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Rev. Marlin Lavanhar Headshot

Stand on the Side of Love: Responding to the Cry for Help from Uganda

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As a minister I never know when a call might come. I received a call in February 2010 from a leader of the gay community of Uganda, "Come to Africa. ... I need your help." It said, "I know my land is far away and I know our troubles must seem quite removed, but is it not true that 'injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere?' Is it not true that 'we are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny? Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.' Isn't that true?" It said, "I'm about to take the boldest step of my life to be treated as fully human and as someone who is beloved by God. I'm afraid, but I'm committed. Will you please walk with me and stand beside me?"

With my wife's approval, last February, I kissed our two children goodbye and went to speak at the Standing on the Side of Love conference in Kampala that was organized in secret by my colleague Rev. Mark Kiyimba, the leader of the Unitarian Universalist church of Uganda, to counter the oppressive anti-gay bill that was making its way through the Ugandan parliament. Today, in the wake of the murder of Ugandan gay activist David Kato, the question of how Americans can support the LGBT community of Uganda, and around the world, must be reexamined.

There are times in life when we have to take risks in order to live our values. Those moments often come by surprise and they are often crossroads that cause us to reevaluate our central purpose and the meaning of our lives. Moments when the question changes from, "If I do this, what will happen to me?" to "If I do not do this, what will happen to them."

"There are some things so precious, some things so eternally true, that they are worth dying for," Martin Luther King Jr. said. "If a man has not discovered something that he will die for, he isn't fit to live." There comes a time in people's lives when they have to decide: "Here I stand and I can do no other." And when people are being run over, swept under, knocked down and locked up for no other reason than being who God created them to be, well then, it's time to decide. Is it not the promise of human rights that all people should be free. Is it not the promise of life itself that our living should make a difference for good.

When it comes down to it, I don't really care who you choose to love. I want to know if there is anything you would be willing to die for.

It doesn't matter to me what name you use to refer to God. I want to know if you have faith in your own power to change the world.

It doesn't matter to me if you read the same Bible as I do or if you read scripture at all. I want to know if you have the courage to face the consequences of your beliefs.

It doesn't matter to me if your days upon this earth are four score and five or if they can be counted on the fingers of your two hands. I want to know if you care about what happens to the rest of us when you're gone.

It doesn't really matter to me if you think I'm a fool. I want to know if you would be willing to risk making a fool of yourself for the right reason.

It doesn't matter to me whether we share the same country, culture, color or creed. I want to know if you will stand with me if I call you in the middle of the night.

There are people, born and unborn, who are counting on us to stand up for human rights. May the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities in Uganda, and everwhere, feel the blessing of our prayers and of our tangible support as they struggle against deadly hate and homophobia everyday. May they know that they are indeed beloved and children of God.
David Kato risked and ultimately lost his life for the promise that one day men, women and their families could live and love unharmed and unafraid. What are you feeling called to do?

Rev. Marlin Lavanhar is the Senior Minister of All Souls Unitarian Church in Tulsa, OK. His church is the American partner church of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Kampala, Uganda. In 2010, he was awarded as "The Humanitarian of the Year" by the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office for his support of the LGBT community in Uganda.
He can be contacted at: mlavanhar@allsoulschurch.org

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