By Jonathan Mwesigwa Sekiziivu
Like you, I, too, have been wondering to myself as to what precisely the Bishop of Mukono wanted to impress upon the country, in general, and the flock in his Diocese, in particular, when he harshly decreed that pregnant learners in church-founded schools within his episcopal jurisdiction should be barred from resuming their studies until such a time when they are delivered of their babies. The most obvious and perhaps only sensible deduction from The Rt. Rev. James William Ssebaggala’s decree is that the pregnant learners are “immoral” and a “poor example” to their mates!
With all due respect, the prelate got it spectacularly wrong, and this is why.
First, the whole thing is unconstitutional, not to mention that it contravenes several other domestic, regional and international laws that seek to protect and promote the basic fundamental rights of children among other human rights and freedoms. Under our supreme law, for instance, every child is entitled to: basic education (Articles 30 and 34); protection from discrimination regardless of their various statuses (Article 21); protection from any form of torture [such as psychological torture] or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (Article 24); be fairly heard before the determination of their fate (Article 28); and freedom of association with fellow learners and other persons (Article 29)–just to mention, but a few (see Article 45).
Rather unfortunately for the bishop, the 1995 Constitution has _*”binding force on all authorities and persons throughout Uganda.”*_ “Worse”, he is expected *at all times to defend it and to resist himself and others* seeking to overthrow it (Article 3), especially insofar as the enjoyment of the rights and freedoms within “what is acceptable and demonstrably justifiable in a free and democratic society” (Articles 17 and 43). It certainly would do well for him to not only acquaint himself with these basic provisions, but also with _The Promises_ he made on the day of his consecration and enthronement to _*“respect, maintain and defend the rights,* privileges of”_ his Church and Diocese, _*“and to rule therein with truth, justice and charity, not loading it over God’s heritage,* but showing myself in all things an example, to *my people.”*_
Second, Bishop Ssebaggala sounded irrationally intolerant of the unique circumstances in which these innocent and vulnerable learners, plus their parents/guardians now find themselves, yet _“The soundness of an idea,”_ as Vincent Ryan Ruggiero rightly argues in his _Beyond Feelings: A Guide to Critical Thinking_ (7th ed. 2003), _“doesn’t depend on the motivations of those who_ [dictate or] _support it. It depends on how well the idea fits the realities of the situation.”_ Clearly, the engineers of the COVID-19 pandemic, which we all are yet to come to grips with, forced these learners out of school for two straight years. The risks associated with the unreasonable and illegal lockdowns insofar as they were concerned were reasonably foreseeable. Yet, when public calls on the Church of Uganda to rein in state-sanctioned teenage pregnancies and to rebuke Mr. Museveni for his careless responses to these concerns were made last year; its leadership, in general, and that of the Diocese of Mukono, in particular, chose to look the other way, instead. And now you want us to believe that you care more? Astagafirullah!
Third, as the chief shepherd of Mukono, Bishop Ssebaggala missed the opportunity to act pastorally towards those under his care, and to both legally and fairly exercise the tremendous authority entrusted to him by the faithful in Mukono, who must have a say on the matter through their organs– (the extra-ordinary) Diocesan Council and Synod. We have little doubt, basing on the “whoof whoof” sounds we recently heard and read about in the media, that over the years he has not already been lured to think of his flock as comprising sheep in the literal sense. Ironically, men of his stature are not only presumed to have the most tender and kindest hearts, but also the most graceful and clearest thinking. The instant circumstances, however, sadly demonstrate that it is unwise to assume that this is always the case. I hesitate to ask my bishop: _What would Jesus do?_ Suffice it to note, though, that the learners long for pastoral care, counselling, rehabilitation, not least a case by case analysis of their situation. Not further exposure to criminals, some of whom might be his own men–in which case he will be criminally liable as an accomplice or aider or abettor.
Fourth, but still related to the above, the decree has the regrettable effect of weakening the faith of these learners, many of whom I presume to be Christians and, therefore, share in the future of their Church. For the non-Christians, who previously might have wished, on their own, to convert to the faith and maybe impress it upon others of their kind now want to hear no more. The conditions put by the cleric on the expectant learners are onerous and no more different from those imposed earlier on by the Church of Uganda, when it still subscribed to the old and erroneous theology forbidding the baptism of the so-called “bastards” _(“abaana b’ekibi”)_. Maybe some will ( be coerced to) lose interest in their studies and abandon them altogether in favour of “marriage” or worse, elect to abort in order to be accepted in school. Others will view his bishopric as a “Loadship” rather than as a “Lordship”–regardless of the controversy surrounding the latter style. And church critics are likely to recall that in Hellenistic writing _episkopos_ (“bishop”) _“…was the title of an official responsible for the financial affairs of a cultic organization”_–Raymond E. Brown, SS, Priest and Bishop: Biblical Reflections (1970). Whatever the case, it is saddening to think about all these possibilities.
Fifth and last, apart from exposing the Church of Uganda’s obsession with the subject of sex, the thing also underlines the contradictions in her policy on “family life”–the only thing on which her top leadership, especially has full _consensus ad idem_. You need not search so far to find a sermon demonstrably cautioning women against unwanted pregnancies because of the abundance of the guys who _are busy “eating” and “doing things”_; nor to read long threads of arguments and counter arguments on the _“going after strange flesh”_ debate–often out of context–by her evangelical theologians; nor to appreciate the unjust treatment to date of Dr. Christopher Senyonjo (formerly Bishop of West Buganda) by Luke Orombi (then Archbishop of Uganda) and others on absolutely flimsy grounds. These contradictions, however, are dwarfed by those of our political or public or liberation theology (ies), evidenced by our rather loud silence in the face of gross injustices by an extremely illegitimate regime. We have waved all its crimes aside–including war crimes and crimes against humanity–of which we, including these very children, have either been primary or circumstantial victims, or both. Moments later, we console ourselves with _“Tukutendereza Yesu”_, the East African Revival anthem, praising Jesus for gifting Uganda with a regime that oppresses, murders and plunders so wonderfully. Excuse me!
All too often, though, good men like Bishop Ssebaggala are surrounded by sycophants, who in spite of these observations will go ahead to convince him that they mean as always have, to agree with this nonsense. Well, it is their absolute right to persist in their folly, albeit with the full knowledge that one is very much satisfied to have disabused them of those delusions. It’s all too clear to the bishop now that his blanket ideas on “morality”, as well as those of the Church he represents cannot just be brushed aside by even the most level-headed of critics especially given that in this case, they scarcely protect the victims.
The writer is a Lawyer and a concerned Evangelical Christian.
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