Bearing Witness

One constant of Christian history is that persecution rarely, if ever, succeeds. While some Christians may succumb to the unimaginable pressures, many others are, as the Bible puts it, faithful unto death. In turn, their witness, which is what the word martyr means, draws others to the faith. In the second century, the apologist Tertullian wrote, "Go on, rack, torture, grind us to powder: Our numbers increase in proportion as you mow us down. The blood of Christians is their harvest seed." A century ago, twenty-six young African Christians proved Tertullian right. In doing so, they not only set an example for their contemporaries, but for us also. In the late 1800s, Anglican and Catholic missionaries brought Christianity to what is now Uganda. While, at first, people were free to convert to the new faith, conversion created problems for the converts. Becoming a Christian meant adopting new moral and religious standards and suggested that you had turned your back on old allegiances. As a result, Christians were often regarded as rebels of sorts. Mistrust turned to persecution when a new king named Mwanga came to the throne. His court was infamous for its homosexual debauchery. Suddenly, not only were Christians undermining the old religious and political order, they had the temerity to criticize his sexual practices. Events came to a head when the king's pages began to resist his sexual advances. His outrage turned to murderous rage against Christianity when he learned why they had resisted: They had become Christians and were living chastely as their new faith required. Mwanga gave the new converts a choice: complete obedience to his orders, including his sexual demands, or their new faith and death. They chose martyrdom. On June 3, 1886, twenty-six converts between the ages of 13 and 30, Protestants and Catholics, were burnt to death. Their leader, Charles Lwanga, asked to be untied so he could arrange the sticks on his pyre. While few remember the tyrant who martyred these Christians, the Martyrs of Uganda, as they are known, became heroes of the faith. Today, largely because of their witness, Uganda is a mostly Christian nation -- one that is offended and scandalized by the easy acceptance of homosexuality that exists in some of our churches. There's a lesson for us as well. Christians in the West face pressure, albeit nothing like Lwanga and his companions, to play down Christianity's moral demands, especially as regards sexual practices. We're told that things will go better for us if we remain quiet about issues like abortion and homosexuality and gay "marriage." Those who do speak out are called "bigots," but if Charles Lwanga could tell his executioner that he was glad to be dying for the faith, being called names, however unfairly, is a small price to pay. Remembering these martyrs, the Church in Uganda and other parts of Africa stands firm in resisting the ordination of homosexuals and same-sex "marriages." It's costing them financial support, and reputations are being hurt, yet they stand with the martyrs in bearing witness to absolute truth and to God's moral law. They are resisting the hostile spirit of the age. And they are a model for us all to follow. For further reading and information: Learn more about the Christian martyrs of Uganda. "Memorial of St. Charles Lwanga and Companions, martyrs," Catholic Culture, 3 June 2004. Mike Crawley, "African Anglicans shun US money over gay policies," Christian Science Monitor, 19 April 2004. Star Parker, "Black pastors join gay-marriage debate,", 6 July 2004. Jennifer Roback Morse, The Marriage Revolution: Why We Need One and How You Can Help (Spence, spring 2005). Visit Dr. Morse's marriage website. Alan Cooperman, "Church 'Protect Marriage Day' Is Urged," Washington Post, 26 June 2004, A24. Learn about the effort by a group called Soulforce to disrupt Protect Marriage Sunday (July 11). See BreakPoint's sanctity of marriage resource page. Call 1-877-322-5527 to request the free BreakPoint marriage amendment information packet and the free "Talking Points on Marriage and Same-Sex Unions." Also available is the Speak the Truth in Love kit (suggested donation: $25).


Chuck Colson


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