Anglican Church of Uganda broke communion with the Episcopal Church and informed American missionaries that they should dissolve any ties with it. Its two Archbishops since that time, Henry Luke Orombi and Stanley Ntagali, have been prominent in the Gafcon movement, with the unanimous backing of its Provincial Assembly. The new archbishop promises to continue in this train.

On March 1, the Most Rev. Stephen Kaziimba was enthroned as the ninth Archbishop of the Church of Uganda. It was a national celebration, full of pomp and circumstance, live-streamed on state TV, attended by the President of Uganda and the Queen of Buganda. It was also an international Anglican event, with Primates and prominent leaders from near and far – from Rwanda, Burundi, Kenya, Tanzania, Congo, South Sudan, Nigeria, and from Brazil, Australia, Ireland, England, and North America.

Archbishop Foley Beach of the Anglican Church in North America was the preacher at the service. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, also was present and brought greetings on behalf of the Church of England and the Anglican Communion. The two archbishops, dressed in their purple cassocks, sat together at the high table at the reception following the service.

What that harmonious image belies is that the bishops of the Anglican Church in North America have been quarantined from the Lambeth Conference later this year, with Foley Beach invited as an “ecumenical observer.” I rather doubt he takes up the offer. Meanwhile, Archbishop Kaziimba and his thirty-eight bishops will not be attending either, along with several hundred others from the Global South.

At the 2018 Global Anglican Future Conference in Jerusalem, the nearly 2,000 delegates petitioned Canterbury to invite to Lambeth those bishops who had upheld the 1998 Resolution on Human Sexuality and to disinvite those who had knowingly violated it. He did not deign to respond to this request and proceeded with business as usual.

Archbishop Welby was received politely but coolly. Rumors abounded as to who invited him – the Government or the Church? – or why he came. Presumably he considers it his duty to recognize the new Primate of a church recognized by the official “Instruments of Unity,” even if that church is in a state of rebellion against the Lambeth establishment.

In his greeting to the congregation, Archbishop Welby mentioned visiting the Martyrs’ shrine and being deeply moved. Sentiment is a poor substitute for remembrance, particularly in a bishop of the church (see Acts 20:28-30). What is sad and ironic is that Justin Welby is the successor of a line of Anglican bishops who gave their lives – even unto death in the case of James Hannington and Janani Luwum – to introduce and uphold the Gospel in Uganda.

While the Church of Uganda remembers its debt to its founders and stands firm, Canterbury plays politics with the inheritance of the saints.