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Wingspan Ministry to begin global advocacy effort

Wingspan Ministry of St. Paul-Reformation Lutheran Church (ELCA), St. Paul, is beginning a new focus on global advocacy for LGBT persons. Since its inception in 1982, Wingspan’s mission has included advocacy for justice in public policy, though it is most well-known for its years of work within the ELCA on behalf of full inclusion of gay and lesbian persons in the life of the church and as rostered leaders.
“We are most definitely not ending our witness and work in the church or in our civil communities here,” said Leo Treadway, convener of the Wingspan Global Bridges project. “However, there are LGBT persons around the globe who need our solidarity — and with whom we need to be in solidarity. The Body of Christ is not limited to Minnesota or to the U.S., and today we find ourselves called to stand with and learn from LGBT persons in distant places as well.”

“We, who are ELCA Lutherans, claim the word ‘evangelical’ because we believe we are bearers of ‘news that is extraordinarily good.’”

Wingspan’s first global advocacy project is to raise awareness about the situation of LGBT persons in Uganda. They will also be raising funds to support the ministry of reconciliation led by Bishop Christopher Senyonjo, an Anglican bishop emeritus, who has been an advocate for human rights, including speaking out for LGBT persons at great risk to himself.
In October 2010, Bishop Senyonjo and David Kato, an activist with Sexual Minorities of Uganda (SMUG), were pictured side by side on the front page of a Ugandan newspaper with the words “Hang Them” posted above their photos. Three months later, in January 2011, Kato was murdered in his home.
Earlier, in 2009, legislation was proposed in Uganda that would institute the death penalty for LGBT persons and impose seven-year prison sentences for anyone considered an “accomplice,” from friends and family members to landlords. In April 2011 there were indications that the bill, not yet passed, would replace the death penalty with life imprisonment in an effort to get it approved without further delay. Frank Mugisha of SMUG reports that ever since the bill was originally introduced two years ago, anti-gay sentiment and open harassment of LGBT persons have increased, largely because of media attention and conservative churches that have been promoting passage of the bill to their congregants.

A part of American Lutherans to play

Since 2009 a number of conservative U.S. evangelical pastors have visited Uganda and participated in high-profile “anti-gay” conferences. “Whatever view one takes about their theological perspective, in Uganda the words of these American evangelicals have had an incendiary effect,” explained Rev. Keith Olstad, pastor at St. Paul-Reformation. “We, who are ELCA Lutherans, claim the word ‘evangelical’ because we believe we are bearers of ‘news that is extraordinarily good.’ But the message carried by these pastors to Uganda has only deepened the fear felt by LGBT Ugandans, and it is vitally important that we bear an evangelical witness in counterpoint to theirs.”
Wingspan’s first educational and fundraising event was held June 2, the eve of the Feast Day for Ugandan Martyrs. The documentary “Missionaries of Hate” was screened. Funds were raised to assist Senyonjo’s efforts to promote human rights and his “safe house” project, providing a place of sanctuary for those in fear for their lives.
David Weiss, chair of Wingspan, remarked, “We have heard it said that when the ELCA acted to widen its welcome to gay and lesbian Christians in 2009, it risked alienating many of our immigrant members and global partners. One of our hopes for this project is that it will help the larger church see that our widening welcome is both evangelical and life-giving to LGBT persons of faith both here in the U.S. and around the globe.”

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